By Lucas Vader
As part of its Aug. 5 work session, the Orchard City board of trustees had a discussion in an attempt to clarify the town’s procedure for posting public meetings, mainly in reference to committee meetings.
In Orchard City, major infrastructure is managed by committees with which town trustees are involved. Main committees include those of road, water, park and planning, with others playing a part in Orchard City’s operation as well.
The discussion at the work session came up with trustee concerns, particularly from Trustee Jan Gage, regarding whether committee meetings should be posted so that the public can know about them, as they are open meetings.
Mayor Ken Volgamore took the stance that residents of the town don’t need to participate in committee meetings, as it is the board’s goal to be transparent about what goes on in those meetings once it gives its reports at the regular board meeting.
“The thing is, we’re all supposed to be transparent in these meetings,” Volgamore said. “What goes on at these meetings is always discussed at a public meeting so it is transparent at that time.”
Volgamore added, “Sometimes, you get people in there with their own agenda and it turns into a long fight, as we’ve noticed in the water meetings in the last couple of years, so as long as we’re all transparent, we report everything that’s going on at these meetings, I think they need to stay the same.”
Volgamore did, however, say that transparency among board members needed to be improved, as there had been a recent incident of a trustee not being informed that his own committee was holding a meeting.
Volgamore’s overall view on the matter, however, was immediately opposed by Gage.
“I really disagree with you because the postings are not just for other trustees,” Gage told Volgamore. “They’re for the people, and we’re about supporting the people, right? So I don’t understand what the big deal is that we don’t want anybody but the committee [people] in there. It’s beyond my comprehension.”
Both Volgamore and Gage stuck with their respective opinions on the matter, with Volgamore reinforcing that he feels that water committee meetings, which are the only committee meetings that have been posted in the past, turn into disasters while the trustees are trying to conduct a meeting due to the fact that members of the public frequently cause disturbances and hinder the meeting overall.
Trustee Doug Keller sided with Gage on the matter, agreeing that committee meetings should be posted.
“Mayor, isn’t that the right of the citizens to speak out at these committee meetings?” Keller asked.
Volgamore responded, “It’s the right of the citizens to speak in constituent time at regular meetings.”
“You’re saying that constituents don’t have the right to speak at committee meetings, is that correct?” Keller said.
“Yes, I think that’s correct,” Volgamore said.
Upon Gage’s recommendation, the board’s ultimate decision was to make an official choice at Wednesday’s upcoming regular board meeting to determine whether committee meetings will be posted for the public in the future, whether the board makes an official decision to prohibit community members from attending those committee meetings, or to simply come to some sort of agreement so that the board can take a stance on the issue.
As Volgamore then brought up, the issue on whether committee meetings should be posted is an issue that has been brought up numerous times over the last several years, while the town continues to have no policy on the matter.
“How long are we going to discuss this?” Volgamore said. “This has been discussed for two years and we can’t resolve it.”
Gage told Volgamore she is specifically looking for a conclusion on the hanging question of posted committee meetings.
By the conclusion of the work session, Town Administrator Melissa Oelke confirmed with the board that the item would go in Wednesday’s regular meeting agenda.
At the start of that meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12, the board will hold constituent time like always, where members of the community will have the opportunity to log in or call in to the virtual meeting and give their take on the matter.
Anyone interested in participating in constituent time can contact Oelke at email@example.com to sign up. Anyone wishing to listen in on the meeting can contact Oelke as well for the link or phone number to join the virtual meeting.