Up to now, there has been no official policy on choosing agenda items for Mount Airy council meetings, but that’s changed in the wake of a recent rejection of one requested by Commissioner Steve Yokeley.
Earlier this year, Yokeley had asked that the board discuss a matter relating to a specific property in town and assumed it would show up on the meeting agenda.
But then he received a call informing him that the majority of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners had denied his request.
“I thought it was a policy that an elected official can put an item on the agenda,” Yokeley said during a meeting last month in which he expressed dismay over having the one he sought to be included removed.
As it turned out, the city officials had no official policy in place, and basically have operated under loose guidelines in deciding what business to discuss.
“We need to put something in writing for future commissioners to consider,” the board’s Shirley Brinkley suggested after Yokeley registered his complaint. “This needs to be made clear.”
That led to a 5-0 decision at a council meeting last Thursday night to approve a procedure in which any elected official in Mount Airy — including the five commissioners and mayor — can ask to have an item placed on the agenda for a specified meeting. But this must occur at least five working days beforehand.
“I think the board should honor the request of any elected official,” Yokeley said.
This reflects an understanding that if a council member is asking that a particular issue be addressed at a meeting, there must be a valid reason, Commissioner Jim Armbrister observed during recent discussions.
Board members had problems with the property-related issue that Yokeley sought to include on the agenda earlier this year, including Commissioner Jon Cawley.
Cawley explained that he didn’t want to see someone’s property be the subject of an agenda item, which would allow it to be criticized during a meeting — perhaps with the owner not notified and having an opportunity to rebut what is said. Cawley mainly was concerned about the content involved, which could expose the municipality to legal action if someone who is criticized had violated no laws.
As an example, a commissioner could have the owner of a restaurant who didn’t like another establishment placed on the agenda.
“Regardless of the particular item, I would like to see clarification of how we put items on the agenda,” Yokeley said in response to concerns raised by Cawley.
“If it’s a controversial item, all parties should be involved (in the meeting discussion) — I think that’s the only fair way to do it,” he added.
“I would hope that no elected official would put an item on the agenda that was a personal vendetta against another individual.”
City Attorney Hugh Campbell pointed out during the recent discussions that the commissioners have the ultimate say about what appears on the agenda, since it is approved at the start of every meeting.
The agenda belongs to the board, Campbell said.
Regardless of what appears on it, citizens have the opportunity to comment on any municipal government topic during a public forum held during every commissioners meeting.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.