Sullivan commissioners debate return to morning meetings

J. H. Osborne • Updated Oct 11, 2019 at 2:39 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Some Sullivan County commissioners want to change the group’s monthly business meeting back to a morning start time. But others strongly oppose the move, arguing evening meetings have proved successful in bringing more public participation — and have allowed commissioners with “9 to 5” day jobs to serve without missing work.

Those in favor of moving back to morning meetings say they haven’t seen any increase in public participation in meetings — and those who work a day job knew when they ran for election last year that the commission met once a month at 9 a.m.

Basically, one group argues the change to night meetings was for the convenience of the public, and another group wonders if the people who really benefit from a night meeting are the commissioners who don’t want to miss work in order to have a daytime meeting.

Others said a a major consideration should be whether meetings that begin at 6 p.m. — and sometimes run several hours — provide the best environment for the county’s business to be given proper, clear-headed consideration.

Commissioner Colette George said that when it gets to be 10 p.m. or later it has at times been obvious some commissioners begin to become anxious to get business wrapped up as quickly as possible and go home.

“We might not spend the time we could,” George said.

George was among those who seemed to embrace a “compromise.” Currently, the commission’s work session and business meeting are each held at night. Both cover that month’s agenda, except for items added in the week between. Both meetings include a public comment portion. The “compromise” suggested by some would change one of the two meetings to a morning start time and leave the other at night.

George said she knows there are residents who are less likely to come to an evening meeting because that’s when a lot of family events and children’s activities take place. George said offering one morning meeting and one evening meeting each month would be better for the public.

The resolution to change the start time back to 9 a.m. is sponsored by Commissioner Larry Crawford and co-sponsored by Commissioner Darlene Calton.

Crawford said he just hasn’t seen anything to show public participation increased when the business meeting was changed to a night meeting. Crawford said the intent of the change, voted on last year after the current commission was elected (with a majority of new members), was stated as being to accommodate the public. But since he hasn’t seen an increase in public participation, he asked, “Who is it accommodating?”

Calton said that considering the public has a chance to attend the work sessions, and can watch the business meetings live or later on video, the proposed change shouldn’t discourage public participation.

Commissioner Hunter Locke, who sponsored last year’s resolution to change the business session to a night meeting, said most commissioners work a daytime schedule.

Crawford said when everyone was running for election, they knew the start time of the monthly meeting was at 9 a.m.

Commissioner Mark Vance said he had not seen anything to show an increase in public participation with the advent of night meetings — and according to his count, eight commissioners have day jobs.

Vance was first to propose the “compromise” of changing one meeting to a morning start time and leaving the second meeting as a night meeting. Vance noted that the business meeting often includes zoning issues (they are not covered during the work session) and meeting at night makes it more challenging for would-be developers to bring in professionals involved in potential economic growth opportunities.

Commissioner Angie Stanley said she has seen an increase in public participation, and noted that before the vote to change to night meetings she had received many telephone calls from constituents who said they were in favor of night meetings because they wanted to attend meetings but couldn’t, due to work, during the day.

The proposal is on first reading this month, meaning it could be next month before it is voted on by the commission.