Cumberland Co. (ECWd) –
Toledo, the small rural community that is the County seat for Cumberland County. Yes, even in what many would consider a rural paradise just far enough away from city life, public officials appear to have no clue of what it means to represent the people.
As we reported before, only one board member had complied with the mandatory training, which is required to educate them on how to conduct business, such as allowing the public to speak during a public meeting. We confirmed that prior to our involvement, the Mayor had refused to allow a citizen to speak, even though the law says otherwise.
The first meeting we attended we found them in violation of the law as they had not posted the meeting properly. Their attorney, who rarely attends according to board members, terminated the meeting. The following week we went back, as the agenda item for a public comment policy was up for adoption and it was concerning.
Although we were pleased to see they are “now” going to allow the public to speak, they have placed restrictions that we believe are inconsistent with our Constitutional rights as well as the Open Meetings act. One, in particular, is the method of allowing a person to go beyond their 5-minute restriction. Normal business requires a majority vote to pass, however, in this case, they now require a majority vote of the board “and” the confirming vote from the Mayor to let you speak beyond 5 minutes. That means even though a majority of the elected board wants to give you more time, the Mayor can stop their vote to do so by voting no. That is wrong!
They also believe it’s OK to force you to sign up no later than 5 minutes before the meeting to speak. The problem with that restriction is a person that walks in the room 2-3 minutes before the meeting even begins is not allowed to speak under their rules. I asked them if they would allow such a scenario to happen and with the advice of the attorney to the Mayor, silence was the answer. Even though the attorney has informed me the Village welcomes all individuals/organizations to their meeting, we believe such a welcome is disingenuous when the advice is to not respond to the public’s questions and/or concerns.
Probably the most concerning part of this now adopted policy is how it violates, in my opinion, our First Amendment right. The policy states: “Persons addressing the Board of Trustees should not expect an answer at the conclusion of a person’s comments, nor shall they be allowed to question the President or the Board of Trustees.”
Every citizen has a constitutional right to question their Village President and the Board of Trustees. It is beyond me what they felt they would accomplish with such a statement. Clearly, such a position should be a red flag to the citizens of Toledo as your public officials believe you have no right to question them.
Silence was the answer to every question presented to them from the public during public comment. I asked a question regarding the Clerk not being elected since we have never run into that situation before. They refused to respond during the meeting, but I was able to obtain the statute from the Attorney that permits a village of fewer than 5000 people to appoint their clerk instead of electing them. The Village took away the voters choice to elect their clerk in a resolution adopted in 1984.
What may be of special interest in that statute (see section b), is the people’s ability to reverse the action by referendum. As it stands now, the people have no vote for their Clerk, who we understand does not live in Toledo. Under the elected process, they are required to be a citizen of the Village but such a requirement does not apply to an appointive office. I suspect there might be an interest in getting a question to the public to see if “they” have an interest in their public officials being elected by them, vs. appointed by a Mayor who feels it’s OK to ignore the public during meetings.
You can watch the video of the meeting below. It is in two parts because of the break for closed session.