Clayton may ease meeting rules

The Town Council will look at ways to make public comment more convenient

Staff WriterMarch 15, 2006 

Clayton pushed public comments to the end of meetings about nine years ago to prevent gripe sessions from holding Town Council members hostage.

But efficiency came at a price. Few residents want to sit through a three-hour meeting to make a five-minute comment.

"It's not nice to make these people wait," said council member Robert Ahlert.

Next week, Clayton's Town Council members will consider changes to make their meetings more accessible. They plan to keep their public comment sessions at the end. But they are thinking about letting residents contact the town in advance to make a presentation, probably about five minutes tops, at the start of meetings.

North Carolina is lenient on when a council must hear public comments during a meeting. In July, state lawmakers adopted a statute making it mandatory for councils to have one period for public comment at a regular meeting each month.

In Clayton, meetings have been getting longer. That has increased sensitivity to not making people wait until the end of a night's agenda to speak.

One of the longer meetings in recent memory ran for four and half hours. It began at 7:30 p.m. and ended at 12:02 a.m.

"My husband was shocked at the time I got home," said Town Clerk Sherry Scoggins.

Public comment sessions also came up at a January government conference in Wilmington, where council members learned about formats that other towns have adopted.

Phyllis Thurman, a resident of the Cleveland area, said she thinks the proposed format would work well. She recently brought two of her sons and a group of other students to seek the town's help in raising money for a summer student ambassador program.

The students were among the first items on the council's agenda. Discussion lasted about nine minutes. Thurman said she was grateful that the town clerk said they could leave as soon as they had given their presentation.

Otherwise, everyone would have been up past bedtime.

Staff writer Peggy Lim can be reached at 836-5799 or plim@newsobserver.com.

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