Commentary – Stop limiting public input on agenda items
“However, when this “three minute rule” is placed on testimony from the public in regards to an item that is on the agenda, it can lead to discrimination and lack of “equal time” for input from all sides related to that agenda item, which is what happened during the September 3, 2015 Commissioner meeting.”
Stop limiting public input on agenda items
Anyone who attends Lyon County Commission meeting knows the Public Participation portion on the agenda is limited to three minutes and must not address any item that is listed on that meeting’s agenda.
To those with hot issues on their minds this may not seem adequate; however, it does serve its purpose of allowing the public to bring up topics of interest to them that are not on the agenda; it avoids long-winded presentations by individuals on issues of no interest to anyone but themselves; and, if the commission determines the issue is important enough, it can be placed on a future agenda for further debate.
However, when this “three minute rule” is placed on testimony from the public in regards to an item that is on the agenda, it can lead to discrimination and lack of “equal time” for input from all sides related to that agenda item, which is what happened during the September 3, 2015 Commissioner meeting. Public input in regards to the mining element of the County Master Plan’s new Title 15. (Section 336, Title 15) was limited to three minutes per person.
The fact the Commission Chair “lost track of time’” during the three minute presentation of Comstock Mine’s Environmental Director (allowing a total of 5-1/2 minutes) and cut-off the presentation by the Silver City Advisory Board Chair after 3-1/2 minutes (followed by the ejection of the Silver City Chair from the meeting because he protested) is just one example of how the limited time guideline can be used unfairly by the “timekeeper”.
There is another problem with such time limits. While it certainly can save time in regards to conflictive issues drawing a large group of attendees, I do not believe public testimony should be time limited when it comes to any agenda item. As was well-illustrated at this meeting, it does not give a “fair shake” to all sides of a debate.
In this particular instance, those in support of Comstock Mining and other mining interests had the room pretty well packed, giving these attendees up to three minutes apiece to state their positions. Comstock Mining (as do other large businesses or industries with a stake in how the Master Plan amendments will affect them.) has the resources to hire professional consultants to testify, bring paid employees on company time to testify, etc.
Private citizens, such as town residents and members of the Silver City Advisory Board, do not have the resources to pay members of their community to leave their regular jobs and drive 60 miles at their own expense to attend such meetings to testify. This creates an uneven number of representatives of their point of view, allowing for a stacked playing table.
If one were to add up the total time of the comments (at 3 minutes or less) in support of the Comstock Mine and other mining interests point of view (I could, but don’t really want to spend the time!!), it would probably total 30 plus minutes, as compared to the 3-1/2 minutes of the Silver City Advisory Board Chair, the lone presenter from the community to drive the 60 miles to testify.
All portions of the Master Plan are important; however, the creation of Title 15 (to bring all current elements related to land use issues under one Title), and the amending of these current regulations is particularly important, with Section 336 of specific importantance to those who will be affected by these regulations. It becomes even more so when those regulations and guidelines relate to properties in dedicated historic districts.
When mining interests and residential neighborhoods/communities meet head to head, border to border, tensions are at their highest and most volatile and the stakes are high. All interests must be given equal opportunity and adequate time to express their concerns and ideas, not time limited to three minutes or by a lack of attendees.
If an issue is important enough to be on an agenda, it is important enough for all sides to be given fair and proper time for testimony.
The only time testimony should be cutoff is when it becomes repetitive or unrelated to the topic at hand. If members of the commission feel they must limit public input on agenda items because it may be too time consuming, get off the board and get a job with a time clock.
Your job is to listen to the public, all of them – those you serve.
Think about it.
Nancy Dallas, Publisher/Editor
NewsDesk (Est. January 2003)