After Raucous Public Comment, Greene Supervisors Change Course

By. Neil Williamson, President

Shortly after midnight this morning (5/9), after a meeting that more resembled a high school pep rally than a budget discussion, the Greene County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to fund the School Division with a budget increase of $2.109 Million (Peyton-Stanardsville – opposed).  This was a change in direction for three of the supervisors (Cox, Dean, Lamb) who in last week’s budget work session had indicated support for a smaller increase in funding.GCBOS 1130 pm May 8th

Over ninety Greene County parents, teachers, students and business owners spoke during the over three hours of public comment.  The majority of the audience remained (photo right @11:30 pm) until late into the evening.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not have any positions on schools funding, budgets or tax rates.  We do believe that a proper public process needs to respect the views of all.  While there was almost unanimity in support of the schools request among those speaking in the over capacity Ray Dingledine Performing Arts Center, The Free Enterprise Forum takes issue with the manner in which the meeting was conducted.

Clarence “Buggs” Peyton serves as the 2012 Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.  According to the Greene County Board of Supervisors Bylaws, adopted January 10, 2012, Robert’s Rules of Order will be followed unless otherwise indicated.  Under Robert’s Rules, the Chairman has specific responsibilities to ensure a meeting is well run:

The presiding officer duties include …… To open the session at the time at which the assembly is to meet, by taking the chair and calling the members to order; to announce the business before the assembly in the order in which it is to be acted upon; to recognize members entitled to the floor;  to state and to put to vote all questions which are regularly moved, or necessarily arise in the course of the proceedings, and to announce the result of the vote; to protect the assembly from annoyance from evidently frivolous or dilatory motions by refusing to recognize them; to assist in the expediting of business in every way compatible with the rights of the members …to enforce on all occasions the observance of order and decorum among the members,… [emphasis added]

In failing to prevent the public from cheering and clapping during the meeting, the chair fostered a hyperbolic atmosphere that was not conducive to constructive discord.  A number of citizens left the meeting early describing the setting as ‘mob rules’.

In failing to limit each speaker’s time and allowing them to speak directly to the audience gathered, the chair created an atmosphere where rules were absent.

The meeting which lasted until 12:30 am could easily have been concluded an hour earlier with a firm speaker time limit and without the delay from applause.

The public, however, is far from without blame in this instance.  While speaking with passion and conviction is important, to suggest that funding the schools at anything less than the requested amount is “child abuse” is over the top.  This is just one of many examples heard last night, where the message could have been delivered in a more tactful manner.

The Free Enterprise Forum will ferociously defend the freedom of speech for all citizens but we do also ask for the same respect for all citizens, regardless of their political views.

Last night’s Greene County meeting is only the most recent public meeting that failed to provide a forum for opposition views to be welcomed.

As a community, we should demand better, from our elected officials, from our neighbors and from ourselves.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo/Graphics Credit: Free Enterprise Forum

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One response

  1. Neil, failing to conduct the meeting in a professional manner (and according to their own bylaws) was only the latest in a string of missteps by our current Board of Supervisors. If the Board had responded to the letter from the School Board with a well-reasoned argument for reducing the budget, the panicked, us-vs.-them mentality of the debate that followed could have been minimized and a more cooperative mood might have prevailed both in the days preceding the vote and during the meeting. I’d argue that the unconstructive-to-discord atmosphere during the meeting was fostered more by the Board’s silence in the days preceding it than by any failure on their part to enforce rules of order.

    Regarding the tenor of the meeting, I agree that it was conducted poorly but I think this article casts an overly negative light on the speakers themselves. There were a few, including your “child abuse” example, that were unnecessarily dramatic or personal (e.g. one speaker’s insinuation that “good ole boy” politics were at work was particularly insulting to the Board and our county). But by and large I felt that the majority of speakers were professional, well-reasoned, and passionate.

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