Rick Friday was unanimously elected as the 2020 chair of the Union County Board of Supervisors with Ron Riley continuing as vice-chair at the board’s first meeting of the year Thursday.
After Dennis Brown stepped down from the chair position, his wife, Joy Brown, commented during open forum that they were grateful to Friday for taking over the responsibility. She also said the community has been very supportive of the work the supervisors do.
“I get stopped a lot and and get told what an amazing job you guys are doing,” she said.
Open forum in a governmental meeting can lead to problems with open meeting laws according to Union County Attorney Tim Kenyon.
“The attorney general’s office continues to remind people ... that open forum is a dangerous kind of item to put on the agenda,” Kenyon said. “Not because of the people that come, or the information but because it’s really not something that is contemplated by the public records open meetings laws.”
Kenyon explained that the open meeting laws do not allow government bodies to make decisions on items brought up in open forum because members of the public who might be affected by the board’s decisions have a right to attend meetings where the items are discussed and/or voted on.
Each week the county publishes an agenda in the newspaper and on the Union County website beforehand. Kenyon compared the process to looking in a window. The public should have the opportunity to see the decision making process that the board goes through.
Supervisor Ron Riley said the board has dealt with issues brought up in open forum by explaining to the speaker that the board will need to research the problem and put it on the agenda for another day.
“Normally we don’t respond,” Riley said. “Sometimes that’s upsetting to the person asking the question because they want an answer.”
Reducing open forum to once a month, ensuring that participants do not expect immediate answers to their concerns and directing inquiries to the proper channels were Kenyon’s recommendations to the board.
Instead of appearing at the meeting during open forum, those who have a question or concern for the board may call the county auditor’s office to request being placed on the agenda. This will allow the board members to be prepared for the subject and members of the public who are affected would be able to attend, fulfilling the purpose of open meeting laws.
Items which do not need decisions by the supervisors could be directed to the correct office. Kenyon explained that sometimes questions can be handled by the veteran’s affairs office, the driver’s license office or the sheriff. He extended his window metaphor to include these situations.
“Transparency becomes an aspect of looking in the correct window and looking when the lights are on,” Kenyon said.
The board agreed to look into Kenyon’s recommendations further and place an item on next week’s agenda.
Newly elected chair Friday and Union County Auditor Sandy Hysell led the board through a series of yearly resolutions to continue county business.
Among those resolutions was a renewal of the board’s choice to participate in the Department of Natural Resources Construction Evaluation or Master Matrix. This allows the board to be involved in decisions relating to conservation.
The board renewed the deferred compensation plan allowing employees of the county the choice to have dollars taken directly from their paycheck to fund items such as a retirement plan. Hysell explained that this does not cost the county anything.
Changing the holiday schedule by eliminating the half-day on Good Friday and replacing it with a half-day on New Year’s Eve was rejected by the board. Riley commented that it would be better to make a change next year, allowing time to bring up the idea in the department head meeting and determine which day more employees would prefer to have off.
The board considered and approved a series of appointments and reappointments to various county boards. Kenyon commented on an appointment to the Compensation Board, explaining that although the appointee is occasionally contracted by the school, he does not meet the definition of an employee, which would cause a conflict and exclude him from being appointed.
Members of the board of supervisors sit on many area boards and commissions. Those assignments were discussed and renewed with few changes. Some of the boards have requirements that a supervisor be involved, others are a matter of representing the county.
“If you have county dollars involved, even if it’s a small amount, you really should (have a board member involved),” Riley said.
Publishing the full list of boards the supervisors are involved in on the county website was discussed, but no action was taken.
The Union County Board of Supervisors meets weekly 9 a.m. Monday at the Union County Courthouse, 300 N. Pine St.