DARLINGTON – After several disagreements and various arguments in an assortment of county committee meetings, the Executive, Rules, & Legislative Committee, at their two-hour meeting on Aug. 14, discussed amending and adding rules to the Rules of the Lafayette County Board dealing with public comment, recording meetings and expressing their own opinions.
Executive committee chairman Tony Ruesga began by saying this meeting was called so that there will be order and a clear direction on how things should work in the county board and it’s committees.
Ruesga stated, “The biggest concern I have is if we don’t get a hold on the way we handle meetings and government, it will effect our economic ability to grow and our ability to encourage people to move here.”
The county boardroom was full of concerned citizens and public comment was allowed. Three individuals spoke up. Steve Acheson of Blanchardville tried to provide context for why the Executive meeting was called and these issues were brought up. Acheson went to a Law Enforcement Committee meeting in July where they were discussing marijuana on the agenda. Acheson, a veteran of the Iraq War who suffered an injury to his spine in 2009, went to that meeting in support of medical cannabis. He brought with him two containers of pills that he was prescribed by the Veterans Administration showing those in attendance how over prescribed veterans are.
“I am here today because I care deeply for this county and to address the issues of recorded meetings, open meetings, public comments and to offer defense of my county board supervisor, Kriss Marion,” Acheson said.
At the Law Enforcement Committee meeting, Lafayette County Board Chairman Jack Sauer and Acheson had some words. Then at a Land Conservation meeting, Sauer spoke out on topics that were not on the agenda and was reported making false accusations against Acheson stating he thought Acheson had a gun or a bomb in his bag.
As Acheson was reporting all this information to the Executive committee, he went over his allotted three minutes and chairman Ruesga tried to stop him.
“Part of the problem we are seeing is people are not staying on task on things on the agenda. You are talking about a thing that…that is why we are trying to clean things up. Reliving them in an open meeting is highly inappropriate,” Ruesga said.
Acheson rebutted that he didn’t feel it was inappropriate and was trying to give context to why the meeting was happening.
“The reason why I am here is because it is important we have these meetings recorded because Jack is looking at me denying this yet I have the voice recording,” Acheson stated.
“I didn’t say that exactly,” Sauer interjected. “I said you could have had those things.”
There was some more argumentative language between Acheson and Sauer before both Ruesga and Sheriff Reg Gill stood up trying to calm the situation down.
Ruesga stated loud enough to drown out both Sauer and Acheson, telling Acheson to either take his seat or exit. Acheson had stated before his speech he couldn’t stay for the entire meeting so he exited.
Recordings of Meetings
Economic Development Director Abby Haas commented that the proposed rule on recording meetings referred to all recordings by clerks that are not intentionally made for public record and to make sure all records were maintained in the same way.
The rule states that any employee that is designated to be the clerk of a committee meeting can use an auto-recording device to “capture the discussion, action and contents of a county board or committee meeting for the sole purpose of utilizing such recording to refresh the recollection and later drafting official minutes of the recorded board or committee meeting”.
“This is not saying you can’t record, it is saying if you record just to use them for notes, they are not subject to open records,” Ruesga explained.
County board supervisor Kriss Marion spoke, “I asked about this issue. I was concerned about that exchange made at the Land Conservation Committee meeting. I thought that if we as supervisors felt we were being recorded, we might endeavor to be a little more civil.”
“It is unfortunate that is your feeling,” Ruesga said. “I think that county board meetings and committee meetings should all be handled with respect and not in fear of anyone recording. That is not what this policy is really entailed for.”
A motion was made and seconded to pass the proposed rule and pass it on to the county board. The motion passed.
Rule 16 of the Rules of the Lafayette County Board refers to public comments given at the county board meetings. The proposed Rule 21 would refer to public comments at committee meetings.
Corporation council Nathan Russell stated that the proposed rule was similar to Rule 16 and that Rule 16 could just be amended.
Sauer stated he liked the idea of having the rules be separated.
“Leave the rule that’s in there the same for the full county board and create a new one for committee meetings,” Sauer said.
“We can leave it or clean it up but I’m in favor of having two separate rules,” Ruesga agreed.
Russell stated that at a different meeting Rule 16 would need to be refined so it states that it is only for county board.
Ruesga reiterated that the rules were about creating a process for people to speak at certain times of the meeting and creating a sense of order.
“If you have a large body and 10 people speaking about the same thing, you can get off topic and arguments can start to happen. This is giving us a sense of order and getting [constituent’s] point across,” Ruesga added.
Gerald Heimann made a motion to approve the proposed rule with Larry Ludlum seconding. The motion passed.
The proposed rule regarding advocacy stated that county board supervisors represent the official policies for their positions as board supervisors, and on boards, commissions, or committees. When they are giving their individual opinion, may be through a Letter to the Editor, social media or another way to express themselves, they are speaking “without the express direction or authorization of their body”. They should state that those opinions they are expressing are their own and do not represent Lafayette County.
The board had an overview of the Lafayette County Conduct Violation Process, which states any board supervisor or member of the public can file a complaint against any board supervisor and the process that needs to be taken to do so. The board also looked over the Open Meetings Law Violation Process.