POLL: Scott County Board Votes to Restrict Public Comment at Meetings
Tom Wolf: "It is inappropriate to use this forum to endorse a candidate or denounce a candidate. Those thoughts and comments need to be addressed throughout other avenues."
After Scott County Board Chair Tom Wolf “got wind” of a resident’s plan to read a letter denouncing him at a board meeting, Wolf caused a stir Tuesday by attempting to unilaterally restrict what residents can say during the time for public comment.
Ahead of public comment time at Tuesday's regular meeting, Wolf read the following statement he said he wrote with his wife:
“I will be reading this statement each week until after the November election. It is inappropriate to use this forum to endorse a candidate or denounce a candidate. Those thoughts and comments need to be addressed throughout other avenues. Please use your five minutes to address county matters only.”
Resident Lloyd Erbaugh then began to address commissioners (click here to read the letter he was planning to read) and got as far as saying "Tom Wolf, Dave Menden and Joe Wagner are seeking re-election," before Wolf cut him off with the gavel.
“OK, you’re done … anyone else want to speak?,” Wolf said.
When no one else came forward, commissioners Barb Marschall and Jon Ulrich wasted no time objecting to Wolf’s statement.
Marschall told Wolf she thought the move was inappropriate, contending that if this policy was going to go into effect, residents should have been notified ahead of the meeting.
"I believe the First Amendment is still in effect and I absolutely think this is wrong," she said.
Ulrich noted that the board approves operational procedures each fall and that this notion had not been approved.
"You can’t arbitrarily decide," he told Wolf. "I come down on not wanting to limit what people can say."
After asking whether a board chair has discretion to do this, Scott County Attorney Pat Ciliberto said he didn't think Wolf could unilaterally do so, but since it wasn't a legal decision, he was staying out of it.
Commissioner Dave Menden agreed with Wolf, saying he didn't think their meetings were the platform for people slamming or bragging about commissioners up for reelection.
Wagner raised his voice in admonishing Marschall and Ulrich.
"You have got to be kidding me," he told them, chiding them for acting "noble" and for referencing free speech. "If you two were up for election do you think you'd be letting people go up there? Yeah, so long as it’s not your tail on the line. God almighty!"
While Ulrich said he understood part of the argument for not allowing attacks during election season, he would ultimately vote against a motion restricting comment.
A motion passed 3-2 (Marschall and Ulrich voting against) restricting residents from speaking during the public comment period about a political candidate. Candidates also cannot introduce themselves during the public comment time.
Watch the meeting by clicking here (this topic begins around the 11:50 mark).