Blair adopts comment policy

Opinions restricted to county residents or nonresidents who own property or represent a business

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday in favor of a policy restricting the public comment period to county residents — whether they own property or not — and to non-county residents who own property in the county or represent a business in the county.

Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb stressed the clarification on who can comment because after Wednesday’s story in the Altoona Mirror, he heard from county residents who thought they would be prohibited from commenting because they don’t own property.

Commissioners Laura Burke and Amy Webster indicated that they had heard the same.

The county’s public comment policy, as approved Thursday, allows any county resident to speak up to three minutes during a commissioners meeting.

For a non-county resident to offer comment, the non-county resident must either own property in the county or represent a business in the county.

The proposed policy surfaced publicly for the first time during Tuesday’s commissioners meeting where Assistant County Administrator Allison Senkevich presented the draft that commissioners approved Thursday.

Commissioners indicated that they had reviewed previous drafts, and at Tuesday’s meeting, Senkevich thanked them for their input.

Solicitor Nathan Karn told commissioners Tuesday that he reviewed the policy that he found to be similar to ones adopted by other governing bodies. He also told commissioners that it’s better to adopt this kind of policy during a non-controversial time.

Burke, in offering her support for the policy, said she agreed with Karn’s comment about the timing of the policy adoption.

Erb said the proposed policy wasn’t prepared in reaction to anything.

“It’s just good practice, something that most (governing) bodies have,” Erb said.

Webster praised the proposed policy for avoiding a prior practice of restricting public comment to agenda items.

“If people have concerns, we want them to bring them to us,” Webster said, with Burke nodding her head in agreement.

Erb also spoke favorably of the three-minute restriction on public comment, drawing concurrence from Burke.

“We’re eliminating the filibuster,” Burke said.

In recent years, Blair County commissioners’ meetings have attracted minimal amounts of public comment. The practice was more common in 2015 and 2016, during the county’s reassessment project, and in 2013 when commissioners considered and voted in favor of selling Valley View Home.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.


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