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THURSDAY, MAY 24, 2007
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Hartselle won't change process for addressing council

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Council President Kenny Thompson said he will continue to let residents address the council without giving an advance notice of their topic.

"I have no intention of keeping people from making comments as long as they do it in an orderly manner," he said.

Thompson's comments are in response to Councilman Bill Drake's request that city leaders make residents have their name and subject matter on the agenda.

"I'm in no way trying to stop people from speaking to the council," Drake said. "But, I think it's unfair for us to be approached (on issues) and not have an opportunity to prepare."

Alabama law gives residents the right to attend public meetings. But, there is no guaranteed right to speak, City Attorney Larry Madison said.

Thompson, who is Hartselle's first council president, sets the agenda and presides over meetings. He can stop residents from speaking.

"But I'm not going to do that," Thompson said. "I believe in free speech. I don't think too many (other council members) want change, and I don't think the people of Hartselle would be receptive to the change. They elect us to represent them, and I think we're just better off to let them come and have their say."

In requesting the procedure change, Drake referred to a May 7 work session in which Mayor Dwight Tankersley proposed a 1-cent sales tax increase to help construct a new Hartselle High.

While the council discussed the proposal, residents periodically interjected, sometimes talking about matters not related to the proposed tax.

"That was my fault," Thompson said. "I allowed that meeting to get out of hand, and I take the blame. I handled it very poorly. But this doesn't mean we should make it more difficult for residents to speak or bring concerns to the council."

Drake is not against residents talking to the council. But when council members are conducting city business, they should be able to do so without being interrupted, he said.

Drake wants Thompson to require speakers to put their name and concern on the agenda by Wednesday before the council's Monday work session.

"The best thing is that if we don't know what they are talking about, let's put it on the agenda for the next meeting," said Councilman Samie Wiley, a former Hartselle mayor.

Drake's request is similar to what the Morgan County Commission does. The county allows residents to speak at work sessions as long as their name and subject matter is on the agenda. But the commission typically does not allow them to speak during meetings.

Hartselle has historically let residents make comments at the end of council meetings.

"There's a difference in comments and questions," Madison said.

Thompson said he will not change how he conducts meetings unless the council majority wants it.

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