County board temporarily suspends public comment portion of meetings

By Daniel E. McGonigle

General Manager

The Caledonia Argus

 

“On the advice of counsel, I move to suspend the public comment period temporarily.”

So opened the August 19 regular Houston County board of commissioners meeting.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, commissioner Steve Schuldt read the comments from his notes.

“Slanderous comments accusing a Houston County law enforcement officer of capital crimes have put the county in a position of litigious jeopardy,” he continued.

The motion, which was seconded by Judy Storlie, came in response to comments made during the public comment period of an earlier meeting by Donna Buckbee.

Her comments indicated her fear for her neighbor, Brian Van Gorp’s safety. The law enforcement officer about whom the comments were made was Tracie Erickson, the same Tracie Erickson who owns the Erickson mine.

After Schuldt made the motion and received a second, commissioner Justin Zymewski said “let me go on the record that I don’t agree with this.”

Board chair Teresa Walter said she had talked to MCIT (Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust) and reported that they told her “we don’t have to have a public comment period. Only during a public hearing.”

Zymewski said regardless, he’d rather not see the county take this step.

“While I do believe the comments (by Buckbee) were out of line, I would encourage the board to continue to allow public comments,” Zymewski said. “I think it is a very key thing for today’s governments to allow.”

Storlie replied “But it’s the same thing week after week. There is nothing new to offer, ever.”

Walters noted that despite reminding the public that personal attacks are not allowed, “we still can’t control that,” she said. “I was so stunned when she made those comments and MCIT agreed.”

“But when people don’t feel that they’re being heard they repeat themselves,” Zymewski said. “If they feel they are looking for help and aren’t getting it, they’re going to keep coming back asking for help.”

“This is just temporarily until we can assess,” Schuldt said. “It is like we’re being lobbied during the public comment period.”

“That’s part of being in government,” Zymewski responded. “We could be lobbied by both sides.”

“I think shooting down the public comments portion is not going to help,” commissioner Dana Kjome said.

“It is just temporary,” said Schuldt. “Let’s rethink this.”

Walters added that MCIT suggested offering a sign-in sheet with rules attached and that if someone doesn’t follow the rules they would be banned from public comments for a specified period of time.

“That still doesn’t help with what someone might say off the cuff,” Zymewski said.

“Why would we let one person have this much influence and ruin it for everybody,” Kjome said.

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