Blogger ignites debate about friday commissioner meetings

Two Monroe County commissioner seats will open, and as the election looms, attention has returned to the commission.

The commissioners have had public meetings at 9 a.m. every Friday since at least 1988. Some residents want that changed, and the issue has risen to the surface just months before the election.

Scott Tibbs, a conservative blogger and political activist, started the conversation with a guest editorial in the Herald-Times. He said no one seemed concerned about the meeting times before then.

Tibbs worries the early weekday meeting time prevents the public from attending and speaking, since most community members work at that time.

“People do not have the opportunity to speak about legislation being considered,” Tibbs said. “Also, it excludes working people from running for commissioner.”

He said it’s vital the public be allowed to speak at commissioner meetings, as the commission makes decisions about zoning, smoking ordinances and legislative issues.

Since his guest article, Tibbs has written multiple posts on his blog endorsing evening meetings.

“When the H-T surprisingly endorsed my idea two days later, the editorial board suggested the meeting could be Friday evening or Saturday ‘if there are weekly reports that aren’t available until Friday,’” Tibbs commented. “There is no ‘if’ here. The reports need to be done by close of business on Thursday afternoon, with the checks printed and ready to be signed.”

Tibbs said many other county offices, such as the city council, have meetings in the evening, so the commissioners have no reason not to.

Iris Kiesling, a current commissioner, said the claim that more people would attend later meetings is incorrect. She said the commissioners have tried several different meeting times, and few people attended the others.

“9 a.m. is not the greatest time,” Kiesling said. “Some counties have them at 8 a.m., 10 a.m.”

Kiesling said a later meeting time would require the commissioners to find somewhere other than the courthouse to assemble, which she said would be difficult if not impossible.

“I’m concerned about paying overtime for our staff,” Kiesling said.

The commissioners are not required to make time for the public to speak at their weekly meetings, though the Monroe County Commissioners do.

Nelson Shaffer, a Republican commissioner candidate, endorsed the later meeting times. He posted a letter on Facebook that he said he submitted to the Herald-Times, though he doubted it would be published.

“Enabling interested county citizens to participate in their government by holding evening meetings would be one step in the right direction,” Shaffer wrote. “Varied experiences can, and should, inform decisions that affect the public. The time of a ruling class with like-thinking advisors should be replaced with open discourse among the public and their elected officials.”

Tibbs said no progress has been made to change the meeting times. He said he believes a Republican or Libertarian in the 2nd or 3rd districts would be more likely than a Democrat to push for change, however.

“Do I think it will be changed? No, I don’t,” Tibbs said.

Kiesling agreed with Tibbs, saying if meeting times change, it wouldn’t be before the end of the year.

“They’ve tried many different times,” Kiesling said. “It didn’t work.”

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