Last Tuesday, February 8, 2022, Mendocino County’s Board of Supervisors changed a long-standing sequencing of their meeting schedule, switching the public expression period from the top of the agenda to the last item.
Members of the public have expressed concern this switch will create a barrier for participation while Board Chair 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams says at this point the Board is merely “experimenting with public expression at the end of the meeting” and offered some reasons why the agenda switch could have its benefits.
Chair Williams told us experimentation with the agenda’s sequencing “gives the public the last word and an ability to reflect on the meeting.” For any residents concerned they cannot participate in real-time, he reassured that “voice messages can be left in advance.”
Public expression is an allotted time in which Mendocino County residents can comment on any topic on the agenda, Chair Williams explained. In contrast, for items on the agenda, public comment is solicited after each agenda item.” If a resident was to bring up an intriguing concept during public expression, Chair Williams said, “open meeting laws don’t allow us to take up public topics on the spot.”
Williams argued, “Public expression at the end of the meeting allows the public to provide feedback based on what they hear throughout the meeting, influencing future meetings agendas.”
“If placing public expression at the tail of the meeting disincentivizes public participation, we’ll move it back, but I think we should not be afraid to try new ideas”, Williams reassured.
As a long-time Mendocino County resident and active attendee of the Board of Supervisors meetings, Ron Edwards expressed concern that the rescheduling could diminish the public’s ability to participate in the expression process.
Edwards pointed out that for at least the past four years, the public expression period has been at the beginning of the meetings which provides the public with a firm sense of what time public expression would take place. “They might arrange a break from work or make sure they are in a spot with service to call in. Or prior to COVID, they could arrange to be a bit late for work.”
This experimental arrangement creates a circumstance in which the public expression period could happen “any time from 3:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. requiring the public to put the “day on hold and deeply affecting the public’s ability to participate.”
We asked 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak whether he felt the rescheduled public expression period could create a barrier to public participation. He said, “I agree. I was surprised that the Chair had moved it. It doesn’t seem conducive to public discourse.”
Edwards posited that the public expression period is an important aspect of the Board of Supervisors meetings because it informs “the community of issues they might not have been aware of” while also informing the board of those issues.
Edwards understands Chairman Williams is attempting to run “a very efficient meeting”, but the approach “forgets, in my opinion, what the meetings are for.”