Consensus: Record all meetings

Friday, January 23, 2009

All meetings of Marshall County Commission committees should be recorded, according to a consensus reached Monday by the Commission's Rules Committee.

That plan and other procedural changes are to be considered again at another Rules Committee meeting set for Feb. 2, the chairman of that committee, Commissioner Mickey King, said Wednesday.

Some boards and commissions of county government, notably those on planning and zoning, have routinely been recorded. But as a result of continued calls for procedural reform from Commissioner Billy Spivey, audiotapes, or perhaps digital recordings, would be made of all county government panels answering to the commission if the proposal is adopted.

There are more than 15 panels.

It also means more supplies and possibly new equipment would have to be purchased and Spivey said the Rules Committee ought to defer to the Budget Committee for recommendations on acquisition.

During the Rules Committee meeting on Monday, Marshall County Clerk Daphne Fagan announced she has a vault at her office in the County Courthouse Annex, a building that was built as a bank, where the recordings may be stored.

However, she's made it clear that her office is not responsible for purchasing recording equipment. Nor has she sought new equipment, contrary to a report published here on Jan. 9.

If and when the proposed rule for recording committee meetings is adopted, the consensus from commissioners appears to be that a committee chairman would be responsible for the operation of the recorder.

These and other prospective changes to the Commission's operating procedures were discussed at length during a 90-minute session in the Commission meeting room on the second floor of the Courthouse Annex.

That room is wired for sound and has microphones at the meeting table. There are two other rooms commonly used for county meetings; neither has built in microphones or related sound equipment.

One of the other meeting rooms is a smaller conference room that was used by the Executive Committee of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board for interviews with applicants for the position of executive director.

The other room is commonly called the kitchen since it serves as a break room for the office building and has a refrigerator, sink, kitchen cabinets and other accommodations.

In recent years, there have been two county meetings at the same time, or with overlapping times if an earlier session continued past the starting time of the other.

Commissioners on the Rules Committee and several others attending Monday's meeting have apparently come to realize that if all meetings are recorded, then they must all be held in the main meeting room if additional equipment isn't obtained.

Among other procedural matters considered Monday were agendas' adoption, and rules of conduct for commissioners and, by implication, others at county meetings. The code of conduct is not going to be changed, according to discussion Monday.

Orderly preparation of documents prior to monthly Commission meetings requires a deadline so the clerk's office can prepare an agenda and publish legal notices to alert the public of the government business to be considered, Fagan said.

Fagan said she has met publication deadlines for legal notices and has not "struggled" to do so.

Amid these issues, there's a new county attorney who offered a procedure that would permit decisions on various matters if they were brought to the commission after the publication deadline for the legal notice that displays the Commission agenda.

Instead of voting to suspend the rule requiring advance notice to consider a so-called "late-filed" matter, County Attorney Ginger Shofner has offered a procedure for a vote to adopt an agenda that would amend what had been published.

That's attracted attention and different opinions, including an observation on human nature as explained by County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett.

"Somebody on the street is going to say, 'I wish you'd bring this up' and you will," Liggett told the Rules Committee and other leaders at the committee meeting. "And you all are going to talk about it.

"That's just the way it is," the county mayor said, concluding officials can't anticipate everything that will arise during a Commission meeting.

Provisions to address these and other matters are to be written for the Rules Committee meeting on the first Monday of next month when a recommendation could be forwarded to other committees and then the Commission meeting on Feb. 23, "if they get it put together by that time, but it could be in March," King said.