Council members consider broader public comment allowances

  • Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mount Pleasant Town councilman Gary Santos asked that discussion be brought forth regarding travel teams through the town's recreation department. The importance of possibly bringing programs back is to provide affordable programs, he said. Competitive teams can be very costly due to the fact that most involve extensive travel.

Participants pay up to $2,000 a year to be a team member.

Players who try out and do not make travel teams are eligible to play recreation sports through the town. But the town no longer offers the competitive level of play for players to continue training and conditioning at that level.

Consultants in the past recommended that the town offer more core recreation opportunities. According to Santos, taxpayers should receive the benefits of their dollars. “You're paying taxes for the recreation department. You want the services you are paying for,” Santos said.

Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said it is a public policy matter and if elected officials want expansion of recreation offerings, his staff will do it to the best of their ability.

Ken Ayoub, recreation department director, said the town only currently offers recreation leagues and developmental leagues (where there is more training) but nothing competitive.

He said he has not heard of any desire to see the town offer more competitive play.

Santos said the issue with competitive leagues is the cost. If a player cannot afford to be part of a private travel team, there is no place for them to play at all.

Recreation committee member, councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall said she did not think the town should be offering elite play. Chairman Elton Carrier said, should officials consider such a move, it should be considered “filling a gap,” not offering an elite level of play.

Council members in the audience spoke out against the idea, saying there is not a need for a government-run competitive league. “We are here to help build citizens, not athletes,” said councilman Paul Gawrych.

He said recreation is a core service like the fire service, not an entity in which to make money.

Councilman Mark Smith said let the private sector seize the opportunity if there is a market for competitive travel leagues.

“Recreation, like everything in government, can't be all to everybody,” said Mayor Linda Page.

Santos worried about disadvantaged kids who can't afford travel leagues. The discussion was left with committee members agreeing to look closer at the actual need before discussing creation of any new recreation programs.

Judicial matters

Discussion of a public comment period during all meetings was a legal topic Monday.

Gary Santos asked that the issue be brought forward because a 1998 ordinance allows a public comment period during council meetings. This gives the public an opportunity to address elected officials.

However, it is not required at all meetings, specifically at the planning commission.

Santos asked for a new ordinance that would allow public comment at all town meetings. The ordinance now allows people to speak at a public hearing at the chairman's discretion.

Councilman Chris Nickels said officials are technically meeting requirements, “but how do you allow citizens to be heard, but still conduct a functional meeting?” At a recent planning commission meeting, the meeting was five hours in and officials were only half-way through the agenda.

“We have an engaged citizen population in this town,” said Nickels. “No doubt about it. Those folks want to be heard.” Nickels said we must find a “sweet spot” for citizens to be heard, but still maintain a functional meeting.

Thomasena Stokes-Marshall added that hotbed issues open up occasions when people tend to be less than respectful. “That kind of environment then becomes emotional and that's where the issue and the problem is,” she said.

Councilman Elton Carrier said he would be in favor of shortening agendas to allow people to speak and to allow for officials to conduct their business efficiently.

Mayor Linda Page said she would like to review the existing ordinance and make recommendations that might encompass other commissions and committees so that there is equality and fairness for presenters and anyone who wants to speak on issues.

For more updates from the desk of the Moultrie News editor, Sully Witte, please follow Sully's Scoop on Twitter @SullysScoop and like Sully's Scoop Facebook page.  

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