Ottawa County first Rules Committee meeting a bit rocky, but smooth sailing at the end
Published March 24, 2023
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
The rules of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners serve to ensure accountability, transparency, and representation for all people in Ottawa County.
Change to the Order of Business
On March 21, 2023, the Ottawa County Commissioners sat down for their first Rules Committee meeting. The main action item of the day was to amend Rule 6.3 to change the order of business on the agenda—moving Correspondence before Public Comment.
Since Public Comment has been so robust, those who come to speak to the board as part of Correspondence often have to wait hours for their turn at the podium. The board, not wanting to limit Public Comment or make guest speakers wait, agreed that switching the items on the agenda would permit the business of Correspondence to be done while still allowing residents to have their voice.
Before the commissioners approved the Rules Committee Agenda for the day, however, Commissioner Doug Zylstra made a motion to add to the agenda a recommendation to “Approve and forward to the Board of Commissioners the recommendation to amend Rule 6.3, Section 11. Additional Business, including A. Administrator Reports and B. Commissioner Comments and Questions.” Commissioner Zylstra noted, “We’ve had Commissioner Meetings Attended, could we change that to Commissioner Comments and Questions?” Commissioner Jacob Bonnema supported the motion.
Chairman Joe Moss was the first to start discussion on this motion, making mention of a conversation that he and Commissioner Zylstra had before the meeting.
“I’m not interested at this point in having what you might call commissioner comments or commissioner free-for-all at the end of meetings,” Chairman Moss said. “I’d like to have well-run, orderly, organized meetings. An open-ended discussion, maybe, is best handled outside the board room, where you can go back and forth with each other.”
Commissioner Zylstra noted he has been a proponent of having Meetings Attended be more explicitly designated as just a discussion time, stating, “That never happened with the old board. But my hope was that going forward, we could have that more explicit.”
“Obviously the chair still has the gavel. If for some reason commissioners are out of line, I would expect and hope that the chair would maintain order. I don’t think we should have problems,” Commissioner Zylstra said.
Commissioner Gretchen Cosby asked if this was done in the past and said that discussion was happening on each motion that has come forward. She wondered what an added time would accomplish.
Commissioner Rebekah Curran added that she didn’t mind the idea of having an update of meetings others attended.
Commissioner Sylvia Rhodea agreed that meetings need to be run orderly and that a couple of meetings have gotten a bit out of hand at the end, with items being effectively added to the agenda at the end through commissioner questions of the administrator or fellow commissioners during the agenda item: General Information, Comments, and Meetings Attended.
Commissioner Rhodea explained, “We’ve essentially been having people utilize that space to add things to the agenda and to add rather confrontational conversation, and that’s not what that space has been for historically, or as it’s identified on the agenda.”
Commissioner Rhodea shared that any questions a commissioner had for the administrator could be asked during the Administrator Report, which regularly occurs under the Additional Business item. The continuation of including the Administrator Report on future agendas was not under dispute.
In prior years, the board agenda regularly included General Information, Comments, and Meetings Attended, but did not include Commissioner Comments, Discussion, and Questions. The 2022 Board Rules specified the inclusion of 8F. Commissioner Comments.
The Board Rules established for 2023 do not include General Information, Comments, and Meetings Attended or Commissioner Comments as a required item in the Order of Business for board agendas. No specific content is required to be included under 11. Additional Business.
Rule 6.3 of the Board Rules instructs all regular meetings of the board follow the specified Order of Business unless an exception is made by a majority vote of the Members:
1. Call to Order by Chairperson
2. Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance
3. Roll Call
4. Public Comment
6. Approval of Agenda
7. Consent Resolutions
8. Agenda and Action Requests
9. Committee Reports
10. Public Comment
11. Additional Business
12. Adjournment at Call of the Chairperson
The discussion at the Rules Committee pertained to adding required sub-items to 11. Additional Business.
Chairman Moss and Commissioner Zylstra continued discussion of the specifics of the motion. Commissioner Zylstra stated that he didn’t want to “belabor the point,” but he was advocating for expanding on the past agenda item of Commissioner Meetings Attended.
Chairman Moss expressed his desire to run orderly meetings, and that important items could be placed on the agenda. He explained that the agenda item in question allows commissioners to report out meetings attended, an event, or recognition of someone, and he was supportive of that continuing. Such items could be included on the agenda, but would need to be brought to the chair of that committee to be added to the agenda.
Commissioner Bonnema interrupted Chairman Moss, “I really protest this. We are elected just as you are.”
Chairman Moss interrupted Commissioner Bonnema, saying he didn’t have the floor to speak. “You are not recognized, you need to wait.”
Commissioner Bonnema challenged Chairman Moss to “hit the gavel.”
“You are not recognized, you need to wait,” Chairman Moss repeated. “You are out of order. Please stop.”
According to the Board Rules, a commissioner must be recognized before speaking. It is up the chair to keep order during the meeting.
After further discussion on the proposed motion, Commissioner Allison Miedema expressed her support for the original agenda format as outlined in the Board Rules.
“I believe that when we are standing with the current—how the rules are stated, we still have the ability to submit things to be discussed, we also have opportunities to discuss things throughout the entire Order of Business… By staying in the professional manner of what we know to expect what’s on there, I think that will allow us to continue building mutual respect for everyone.”
With final comments, the motion on the table—requesting a specified Administrator Report and Commissioner Comment and Question section—was voted on. The motion failed 6–3. (Yeas: Commissioners Bonnema, Curran, and Zylstra.) (Nays: Commissioners Cosby, Ebel, Moss, Rhodea, Miedema, and Belknap.)
Public Comment to Stay the Same
After the vote, the meeting ran smoothly. The commissioners approved the agenda unanimously and also voted in Commissioner Rhodea as Rules Committee Vice Chair.
The board had good discussion on the Public Comment policy and the time dedicated for comment.
The previous board had a limit of ten speakers at the first comment session and limited time to one minute when too many came to speak.
Administrator John Gibbs and Counsel Jack Jordan both gave examples of other boards that limit the speakers to what is on the agenda for the first comment session, but open the second session for any topic.
“There’s something to be shown out of respect to those who are coming that they’re valuable and that their voices matter,” Commissioner Miedema said. “I’m leaning still toward allowing all public comment, no matter what topic it is, to have their voice heard. That’s a big part of why we’re here.”
Many commissioners agreed with that sentiment, so Public Comment will stay the same.
The rules of Ottawa County Board of Commissioner serve to ensure accountability, transparency, and representation for all people in Ottawa County. An orderly, organized meeting will allow the board to do the work they were voted to do.
Video: March 21, 2023 Board Rules Committee