Ever wonder how a Board of Supervisor's meeting works or how it is structured? Ever wonder how they come up with their rules? So did we, so we set to find out just what those rules are and how they work. The Gloucester County, Virginia Board of Supervisors are allowed to pick a form or structure for how the meetings are to be conducted each year. For 2013, Robert's Rules of Order is the format that Gloucester County uses for it's Board of Supervisors meetings.
Above is a complete, yet older version of Robert's Rules of Order. Devised by Henry Robert back in the 1800's/ The first pocket edition was published in 1876.
The book is designed for use in ordinary societies rather than legislative assemblies, and it is the most commonly adopted parliamentary authority among societies in the United States. The book claims to be a "codification of the present-day general parliamentary law (omitting provisions having no application outside legislative bodies)". This statement does not imply any approbation on the part of the courts, and the "general parliamentary law" is related neither to statutory legal requirements nor to common-law precedent derived from court judgments.
As seen above, for 2013, the Gloucester County, Virginia Board of Supervisors has adopted Robert's Rules of Order for the structure of public meetings.
Arguments of Suppression:
Previously we argued that it looked to us like the Board of Supervisors were purposely suppressing public arguments by time limits. Is the argument valid? Let's say it is a valid argument based on the fact that the Board can set time limits on the public based on Robert's Rules of Order, however, there is on the other hand, no basis of law on that time limit at that juncture. Let's look at the present county rules for speakers.
. Each speaker may address the Board as many times as the Chair may allow, but no speaker shall exceed the total time limit set by the Chair regardless of the number of times recognized by the Chair.
The Parliamentarian shall be responsible for noting the expiration of this time limit, and the Chair shall be responsible for enforcing said limit. All speakers shall direct their comments to the Board Chair. Speakers may register with the Clerk prior to the start of the hearing if the Chair feels it is necessary on forms provided for citizen participation, and the Chair shall verify that all such registration has been completed before beginning the hearing with the first step described above in Section 4-1. The Code of Gloucester County,
Section 2-13, allows the Chair to recognize any citizen to speak to the Board during the course of any meeting if deemed appropriate, and requires the Chair to recognize a citizen when requested by two (2) or more Board members. Section 4-3. Member’s Participation Board members shall limit their comments during public hearings to ensure full participation by the public without Board interference."
Section 4-1. Format for Public Hearings
The following format shall be followed for all Public Hearings conducted before the Board of Supervisors, except for those conducted by representatives of the Virginia Department of Transportation:
• The Chair will make a brief statement identifying the matter to be heard and verify with the County Administrator that all legal advertisement requirements have been met.
• The Chair will call upon the appropriate County staff member to present the item to be heard. Staff presentations should be concise and normally limited to no more than ten (10) minutes except when necessary to properly inform the public of the issue before the Board. In a land use matter, unless otherwise agreed by the Board, the applicant or the applicant’s representative(s) shall be allowed a maximum of ten (10) minutes to present their case immediately following the staff presentation.
• The Chair will open the floor to public comment.
• The Chair shall close the floor to public comment, and refer the matter for Board discussion.
Arguments based on the above, Gloucester County's own format:
1.) Nowhere is a preset time limit given for any speaker from the public given.
2.) No laws are quoted for time limits, other than one may be set, for a public speaker, which is not a law but rules of order.
3.) The only time the public sees a time limit is when a public meeting is announced on a given topic. The time limit is arbitrary and can be changed at will.
4.) We have noted that when a topic is a hot debate and the county wishes to restrict that debate, the time limit is restricted to a very low level, usually 5 minutes.
One will note with great interest, the video from the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors meeting, below, that there was no public speaker time limit given on a subject of very low interest. Yet once the school bond issue came up, it was made very clear that any member of the public had only 5 minutes to speak.
The school bond issue was a very hot topic. The 5 minutes were in fact enforced on one person who had more to say. That person was suppressed from having her say. (You can see the entire video at the bottom of this site).
The case of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors should now be very clear about suppressing unwanted information in opposition to what the Board of Supervisors wants to push through regardless of what the public wants.
How to beat the limitations on time. According to the information above from the Board of Supervisors own meeting rules, if you want to address an issue at the public hearing or before any part of the meetings begin to open up a certain topic, you can register ahead of time to do so. You can also submit how long that presentation will last. It takes advanced planning and timing, but it is one option.
Option two. Tag team. If you will need to make sure your message is heard, you can create a tag team of people who will each present a part of the total argument and still keep within the time frame that the Board of Supervisors has set for each person. One can also argue the time limitations set by the board and challenge the time limitations requesting to know how that time limit was set for the particular topic and request justification for that time limit.
If you understand how all of this is set up, you can work within it's limitations and still beat them. There is always a loophole. Even if the Board closes that loophole, there are always others.
Government is by the consent of the governed. People should not be afraid of their government, the government should fear the people. (Old historical quote).
On a final note, we would like to show the Gloucester County, Virginia Board of Supervisor's Code of Ethics and ask if they are in violation of their own codes.
Code of Ethics 2013 Gloucester County Board of Supervisors from Chuck Thompson
If you are having any difficulty reading any of the documents in their containers, you can left click the icon at the bottom right hand side of the container and the document will change to full screen view. Robert's Rules of Order is available for a free download from our SlideShare site. Usual procedures apply.