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New time limits set for public comments at town government meeting

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

(11/4/03) Art Elder wanted 10. Joyce Rosensteel preferred eight. Cliff Sweeney favored six. And Pat Boyle said he'd go for five or six.

And the great commissioners' "auction" over comment time at town public hearings was on.

The time debate, which for a while took on the feel of an auction, provided some comical moments as Emmitsburg's commissioners hashed out revised rules for comments during public hearings. In the end, the board decided that speakers would be allotted eight minutes and can't yield unused time, and that the town will be responsible for keeping time.

The issue arose after events at recent meetings regarding town growth. People often signed up to speak, yet yielded most or all of their three minutes to a representative, creating the opportunity for that person to speak for up to 15 minutes.
"It just carries on too long," Mr. Boyle lamented.

Mayor Jim Hoover said he preferred expanding the time limit from three minutes per person but preventing the passing of unused time to another speaker. The board's task, he said, was to determine a fair and reasonable amount of time.

Mr. Elder said he'd heard people say they didn't have enough time and favored going with the 10-minute limit recommended in Robert's Rules of Order.

But Mr. Sweeney said he thought anything over six minutes was too long, and Mr. Boyle favored five minutes. That's when Ms. Rosensteel said she'd agree with 10 minutes because "everybody should have an opportunity to say what they want to say."

With a deadlock apparent over time, the board unanimously decided to halt the practice of yielding time and put the town in charge of keeping the time.

Discussion then returned to how much time speakers should have. Mr. Sweeney's motion to increase limit to six minutes failed when only Mr. Boyle supported it, and for a while it appeared that residents might be limited to three minutes flat.

Mr. Elder moved to set the time limit at eight minutes and quickly got a second from Ms. Rosensteel. When Mr. Sweeney hesitantly voted for the motion, Mr. Boyle made it unanimous.

The time debate was the closest thing to a controversial decision in a meeting that mostly involved housekeeping chores for the board.

The commissioners completed the months-old process of moving the town elections, unanimously voting to switch Election Day to the first Monday in October beginning in 2007. It also set the public hearings on two rezoning cases before the town for Nov 20 at 7:30 pm at the Sleep Inn and said the hearing on the annexation request wouldn’t be held until January.

The board also committed more then $160,000 over the next three years to repair the town’s largest water tank and more then $10,000 annually thereafter to have the structure maintained.

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government