Shenandoah County Board Adopts New Bylaws
WOODSTOCK — At its first meeting of the year on Thursday, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors approved an 18-page rulebook to replace the single page of procedures it had been using for about two years.
Many of the new rules to govern the meetings merely document the way things had been done, but new Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz resisted the idea of approving rules they did not help to write, and both women cast dissenting votes. The other four supervisors all voted in favor of implementing the rules.
“I have found these to be very good,” Supervisor Conrad Helsley said. “I really don’t have any problem with [them].”
County Administrator Mary Beth Price had been working on the 18-page draft for several months before the meeting. Previously, a set of nine bullet points fitting on a single sheet of paper made up the board’s meeting rules.
Price attended a workshop about bylaws at a conference for the Virginia Association of Counties in February 2013, she said, and felt that Shenandoah County needed to upgrade its own.
“A lot of this, we’re doing currently, it’s just not written,” Price said last month. “It’s good to have in writing to protect the board.”
The new rules lay out guidelines for the manner in which the public may speak or make presentations at board meetings. This includes prohibiting individuals and organizations from making presentations on the same topic more than once within a three-month period unless the board votes otherwise, which Bailey spoke strongly against at the meeting.
The regulations also restrict public comments to three minutes — which the board previously practiced, although it was not written — and prohibit interrupting and donating time to other speakers, addressing the board on issues irrelevant to county government and profanity and vulgar gestures.
The previous set of rules did not contain any regulations regarding public comment.
The new bylaws also include detailed information about such aspects of board meetings as the schedule, process for electing a chairman and vice chairman and the order in which business should be conducted. Much of the county’s parliamentary procedure is fully explained, as well, providing definitions for various motions supervisors can make.
Price said she had worked with the county attorney, J. Jay Litten, to make sure the rules are thorough and comply with existing laws.
When Price saw the VACo presentation regarding meeting rules, she said she was impressed and immediately thought the county could improve its own. She made it one of her goals when she interviewed with the board for the county administrator position.
At Thursday’s meeting, Bailey and Shruntz said they deserved respect from the rest of the board and they should be shown the courtesy of helping to write the rules. Bailey’s biggest concern was the provision that prevents individuals or organizations from making presentations to the board more than once within a three-month period on the same topic.
Supervisor David Ferguson, the board’s newly appointed chairman, pointed out, though, that presentations have no time limit, and residents have no limit to the number of times they may make public comments, which are capped at three minutes. Ferguson also said that the rules can be changed at any time.
“This board is about getting the county business done,” he said. “So to have your meetings maybe disrupted with three, four individuals who come in and talk on the same subject for long periods of time each board meeting is not conducive to good government, so I have no problem with that.”
Bailey continued to push the issue of postponing adopting the rules, saying she would prefer to hash out all the issues she had with the rules during a work session, which members of the public typically don’t attend.
“If we can change them, why can’t we adopt the nine rules, take these draft rules to our next budget meeting in February and work on them there?” she asked. “I agree there are some that you’ve been working off that should have been in here. [Let’s] pull together and work on this in a work session instead of here at a public meeting when we need to get certain business done.”
Throughout the meeting, the discussion often became heated between Bailey and Ferguson. Bailey and Shruntz had both clashed with the board numerous times in previous years before being elected.
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