DOBSON — County commissioners will no longer consider funding requests during the open forum portion of their meetings.
“Open forum is not a time for knee-jerk reactions,” said Commissioner Van Tucker. “We should carefully consider every funding request.”
On Monday evening, the Surry County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to change its rules, making it clear open forum is a portion of the meeting in which citizens may voice concerns or support, but it’s not a time to ask for money.
In April, the Veterans of Foreign Wars appeared before the county board to ask for a contribution for a new bus for the honor guard which handles the burial rites for veterans in Surry County.
Commissioners, a few days later, voted unanimously to give $16,000 to the veterans group. However, most would have preferred that the budget request be brought to the board in another manner — specifically through the county’s finance officer.
It was not the first time for such a request to be made in open forum. The local Disabled American Veterans chapter made a similar request in 2016.
The new rule states that any funding request which arises in open forum will be forwarded to the county’s finance office. It does leave room for exceptions, however.
The chairman of the board may skip the stop at the finance office and place the matter on the board’s next agenda. A vote of 5-0 could waive the rule entirely, allowing the board to consider a funding request immediately in an emergency situation.
After the vote, Commissioner Larry Johnson raised concerns regarding whether the board had been following its own rules on another matter — Rule 23: Action by Reference.
“The board shall not deliberate, vote, or otherwise act on any matter by reference to an agenda or document number unless copies of the agenda or documents being referenced are available for public inspection at the meeting and are so worded that people at the meeting can understand what is being discussed or acted on,” the rule reads.
Johnson pointed specifically at the board’s consent agenda, which includes any number of motions which garner no discussion from the board.
While each commissioner has a right to pull a matter from the consent agenda, the motions are usually passed with no conversation by way of a single motion to pass the consent agenda. Those present at the meeting who have not been given an agenda packet have no knowledge of what was passed.
County Manager Chris Knopf told Johnson the clerk brings an extra packet with her to every meeting. That agenda packet is public record and is available for inspection at the request of any citizen.