Blan revises public comments policy

By John Hamilton - [email protected]

BLANCHESTER – Village officials have adopted a revised version of the public comment policy for council meetings.

At Thursday’s Blanchester Village Council meeting, the members decided to adopt the new guidelines after Jim Barbiere — who sat in for Village Solicitor Scott Sollmann — went through the changes made.

“In light of (the State) Supreme Court cases in the last couple of years, we thought there were some changes needed to be made just to ensure there were no content-based restrictions and make sure there was nothing that’s going to be in violation of the Ohio Supreme Court cases,” said Barbiere.

Among the original rules in the resolution from 2017 indicated that public comments must be kept to under three minutes, no commenter may speak more than once on the same topic whether at the same or multiple meetings, and commenters must not make specific comments about a specific official or village employee.

The first change was elimnating a sentence: “General topics, such as ‘Village operations’, etc. are not sufficiently specific.”

Barbiere indicated anything limiting a discussion topic could be seen as “content-based restrictions.”

“One of the Supreme Court cases said something along the lines of just including the word ‘respectful’ could be considered a content-based restriction,” said Barbiere.

He also told the council it was seen as “too subjective” as to what is respectful and “gave too much leeway” to the council members to say what’s allowed to be talked about or what isrespectful.

Parts of section E of the original resolution were eliminated. This dictated that people may not speak about the same topic at multiple meetings. Some parts were eliminated to make it easier than to allow it to continue with unnecessary risk, Barbiere indicated.

The new resolution also changed the rule that stated participants must present their discussion as a monologue or speech. It also indicated the speakers can ask general questions to the council but can’t single out a single council member and the council is not obligated to answer.

The Supreme Court did determine that the council is allowed to stop a discussion if it becomes disruptive to council proceedings. A section was amended to indicate council is allowed to ask law enforcement to remove a disruptive person instead of a disorderly person.

Councilmember Don Gephart indicated he liked the document and it was something he could “live with.”

Councilmember Tyler McCollister liked it feeling that people should be able to speak their minds during the comment section.

By John Hamilton

[email protected]

Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574

Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574