Richmond County public comment policy unconstitutional, expert says

Hat-tip to Lisa Sorg, who put the "T" in Tenacity:

Reached by email, Jonathan Jones, director of the Open Government Coalition at Elon University, said the county’s policy “clearly violates the First Amendment.”

Under North Carolina law, counties and cities are required allocated time in their meetings for public comment at least monthly. This time is known as a “limited public forum,” said Jones, who is a First Amendment scholar. And in limited public forums, officials can’t single out a category of class or speech to prohibit. “There’s almost no getting around that,” Jones added.

Thank God. I almost thought I was losing my mind, or losing my grasp of Constitutional principles. When I first read that "No comments about items on the Agenda" thing, I went back and re-read it outloud, to see if it sounded less crazy when vocalized. Sounded crazier. In case you're not up to snuff on this, Enviva is building a wood pellet plant in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, and said neighbors have been trying to express their concern and outrage for months:

T hat situation doesn’t apply to the petition by Concerned Citizens of Richmond County. They attended the March 7 meeting to ask the seven-member county commission to place a moratorium on the construction of a industrial wood pellet plant in nearby Hamlet. Proposed by Enviva, the plant essentially grinds hardwood trees, such as bald cypress, willow oak and sweet gum, plus varieties of pine, into small pellets. Those pellets are then shipped from the Port of Wilmington, across the Atlantic and on to the United Kingdom to be burned as fuel for electric power plants.

But since Item No. 17 on the agenda was an update from an Enviva spokesman, the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County could not petition their elected officials at that meeting.

The concerned citizens had tried to speak at the February meeting, when Enviva was not on the agenda. However, Adam Macon of the Dogwood Alliance, which also opposes the pellet plant, said they weren’t allowed to speak because they didn’t sign up on the previous Friday. Citizens must state the topic of their comments at that time.

County Commissioner Thad Ussery, who is serving his sixth term, said people can speak at public hearings, which are different from the monthly public comment periods. At those, he said, “We don’t want more than one person speaking about an agenda item at the same meeting because if we did, we could get to the point where we wouldn’t know who were supposed to be listening to.”

You're a public servant, meaning you're supposed to be listening to the public, not some corporate mouthpiece. SMFH with whole bunch of wood pellets...

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