Members of the Trumbull County Board of Health, if they haven't already, should consider reinstating public comments at their monthly meetings.
The public doesn't have a right to be heard, but the public should be given a chance to be heard.
Ohio's Open Meetings Law permits the public to attend and observe all meetings of any public body, but what it does not provide for is the right to speak at meetings. On the other hand, the law doesn't prohibit attendees from being heard.
So public bodies are free to chose if they'll let the public speak, but not allowing the people they serve to speak just doesn't seem right.
One township trustee, shortly after the board removed public comments from the agenda last year, sent me an email with similar feelings.
In it, the trustee wrote that eliminating public comments was like telling your boss you don't want to hear his or her opinion.
And he's right, who ignores their boss without there being a consequence?
There were consequences for former board member Denise Allen. She lost her bid to retain her seat on the board in March largely due to a group of residents at odds with the health board.
The issues between the two run deeper than just not being allowed to speak at board meetings, but being prohibited from addressing the board certainly is a factor in the group's displeasure. The group's unhappiness led them to back a candidate for the health board that wasn't Allen.
The board would be best served by creating some common sense rules for attendees of their meetings wanting to speak to follow and in exchange for being heard, the public must obey those rules or risk being removed from the meeting.
The public should be courteous and direct when speaking. The board should listen attentively.
A time limit should be put into place. Three minutes, even two minutes, should be plenty for the speaker to get his or her message across to the board.
I've attended meetings where a timer was used to keep the speakers within the limit, and if I remember, speakers were given two minutes a piece. It works.
The board should ask politely if more than one person intends to address the same topic and if that is the case, suggest those people combine their message. I've seen this work at public meetings too. It's a public meeting for official business of the board, not a public hearing, where anyone can address the subject that caused the meeting to be called.
And, passing time to someone else should be prohibited. That is, a person who doesn't wish to speak should not be allowed to pass on his or her time to someone who is speaking or will speak.
The decision to not allow people attending health board meetings to speak should be reversed, but the public must be willing to compromise or else be satisfied with what's happening now, and that's just not good enough.