Upshur County Commissioners Court on Friday voted 3-2 to effectively continue holding its regular meetings at 9 a.m. after rejecting a proposal to hold them at night.
The court’s split vote approved its twice-monthly meeting dates, county holiday dates, and payroll dates for 2012-2013, effectively retaining the 9 a.m. starting time.
After the meeting, County Judge Dean Fowler said the court still has the option to change the meeting time.
Divided votes on that matter were among split decisions the court had on several issues Friday during a 100-minute meeting that nonetheless remained generally civil in tone. (See related story, this issue.)
While several citizens and two commissioners pushed for night meetings, some county officials balked at the idea.
A citizen, Jimmy Caughron, opened the discussion by noting he had established a petition concerning county road work, and “90 percent of the people that I’ve talked to” who signed it said “they’d like to attend a Commissioners Court meeting, but they work” at the time of day the court meets.
Caughron told court members that citizens thus don’t know what “you’ve crammed down their throats” until they read it in a newspaper two or three days later.
Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden said he had “pushed” for night meetings several times, and that he had the matter placed on Friday’s agenda. Saying some people had asked the court to hold at least some meetings in the evening, he proposed moving them all to 6:30 p.m.
But County Treasurer Myra Harris objected about the impact holding night meetings would have on issuing the county’s payroll. She also said that when the court held night meetings (several years ago), not that many people came.
And Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer pointed out that some citizens do shift work.
However, Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said several citizens wanted to attend court meetings in the evening. He pointed out that other governmental bodies meet at night.
“And there’s nobody there,” Fowler countered.
Hefner replied that working men have to take off from their jobs and lose money to attend morning meetings.
Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree then moved to approve the court’s meeting dates, holidays and payroll dates for 2012-2013 and retain the 9 a.m. time. The motion died for lack of a second.
Then Crittenden moved to hold all meetings at 6:30 p.m., but Hefner expressed concern over holding Wednesday and Friday meetings at night (due to church gatherings on Wednesday night and football games on Friday evenings).
Crittenden added that he too shared concerns about night meetings on those weekdays.
After County Extension Agent Jessica Stahl said early morning breakfast meetings involving her office drew more participation, and that she had never had much luck with night meetings, Crittenden nonetheless amended his motion to hold all meetings at 6:30 p.m.
The amendment proposed moving meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Friday back by a day. (The court meets twice monthly, at mid-month and on the final business day of a month.)
But Crittenden’s amended motion failed 3-2 with only Hefner joining him in supporting it. Spencer, Crabtree and Fowler opposed.
Spencer then moved to hold one meeting quarterly at 7 in the morning, but that died for lack of a second.
Continuing the discussion, Fowler defended the 9 a.m. meeting time, saying that if any issue is “extremely important to someone. . . then they will be there.”
But Crittenden said one night meeting a month was not too much to ask.
Lou Hewitt of Pritchett asked why taxpayers “don’t. . . have a chance to come to the meetings at night.” And Upshur County Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway asked for “some” night meetings.
However, District Clerk Carolyn Parrott said that if the court called a county office at night for information, that office would be closed.
Countered Hefner, “What do they do in cities and schools?” when those entities hold night meetings.
Mrs. Parrott said she probably could not attend evening gatherings.
But when Mrs. Harris reiterated her point that only “a handful of people” attended the court’s night meetings years ago, Hefner said the number who attended didn’t matter. The point, he said, is that they have a chance to.
JoAnn McKay, who said she was a Chicago native, said citizens there were able to get governmental meetings scheduled at night as needed. She said that the county would be paying overtime for workers to attend evening gatherings.
But Fowler said it wouldn’t cost more to meet at night, and that the court could always set its next meeting for whatever time it wished.