Meridian Star

May 8, 2013

Citizens' comments curtailed

Council votes to limit comments to agenda items

By Ida Brown /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     The Meridian City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to no longer allow citizens to comment on items not on meeting agendas at regular council meetings – an action that did not go over favorably with one concerned citizen.

    George Pugh, a Meridian native who currently resides in Marion, said unless there's been "some sort of ruckus" in the past when someone expressed their point of view at council meetings, he did not see any reason to change the ordinance.

    "I think this is bad policy, but I'm just one person," Pugh said.

    The council meeting was held at Union Station due to city elections. Before the vote on the ordinance amending Section 2-42 (4) of the Code of Ordinances to remove Section 2-42(8) – citizens comments – Ward 2 Councilman Mary Perry requested to make a substitute whereby if a person attending the meeting has already spoken on a topic, they would not be allowed to speak on that same topic at subsequent meetings.

    Council President George Thomas of Ward 1 expressed concern at allowing such discussions to continue at council meetings.

    "The concern is that we have some people who appear to think that they can come speak on any issue – regardless of how it affects the business operation of the city of Meridian," Thomas said. "This meeting is a business meeting; it is not a public forum for people to come and speak."

    The council president noted that an agenda-setting meeting is held the week prior to the business meeting, and any concerned citizens may attend and add to the agenda any item that pertains to the operation of the city.

    "We have work sessions where persons can come to speak. We have a clerk who has the phone numbers of all the council members and can set up appointments if they want to speak with the council members," he said.

    Pugh, who was corrected by Thomas for interrupting discussion between the councilmen about the ordinance, asked why the format should be changed.

    "All these years the council has been in effect and all of a sudden you want to change the format," he said. "All these other years it seemed to work pretty well. And now all of a sudden you want to change it?"

    Thomas emphasized that the council is not trying to cut off contact with the public, but maintain the demeanor of the city council meeting.

    "Which is a business meeting where we're supposed to conduct the business of the city," he said.

    Because the ordinance did not pass unanimously, it will not take effect until after 30 days.

    "We'll have the citizens' comments for the next 30 days. After that, if they want to speak at council meetings, it will have to relate to something that's on the agenda," Thomas said. "If there's something that needs to be on the agenda, something that we need to act on, they can request to be on the routine agenda at the work session."

    Other actions approved during the meeting included:

    • Reappointment of Tommy Dulaney to the Meridian Community College Board of Trustees.

    • Order authorizing street lighting improvements.

    • Order accepting donation from Wal-Mart to the Meridian Fire Department.

    • Order declaring vehicles and equipment surplus and offer for sale.

    • Resolution setting public hearing regarding unclean properties (June 4 at 9:15 a.m.)

    • Order authorizing execution of contract with American Protection Service Inc. (security service for Union Station).

    • Order authorizing execution of contract with ServiceMaster Professional Services (janitorial services for Union Station).

    • Order authorizing execution of preliminary engineering services contract with Neel-Schaffer Inc. (Fifth Street improvements)

    • Order authorizing execution of memorandum of understanding between Weems Community Mental Health Center, the Crisis Stabilization Unit, Lauderdale County Sheriff Department and Meridian Police Department.

    • Claims docket.

    The following proclamations were issued by Mayor Cheri Barry: May 19-25, National Public Works Week; May 6-10, National Senior Corps Week; May 2013, Older Americans Month; May 7, National Teacher Day; and May 5-11, Children's Mental Health Week.

    Barry noted that a tentative date of May 23 has been set for the opening of the new police station. Also, groundbreaking for a 26-unit apartment building in the old BellSouth building at 701 23rd Ave. is May 16.

    The next meeting of the Meridian City Council is May 14 at May 9 at Union Station.