Tuesday, March 13, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
During a March 6 regular meeting, the Maywood Board of Trustees voted unanimously to allow public comments earlier during board meetings. Trustee Melvin Lightford, who came into the meeting after the matter was discussed, abstained from the vote.
Trustee Isiah Brandon, who introduced the proposal, said that had gotten the idea after meeting with residents who expressed concerns about the public comment section — the only time residents have an opportunity to address the full board — being at the end of the regular meeting agenda.
“We are working on behalf of the citizens,” Brandon said. “We want to hear from our citizens and not have them at the end of any agenda.”
Several years ago, during Mayor Edwenna Perkins’ first term, the board voted to move public comment to the bottom of the regular board meeting agenda. The public comment section, however, remained at the top of the agenda during Legal, License and Ordinance Committee meetings.
Those LLOC meetings, designed to allow the board an opportunity to discuss village business in an informal manner and before it came to a binding vote at regular board meetings, were once held twice a month before the village board voted to only hold them on an as needed basis.
During the March 6 meeting, Trustee Ron Rivers, who supported the decision to move public comment later during regular board meetings, said that his experience with having public comments occur early during regular meetings “was traumatic.”
“We had people coming here and sitting in our audience who wanted to do business with Maywood and then had to listen to a lot of negative feedback,” River said.
“It deteriorated to not questions but slap-downs and chastisements, which did us no good,” he said. “It made us look very, very bad with potential businesspeople who wanted to come to Maywood.”
Trustee Henderson Yarbrough, who served two terms as mayor before Perkins was elected, said that “the primary reason why public comment has been moved around is because of the lack of respect, the back and forth, between the public and the board.”
Yarbrough said that since his tenure as mayor, “a lot of things have changed, even at the state level, as to what is acceptable from the public. There was a time when they could say anything they wanted to say about me outright. Since then, laws have changed.”
Echoing concerns of other trustees, Yarbrough said that “it’s unfair to tell the audience that you have to be here at 7 p.m., but you can’t speak until 10 p.m. And if you’re not here to sign-in at 7 p.m., you don’t get to speak at all. That’s kind of boxing a person in.”
“I agree,” said Trustee Antonio Sanchez. “Look at our children,” he said, pointing to young people in the audience, “they’re sitting there and it’s their bed time.”
Yarbrough said that “as long as there is law and professionalism, I’m certainly in agreement to making [public comment] convenient for the public. We’re all here for the same reason. We all want the same thing for Maywood. We just have different ideas about how to get there … we need to hear from more people than who come.”
Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet said that public comments are typically heard “before decisions are made on issues and not so much afterwards.”
Norfleet recommended that the board allow comments to be heard earlier during meetings, before the members make binding decisions and vote on matters that may affect residents.
“I think the citizens have spoken,” said Trustee Kimyada Wellington. “Public comments could help us in the decisions we have to make on the agenda.” VFP
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