Changes To Comment Policy Are Considered

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Belmont County commission meetings are public meetings well-attended by a public that speaks and asks questions, and commissioners now wonder if the regular stream of questions they get from individuals isn’t hindering their progress in conducting county business.

Commission meetings typically start at 9 a.m. Wednesdays at the courthouse in St. Clairsville, and usually last until at least 11 a.m. Commissioners start each meeting by voting on motions. Much of the time is spent by commissioners addressing questions from the public. Within the agenda are scheduled actions they seek to conduct at the specified time, such as bid openings, road hearings or executive sessions.

Commissioner Mark Thomas became agitated at Wednesday’s meeting as requests for public comment were throwing off the commissioners’ agenda.

“At some point, we have to put public comment at the end of regular business,” Thomas said. “It’s keeping us from getting things done. … This hodgepodge of an agenda isn’t working.”

Thomas said he suggested to commissioners Ginny Favede and Matt Coffland earlier this year a policy for handling public comment that would limit how long a person could speak to five minutes.

“At this point, I would love to have something in place that keeps this meeting – the people’s meeting – running more efficiently,” he said.

Commission President Matt Coffland said it wasn’t the length of time a person takes when addressing the commissioners that irritates him, but that the same issues and questions keep being pushed.

“Here’s what upsets me,” Coffland said. “I’m here every day. Mark is here every day. (Commissioner Ginny Favede) is here every day. We’re here for comment whenever you want to come in. … I return every phone call I get. … Time and time again the same questions are asked when we are trying to move (on commission business). It’s one thing to come if you have something new, but we rehash the same things over and over again. That’s the frustration of the whole thing.”

The talk about public comment started after a Barnesville resident appeared at the meeting to ask the commissioners whether they would seek to stop a proposed project to bring in drill cuttings from the fracking industry to fill land at the East Ohio Industrial Park. Coffland said he has addressed the question at past meetings, telling those asking he doesn’t believe the project will come to fruition.

“Every time I’ve given you the same answer,” he said. “I feel very confident it’s going nowhere. That’s all I can say.”

He cited Martins Ferry resident Richard Hord, who regularly attends commission meetings, for asking repeated questions.

“Richard, you ask the same questions I don’t know how many times over and over,” Coffland said.

Hord apologized, but told Coffland his questions were merely follow-up to past questions.

“There are many counties that take no public comment,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying that to advocate for no public comment. This is the public’s meeting. It is for the people of this county. Our issue is there are people coming in here for personal attacks, political attacks and to bring up issues that will get to the media. A lot of the questions here don’t even pertain to us.”