County supervisors have again changed their rules of order to try to streamline meetings by changing how the board deals with input from the public at meetings.
The Board of Supervisors typically holds two types of meetings: business meetings, where supervisors take most of their votes; and public hearings, which gather input from the public on legislative applications, code changes, and other issues where required by law.
During public hearings, there are often many items that see no public input. To move those uncontroversial applications more quickly, supervisors have adopted a consolidated public hearing to combine those. Items which have received recommendations of approval from county staff and the Planning Commission, with no staff-identified outstanding issues, and where no members of the public have signed up in advance to speak can be added to one consolidated public hearing.
At the beginning of the meeting, the person chairing the meeting will announce each item on the consolidated public hearing agenda. The public will then have their chance to speak on those items without having signed up in advance.
The board must still vote on each item individually. Items can be pulled from the consolidated agenda at the request of any board member or, in the case of legislative applications, the applicant.
The change follows another in January, when supervisors limited input from the public at some meetings. Speakers are now limited to no more than three minutes, and potentially as little as two minutes, at board meetings and public hearings. At business meetings, the total amount of speaking time for the public is limited to 30 minutes. Those speakers will be allowed to speak based on who was first to sign up.
Some supervisors at the time said it was an attempt to decrease the length of meetings. Previously, the board’s rules of order allowed speakers up to five minutes each and imposed no limit on the total amount of time allotted for public input. Business meetings begin at 5 p.m. and routinely run until late in the evening or the early morning hours.
At the time, Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisors Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) and Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) opposed that change.
“If we want to decrease meetings, maybe we should talk less,” Randall said at the time.
During a meeting last week, despite very little public input, the Board of Supervisors took three and a half hours to reach their first and only vote of the evening aside from routine and procedural matters.
Supervisors tried out the consolidated agenda for the first time at their public hearing Wednesday, June 13.