OPINION: Anatomy of a county ordinance

By JoAnn Kalenak/DCCR

It’s times like these that I wish I’d paid better attention in my high school civics classes. Then, I might have been better prepared to reconcile how our County Commissioners could adopt a hot-topic ordinance without hearing the voice of a single citizen publically speak before the ordinance’s adoption.

The Feb. 5 adoption of Ordinance No.2018-01 limiting marijuana cultivation on residential property, went off like clockwork – at least, from a bureaucratic process standpoint. Most state statutes were followed and the public had plenty of time to offer comments. “In fact, numerous members of the public did provide comments,” says Administrator Robbie LeValley.

None of these comments, however, were read aloud at a public meeting and three prominent members of the community, present for the second reading of the ordinance, were not allowed to speak.

Adding insult to injury, one of these citizens interrupted Commissioner Atchley’s call to vote when he realized that public comment would not be taken. He was denied the opportunity until after the unanimous vote to adopt the ordinance occurred, and later told that, while his objections were heard, the decision had already been made.

While this process followed “standard operating procedure,” at no time during public meetings was the public invited to speak about the proposed ordinance. The ordinance notice in the DCI never mentioned that public comment was welcome, nor was contact information provided.

It doesn’t really take a civics class to understand what went wrong here. Governing isn’t about going through the motions of bureaucracy, but about holding dear the spirit behind our republic and the democratic process.

A healthy democracy demands real and earnest engagement between citizens and government. Bureaucratic maneuvering and Robert’s Rules of Order alone simply won’t do.