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CKFR weighs comment policy

Citing a concern that the district has been “inconsistent” in handling public comments during meetings of the board of commissioners, Commission Chairman Dave Fergus asked fellow commissioners to begin a review of how to handle public comments.

“Over the last several years, we have been inconsistent at how we take public comments, both in terms of items on the agenda and otherwise,” Fergus said at a board meeting Monday. “Because we have been inconsistent, we need to look at setting a policy and procedures for how we handle this.”

Fergus said in the past, comments had been taken at the start of the meeting, during the meeting, and prior to adjourning. Members of the public have had the option of speaking before the commission addressed an issue, or while they addressed an issue. But at times, comments haven’t been taken prior to a vote on something on the agenda.

Fire Chief Scott Weninger said he had spoken with the district’s legal advisor, Ken Bagwell, and with the staff regarding the matter and that a policy needed to be set by the board. He said it needs to address employee comments, too.

“It is felt that employee comments should be vetted through the union and not be made at public meetings,” Weninger said. “In other words, there should be a spokesperson for the union making public comment.”

He said if the board was to allow multiple comments by employees, it would prolong the meetings.

“You have to set some limits,” he said.

Weninger suggested that for the general public and union reps there should be a three-minute limit per person for comments and that individuals wanting to speak should sign up prior to the beginning of the meeting and indicate whether they wanted to make a general comment, or speak about a specific item on the agenda.

“Comments should also be related to CKF&R business,” he said.

Bagwell said that as per the Open Meetings Act, the board is not required to take public comment.

“But if we do, it is important that we be consistent,” he said.

Commissioners indicated that they wanted to try the sign up process, and allow general comments at the beginning of the meeting, and allow individuals to comment on specific items as each is taken up for discussion by the board.

Those wanting to comment will have to sign in ahead of time with their name, address, who they represent, if they are a part of a group such as the fire fighters union, or a neighborhood assocition, and the agenda item they wish to speak about, if applicable.

Agenda items will be introduced by staff, and then there will be commissioners discussion and then public comment prior to any action on that item, as a standard policy, commissioners decided.

A written policy reflecting this process is expected to be on the next agenda for a vote.

“The public elected us,” Fergus said. “We represent them and I feel listening to the public is part of our duty. But we need to keep it simple and we need to have some control over it. That’s really what we need.”

Commissioner Bob Muhleman said he agreed.

“We also need to police ourselves,” he said. “We need to take comment but not get into a discussion or debate. And if someone comes up like they have in the past with a list of 12 questions, the public comment time is not the place to be answering that.”

In another matter, commissioners heard a report on the volunteer recruitment and retainment process which is being streamlined.

Volunteer Program Manager Force Tolar said that in 2013, 137 people showed an interest in volunteering, 61 attended an introduction meeting, 38 applications were processed and of that number nine are firefighters in service.

He said the department will now do some prescreening and a panel interview to determine the applicant’s commitment prior to going to the expense of purchasing and issuing uniforms, only to have some of those candidates drop out.

“It’s a process of self-weeding out those who are truly interested prior to spending time and money on them,” he said.

The district currently has 70 volunteers, 46 who fight fires, seven who are EMTs, and the remaining who do fire education, are chaplains and help in other ways.

 

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