Have a beef? Make a public comment

Published 12:07 am Sunday, October 28, 2012

NATCHEZ — Elected and appointed officials usually do most of the talking at local meetings, but those officials say they encourage concerned residents to speak their minds at meetings.

In the City of Natchez, if someone wishes to voice their opinion or concerns to the Natchez Board of Aldermen, Mayor Butch Brown asks that they call City Hall and ask to be put on the meeting agenda.

Brown said when he served as mayor from 1992 until 2000, the aldermen meetings always had time set aside at the end of the meeting for public comments. That was done away with, Brown said, after he left office.

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“I have toyed with the idea of reinstating the public comments section of the meeting, but as of right now, we haven’t seen the need to reinstate it. If the need becomes apparent, then we will do it,” Brown said.

Residents can also contact their aldermen if they wish to speak at a meeting, Brown said.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors opens the floor at the end of every meeting to allow public comments. Board President Darryl Grennell said it does help if residents call ahead and ask to be put on the agenda because the supervisors can be prepared to help residents with a specific issue.

Allowing people to speak at the end of the meeting, Grennell said, often informs the supervisors of problems of which they were not aware.

“A lot of times there’s things we can do something about,” he said. “In some cases, there are issues we can’t do anything about, but we can refer (residents) to other agencies that can help them.”

The Natchez-Adams County School Board asks that anyone who wishes to speak at their meeting sign the blue sheet in the board room before the meeting begins.

The board allows for public comments during the first 15 minutes of its meeting. Board Chairman Wayne Barnett said allowing public comments at the beginning of the meeting gives the board the opportunity to deal with any issues brought up during public comments during the regular business of the meeting.

Barnett said he believes there is a real benefit to always having a set public comments portion of meetings.

“It gives the community a feeling that they do have a voice,” he said. “We always listen. We may not always agree with the people that come and voice their opinions, but we always listen.”

Across the river in Vidalia, Mayor Hyram Copeland said residents are asked to call ahead and request to be put on the agenda. Copeland said, however, he generally asks if anyone in the audience would like to speak before adjourning a meeting.

Residents have two opportunities to speak during public comments at the Concordia Parish Police Jury meetings. President Melvin Ferrington said he opens the meetings by asking if anyone has any comments on items on the agenda.

“That way we know their opinion before we take action on the item,” Ferrington said.

Before closing the meeting, Ferrington said he asks if anyone in the audience would like to address the police jury with any issue unrelated to agenda items.

At Concordia Parish School Board meetings, those wishing to address the school board are asked to fill out a card on the back table of the board. The cards are given to the school board so anyone who wants to address the board can be recognized during the public comments section of the meeting.

“We are public servants, and we want to hear what the public has to say,” Board President Gary Parnham said. “If people want to come voice their opinion, we more than welcome it.”

Ferriday Mayor Gene Allen allows for public comments at the end of the Ferriday Board of Aldermen meetings.

“I would love to hear (residents’) concerns,” Allen said. “If there’s some way we can improve the city, I would love to hear people’s opinions about it.”