Public speaking now encouraged in SLO County?
January 7, 2015
New chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors Frank Mecham has made changes to board meetings, which include easing restrictions on public participation.
At the board’s first regular meeting of 2015, Mecham reorganized the seating alignment of his colleagues and changed a rule regarding public comment periods. He also opted to remove the presence of a sheriff’s deputy from the board chambers.
Previous chairman Bruce Gibson is now sitting in an outside seat, which is considered a less influential position. Supervisor Debbie Arnold is sitting between Mecham and Gibson.
New vice-chair Adam Hill is sitting on the other side of Mecham, with newly elected Supervisor Lynn Compton in the outside position next to Hill.
Unlike Gibson, Mecham indicated that, as chairman, he would encourage members of the audience to speak during public comment. Mecham rid a board policy implemented by Gibson that required those wishing to speak to show up early and turn in speaker cards prior to the beginning of the related item.
Many public speakers considered the placement of a sheriff’s deputy at the meetings as a way to intimidate those critical of the board. A few years ago, Hill, then chairman, called on the deputy to escort a speaker away from the microphone because of the topic she raised.
The policy of staffing a deputy at board meetings also came into existence while Gibson was chairman.
Mecham said the presence of a deputy at meetings was not necessary and was also costly. The county reportedly paid about $36 an hour to have deputies stand in the board chambers during meetings.