For the first time, a public comment period will be part of Anoka County Board meetings starting Jan. 24.
But it won’t be on the meeting agenda; neither will it be televised nor livestreamed online.
Under the policy adopted by the board at its Jan. 3 organizational meeting on a 5-2 vote, the meeting will be adjourned before the public comment begins.
Commissioner Matt Look, who was elected new chairperson of the board Jan. 3, introduced the policy proposal. Speakers will be limited to two minutes per person, Look said.
The policy, which is modeled after the one used by the Coon Rapids City Council, will allow members of the public to ask questions, raise a concern or make a statement relating to county business provided it was not part of the agenda that day, Look said.
County board members can speak briefly to ask for clarification, provide additional pertinent information or respond to questions raised by the speaker or another county board member, he said.
The speaker’s comments will be referred to staff for review and a report will be sent to the person prior to the next board meeting at which a staff response will be presented to the board at the public comment period.
“The speaker will be provided a copy of any subsequent reports until the matter has been resolved,” Look said.
The policy bans personal attacks on commissioners, staff or members of the public and if that happens, the speaker will be told to leave the podium.
Until now, public comment has only been allowed at the end of the meetings of the board’s standing committees.
Commissioner Mike Gamache called the proposed policy a good start.
“It’s not perfect, but I like the idea and it’s a good opportunity to try this out,” he said.
Commissioner Jeff Reinert said this has been a topic of discussion since he joined the board three years ago.
“There are different ways to have public comment and this is a good start,” he said.
But Commissioner Julie Jeppson, who was sworn in as new District 6 commissioner prior to the meeting, was concerned that public comment would not be part of the regular meeting, nor televised or livestreamed.
Jeppsons sad that the Blaine City Council, on which she served prior to her election to the county board, had public comment at the start of its meetings.
“There should be full transparency,” Jeppson said.
Commissioner Mandy Meisner agreed stating that there is no reason why public comment should not be televised or livestreamed.
But Look said no television or livestreaming would prevent grandstanding and the speaker would talk to the board, not the public.
Jeppson said that was not an issue at the Blaine City Council, while Meisner said it was part of the job of the board to curb grandstanding.
Look said there had been instances at Coon Rapids City Council meetings of a couple of residents using the public comment period to take a lot of shots at people and be disruptive.
“We can see how it works and come back to make some changes if we want to,” he said.
While not opposed to public comment, Commissioner Scott Schulte said he lived through “the dark days” as a member of the Coon Rapids City Council when speakers took shots at city staff and caused mental health issues.
Schulte opposed televising and live streaming public comment and said there were plenty of opportunity for commissioners to receive public comment; in his case it’s at his business at the intersection of Coon Rapids and Hanson boulevards in Coon Rapids.
He voted no on the policy so did Commissioner Julie Braastad.
According to the Coon Rapids City Council’s rules of procedure, public comment/open mic takes place at the end of the regular agenda, and it is televised and livestreamed online.