Comment policy draws public’s ire

Skip Schulz/For the Gazette Ontonagon Village Council members Tony Smydra and John Hamm, sitting at the table, hear complaints from the public during the council’s public comment.

ONTONAGON — The Village Council’s policy on public comment during meetings drew a wave of complaints from resident commenters.

With reports from numerous residents being contacted by the Michigan State Police regarding open meeting laws and public comment, a number of village residents spoke during the public comment period.

Sue Lockhart stated it benefits the council and the public to allow the public to speak.

“My point of bringing this up is that when you give people the chance to speak, then you will not have such heated and argumentative meetings,” she said.

Lockhart brought up how a visitor from Chicago came to a previous meeting and was upset with how the meetings were handled. “This man even sent a letter to the village, which was not read at any meeting,” she said.

Lockhart said she had questions at the Nov. 14 meeting about the village’s audit, “which was on the agenda. Kenny (Village President Gerard Waldrop) wouldn’t even allow me to ask one of my questions.”

Waldrop responded: “Was it on the agenda? If it was in November, I don’t remember that!”

The village agenda states in parentheses on the Public Comment item “on agenda items only.” The legal opinion from the village’s attorney, Ted Baird, was that the council only has to provide public comment on items and issues that are the business of the council or village.

When asked if the council has always allowed public comment on non-agenda items, Waldrop replied, “Yes.”

Lockhart said she was at the Jan. 23 meeting when two people raised their hands to speak.

“When you (Waldrop) would not give them the chance to speak, a person from the audience yelled out, ‘Two people have their hands up,’ and you (Waldrop) still did not give them the chance to speak.”

Waldrop asked Baird to clarify the Open Meetings Act along with the issue of Waldrop using his nickname on this past November’s ballot.

Baird said the code of conduct from the Michigan Municipal League (MML) is simply a “guideline.”

“The MML is not the legal authority, nor do they have any legal right pertaining to how a meeting is run, including when public comment is given,” he said. “The village is not under any law forcing them as to when they have public comment, or even how long they must give someone to speak.”

When asked by the Daily Mining Gazette after the meeting about the public comment item specifically for agenda items, Baird said as long as public comment was offered, the village is following the law.

Toward the end of the meeting Village Council member Tony Smydra made a motion to change the agenda to edit the public comment item to “Public Comment on agenda and non-agenda items.” The motion passed.

At the end of the meeting, resident Gunnard Kyllonen raised his hand to speak, but Waldrop said the public comment period had ended, and the council adjourned.