(1/5) The town board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to halve the amount of time members of the public will have to speak at board meetings.
The board allowed members of the public to speak for up to three minutes until two years ago, said Emmitsburg town manager David Haller. They could hand off their unused speaking time to others, allowing some to speak for more than three minutes.
For the past two years, the board has allowed members of the public to speak for up to eight minutes. People would get eight minutes for each topic, but they could no longer hand off unused time to other members of the public.
At the Dec. 19 town council meeting, board president Chris Staiger expressed concern about what would happen if many people came to a meeting to speak. If each took something near the maximum amount of time, an hour and a half could be eaten up, he said.
"Not everyone who comes out to speak is going to be willing to wait one to two hours to speak," Mr. Staiger said at this Tuesday's board meeting.
Commissioner William B. O'Neil Jr. disagreed. If the topic is important enough for people to talk for two and a half hours, than the board should listen for that long, he said.
Commissioner Art Elder questioned whether it made sense for each new board to change the amount of time that people would be allowed to speak.
Commissioner Glenn Blanchard moved to change the town's speaking time limits to four minutes for normal meetings and six minutes for specially arranged public hearings.
After the motion but before the vote, Mr. O'Neil said, "You are taking away an option from people who elected you to express their views." A few moments later he said, "I think it's really a disservice to the people of this town."
Mr. Blanchard, Mr. Staiger and Mayor James Hoover voted in favor of the motion. Mr. O'Neil and Mr. Elder voted against it.
The new four-minute time limit will cover all town meetings except public hearings, not just board of commissioners meetings, Mr. Staiger said after the meeting.
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