County Commission Changes Public Speaking Format to Maintain Order at Meetings

Posted on January 9, 2024 by

Sherry Chapman of Pea Ridge and Carmen Reynolds of Navarre (seated) spoke out against changing public speaking format during Monday’s commission meeting

For a couple of years there has been an ongoing lack of decorum during Santa Rosa County Commission meetings, and the board this week is expected to take action to maintain better order.

The board on Thursday is expected to repeal and replace current resolutions governing public speaking formats in response to a small group of citizens who have repeatedly “abused” the system, per Commission Chairman Sam Parker, who said he’s heard from more people who want the changes than those who oppose it.

“I think we need to figure out how we do that so that we’re not running off residents that have something to say, that come and sit in this audience and they’re so disgusted by the lack of decorum and the way a hand full of people will address the board and try to intimidate other members that are sitting in the audience by speaking out and shouting them down just because they disagree with them,” said District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright.

Sherry Chapman of Pea Ridge is one of those who attend most county commission meetings and speaks out multiple times during meetings. “If we don’t get emails from all of you before the meeting how can we participate in that county business,” she said.

Meeting agendas are published the week before meeting weeks on the county’s website. Parker noted that committee meetings on Mondays are basically “agenda review ” meetings ahead of Thursday regular meetings during which votes take place.

Parker proposed the changes from the current format, which has allowed speakers to address the board once during public forum and once per agenda time discussion for a period up to 4 minutes each time. 

“Everybody gets to speak,” said James Calkins, vice chairman of the board. “I’m willing to sit here all day and listen to unlimited citizens come up here and tell us what they think.” However, Calkins pointed out that order must be maintained so facts can be heard and good decisions can be made.

The new format will allow speakers to address the board once during public forum for up to 3 minutes then once per agenda item for up to 2 minutes. 

The time limits will not apply to persons who are a party to an item on the board’s meeting agenda.  Additionally, the Board will not allow:

  • A speaker to relinquish time to another speaker;
  • Signs or other obstructions that block the view of those in attendance;
  • Outbursts from the audience which serve to disrupt the conduct of the meeting;
  • Comments, presentations, or other materials to be disseminated in a public meeting which would generally be considered obscene, indecent, or profane.

The Chairperson may: 

  • Interrupt or terminate a speaker’s statement when the comments are too abusive, threatening, derogatory, defamatory, obscene, or personally directed concerning a mater not related to county business;
  • Request any individual to leave a meeting when that person does not observe reasonable public decorum;
  • Call a recess or adjourn a meeting when the lack of public decorum interferes with the orderly conduct of the meeting.

The board on Monday agreed to leave public forum at the beginning of the meeting; however, that decision will ultimately remain a decision of the Chairman, who is also responsible for enforcing the resolution.