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New rules for meetings

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Fiscal court approves guidelines for discussion at workshops

By Molly Haines

After the Owen County Fiscal Court workshops got off to a rocky start, the court voted to adopt a new resolution on procedures for addressing the court during its Feb. 9 meeting.

The first workshop of the Owen County Fiscal Court was held Jan. 26.

Owen County Judge-executive and magistrates’ Teresa Davis, Bobby Gaines and Ray Smith each agreed that the meeting got off to a good start, but turned confrontational after former judge-executive Billy O’Banion approached the court.

Magistrate Jerry Jones declined to comment on the workshop.

O’Banion asked about the magistrates future plans and goals for the remainder of their terms.

During the Feb. 9 meeting, Keith said the guidelines for addressing the court needed to be made and cited the lack of a time limit as one reason for the resolution.

“It has come to my attention that maybe we might need to come up with more guidelines for procedures on addressing the court,” Keith said. “We have no time frame on which a person is allowed to speak and we need stricter guidelines.”

Keith said after recently attending a judges’ association meeting, she got valuable advice on procedures for addressing the court.

“Those of you that know me well know that I in no way want to restrict the will of the people of Owen County to voice their opinion,” Keith said. “I may not agree with the opinion you have but I respect your right to have it. I just feel that we need to learn to speak to people and each other in a civil manner.”

Keith said that in no way was she trying to take away the right to address the court.

“It is the right of taxpayers in Owen County to attend a public meeting under the Open Meeting Act,” Keith said. “It was intended and brought about in an effort to bring more transparency to county government. It especially was meant to allow more opportunity for the average citizen to come before the court and voice their concerns, some of which maybe as public officials we don’t even know about. I think that right should be protected, but it was not the intent of the Open Meeting Act that the government body meetings would become a political forum for anyone.”

Owen County Attorney Charlie Carter said during the meeting that he had no further advice on the issue.

Keith said Carter reviewed the resolution before it was presented.

A motion was made by district three magistrate Teresa Davis and seconded by district two magistrate Bobby Gaines to adopt the first resolution of the Owen County Fiscal Court for the year 2010.

According to the resolution, individuals or organizations who wish to address the court must register with the judge-executive’s office before the day of or prior to the start of the meetings. Those who wish to approach the court may sign in at the judge’s office or with the deputy judge upon entering the courtroom.

Those addressing the court must keep their statements to a maximum of three minutes.

Topics must address an issue of interest or a policy of concern.

Disturbances or disorderly conduct will not be allowed during court meetings or workshop sessions. Individuals who act in a disorderly manner will be removed by the sheriff upon request of the county judge-executive. 

Keith later declined to comment on whether or not the Jan. 26 workshop had any impact on her decision to adopt the resolution, but did say that it would be enforced.

“It’s not my intent to keep people from expressing their opinion on items of interest or policies,” Keith said.

The court also approved both the sheriff’s and county clerk’s 2009 settlements.

Keith said the Owen County sheriff’s office turned over $71,467.59 and the county clerk turned over $64,576.50 in excess fees.

“With the economy like it has been, I think it’s a very positive thing that they were able to do that,” Keith said.

The court approved the requests of fire departments to be on the tax bill for fire department membership fees.

“If the fire departments wish to be included in that they must make a request that they want to be a part of it,” Keith said.

All Owen County fire departments submitted requests to be included.