Commissioners vote 3-2 to remove public comment at meetings

The voices were silenced but still loud and clear at Tuesday's Campbell County Board of Commissioners meeting. (Gillette Public Access)

The Campbell County Board of Commissioners upheld last week’s decision to not allow public comment during their regular meetings in a split vote Tuesday.

The decision was made on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Del Shelstad and Colleen Faber voting against the move.

After the vote today, commissioners’ meetings should no longer be slowed down by protests regarding teenage reading material at the Campbell County Public Library. The regular protests of a small minority of citizens have been made at every meeting since July, with the public comments often taking more time than the business of the meeting.

The decision was met with some resistance from several residents who said their rights were being taken away as citizens of Campbell County and called for the immediate resignation of some board members.

That point of view was contested by Commission Chairman Bob Maul, who addressed the decision to ban oral public comments relating to the library following the vote.

“The board is more accessible now than at any other time in the past. The elimination of the public comment at business meetings will not impede this access. Thank you to everyone in the community for their interest, participation and contributions to Campbell County,” he said.

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Faber immediately made a motion to permit the public to make oral comments at the regular meetings, which was seconded by Shelstad. That motion failed.

“I do support our chairman and our board,” Faber said. “I do want everyone to realize that we are not a board of one, we are five individuals up here who do have different ideologies and belief systems and some of us do support having our public comments, and some don’t. I would not want it to seem like it’s a situation that we don’t support our chairman.”

Shelstad also offered his support to let the community’s voices be heard.

“I think the basic fundamental right of our people is to address their government with their grievances. I think that’s what these people have been doing,” Shelstad said. “If we can represent them, the people of our county, then who can we represent?”

Before the vote, there was an exchange of opinions and commotion.

Commissioners Rusty Bell, DG Reardon, and Maul made it clear that no rights have been removed. Speaking at a meeting is just one of many ways to express concerns to the commissioners. Emails, text messages, Facebook, letters, and phone calls were a few of the many ways to offer comments and concerns while removing the circus-like atmosphere at meetings.

“Mr. Chairman, I support you. I support the library board and library staff in working to resolve the issue with books under review at the library,” said Reardon, who was interrupted twice by audience members while speaking.

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“The verbal public comment period, as we just evidenced, has evolved into a session of bullying and threatening [of the] board of commissioners, library board, and library staff which is counter-productive to the good of reviewing and reclassifying books that are in various sections of the library. I appreciate what the library board and staff are doing and let them do their job.”

Twice during Reardon’s comments Maul asked the bailiff to remove audience members who continued to speak over commissioners.

“Would you guys let Mr. Reardon finish?” Shelstad pleaded. “Whether you like what he says or not, you sat there and listened to me. Let him finish so we can make this vote. Please?”

Bell reiterated that there are more ways to express concern than in a public display.

“I don’t think any of us up here don’t support public comment,” Bell added. “I’m the only one that has my cell phone on the county website. I take public comment every single day from all kinds of people. From texts, to emails, to calls. A vote here has nothing to do [with] whether we are taking public comment, it’s whether we are conducting county business at public meetings.”

After the vote and oral comments ceased, the vocal group allowed their signs to do the speaking as they were displayed throughout the chambers in typical fashion. The visuals were turned away from commissioners and faced the rear of the chambers for the view of Gillette Public Access audience.