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Questions on Public Input/Requests
Last Post 12/15/2016 10:08 AM by Max Engle. 6 Replies.
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Cynthia Greenia
Basic Member
Basic Member
Posts:109

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12/14/2016 12:45 PM
    Hi,
    We have a gentlemen that comes to most meetings. He asks numerous questions and has mentioned that he will "quote" board members answers in the paper if it proves helpful to him during the public comment portion of the agenda. He also continually comes to the offices and requests not only documents but then wants board members to continually explain them to him - it is not uncommon for him to be at the office 45 to 60 minutes at a time.

    Does anyone else have a resident like this? If so, do you make him F.O.I.A. everything? Do you ask him to meet with you - make an appointment with you - to discuss his questions? Just wondering if anyone has any insight and can share their thoughts? Thanks, C
    Dendra Best
    New Member
    New Member
    Posts:68

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    12/14/2016 01:31 PM
    How refreshing for someone to take such an interest! And no - if he is a resident/property owner he is asking for public documents which should not be subject to FOIA. If he needs more information - well that's the essence of public service and the public's right to know- and in this case understand? And the OMA gives anyone the right to take notes or recordings for publication.

    However , it isn't unreasonable to ask him to make an appointment if your anticipated contact time is going to be lengthy. Having dealt with this from his standpoint - a simpler solution is to be as explicit as possible in the information you provide in Minutes, Reports or as guides on your web site.
    Wayne Bates
    New Member
    New Member
    Posts:4

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    12/14/2016 02:10 PM
    The Genesee Township Board policy concerning public comments limits the comments to three minutes per person during the public comments section of the board meeting.
    Board members do not have to, and are encouraged by the township attorney not to, reply to questions from the public. This is a public comment time. Not a question and answer session. If a citizen has a question the twp. supervisor takes their name and phone number and advises that he will call them with the information to the question or will set up an appointment with the citizen.
    If there is a simple question from a citizen that is not emotionally charged we can answer it but it is not advisable to get into a heated or prolonged discussion with a citizen at a board meeting.

    Wayne Bates
    Genesee Township Clerk
    Dendra Best
    New Member
    New Member
    Posts:68

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    12/14/2016 02:30 PM
    I think this goes to a broader discussion of how the public perceives it's right to talk directly to the officials they elected at a public meeting and ask questions to the individuals making decisions on their behalf? How to balance a meeting becoming a free for all shouting match with the public's expectations of a free and fair exchange of comments and ideas seems a beneficial topic for a round table event?

    Having such discussion in a public, on the record, forum as opposed to one on one behind closed doors? The public already distrusts the actions of government and their ability to influence what can seem a pre ordained outcome. Why would an elected official be advised not to answer a question from a constituent?

    If someone has made it a point to attend a public meeting, arranged child care or transportation to get there - and if they are lucky enough to be working, when are they going to find time to make another appointment to come in for a chat?

    Yes Public Comment is a time for that specific reason - but with many units of government putting it at the very end of the Agenda it can be frustrating to find officials can't recall the thread of the conversation the question is about.

    A simpler solution for issues that will engender discussion is to hold a study session so everyone can have their say?
    Wayne Bates
    New Member
    New Member
    Posts:4

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    12/14/2016 03:00 PM
    "Why would an elected official be advised not to answer a question from a constituent?" As I stated in my earlier post a simple question from a person that is not emotionally charge can be answered by any board member that may have an answer. However, in an emotionally charged situation where a person has an agenda to bait members of the board or is asking questions that may take some research and time to answer properly, it does no one any good to get into a prolonged discussion at a board meeting where comments can be taken out of context. Been there, done that- it ain't pretty and it never results in a resolution of the problem at that time.
    We have a public comment time at both the beginning and the end of our board meetings so the public can comment on anything that they want at the start and then comment on any item that the board has dealt with on the agenda.
    Dendra Best
    New Member
    New Member
    Posts:68

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    12/14/2016 03:40 PM
    My apologies Wayne that seemed to be what you were saying "Board members do not have to, and are encouraged by the township attorney not to, reply to questions from the public."

    In the past we have hosted seminars for public health officials on dealing with confrontation and aggressive behavior - in fact there has just been a MIOSHA training event on violence in the workplace especially when working alone - how to defuse a potentially combative situation might be of interest to municipal employees on any level?

    As you point out - there are ways to run a meeting in a respectful and orderly manner without resorting to shouting or 'in your face' confrontation? But unfortunately only an actual recording of what was said can counteract anything being taken out of context - a good reason for public television or local cable access?

    But again, moving discussion to a discussion session, where all the parties have a chance to run out of steam and arrive at consensus can only be a healthy thing in the long run? There is a process called informed, consensual consent for such contentious situations - I particularly like that no one is allowed to say no, or I don't agree, without having to spell it out in detail what exactly it is they are objecting to. Sometimes people just need to feel they are being listened to and taken seriously?
    Max Engle
    Basic Member
    Basic Member
    Posts:166

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    12/15/2016 10:08 AM
    We do not answer questions or comments during Public comment. We have 2 Public comments during our meetings 1 at the start and 1 at the end.

    We have 2 or 3 people who use Public comment regularly, and continually ask for documents, but we do make them file a FOIA request in writing, so that we can be sure exactly what they are asking for, and what documents they will receive. In doing that we have a record of what they asked for and what we sent them, so if they come back later and tell us they didn't get it we can document that they did. This also gives us records if they should decide to take us to court. We don't charge for anything under $1.00.

    I is not a good Idea to get into and argument with a citizen during a meeting and disrupts the meeting. If there is something to be answered it makes more sense to answer when you have had time to research and answer correctly and factually. Most of the time during Public comment (at least the 2 or 3 regulars) are spouting facts that are just not true and in many cases out and out lies. But refute them during a meeting with out all the fact does not help.
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