Posted on 28 February 2015.
Wise County commissioners will venture outside the county seat this year to mix and mingle with the public in a series of four mobile meetings.
The group unanimously approved the program, proposed by County Judge J.D. Clark at their meeting Thursday, despite initial pushback from Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White.
In an effort to reach out to the community, Clark proposed having quarterly evening meetings, each in a different county precinct. At each meeting there will be a community forum, a report from the county judge on recent and upcoming county issues, a report from the commissioner of that precinct on current and upcoming projects and a report from a department head or other elected official to showcase the work of that office or department. Clark also plans to have local students lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
Any agenda items would be for discussion only because according to state law, commissioners are not allowed to take action on items while outside the county seat.
Clark explained that 9 a.m. meetings on Mondays are not convenient for many people to attend, and he felt like the mobile meetings would allow officials to “more effectively and directly engage with the communities in Wise County.”
“Instead of expecting everybody to come to county government, then take the county government out to everybody else,” he said. “I think there may be some months where we’re the only ones, but there may be some months where the place is packed, and they want to hear what we’re up to.”
Clark had proposed that if approved, the first meeting be in Slidell during March.
White was quick to voice his opposition.
“I have concerns about this, and I’m going to be very blunt,” he said. “We get asked occasionally to come to different areas to talk … I’ve been asked to come to a certain area east of town to tell people why I’m doing things the way I’m doing them.
“It gets into more of a gripe session than it does anything,” he said. “And like I’ve explained to them, if we went somewhere every time people wanted us, then we might as well tell our wives we’re not going to be at home.”
Clark said these programs would have a structured format, and although people would be allowed to speak in community forum, commissioners are not allowed to discuss anything with them. Commissioners can only listen.
“Then, say you’re the commissioner … and you’re going to report on what’s going on, you don’t have to open it up for the crowd to say, ‘What do you think?'” Clark said.
White wasn’t convinced.
“We don’t have to open it up, but you know as well as I do that they’ll open it up for you,” he said. “I mean, I’ll do whatever. It’s not a bad idea. I agree, but at the same time … are you asking all commissioners to be at Slidell or just the commissioner in that precinct?”
Clark said he’d like for everyone to be there that’s available.
“I think the county would appreciate it,” he said.
“I don’t mind speaking,” White said. “Don’t misunderstand me. But if it’s going to turn into a gripe and complaint session, I have a phone. They can stop by my barn. I don’t have to spend my night times out there doing that.
“Is that OK to say it like that?”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said if it’s moderated right, the meeting shouldn’t result in a “free-for-all.”
White continued to complain.
“Moderated, that’s the key,” he said. “But you’ve got four or five of us up there, and you’ve got 50 people in the precinct …”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy reassured White that he had nothing to worry about.
“I don’t think anyone will turn out to see you anyway,” Kennedy said with a laugh. “So you’re safe.”
Clark said he understood White’s concern, but he felt like it was important to give people a chance to “gripe, praise or whatever,” to which White agreed.
“I can take a minimum of four chewings per year, if that’s all I get,” Clark said.
White finally said he didn’t think it was “that bad of an idea.”
“I think it’s a good faith effort on the part of this court that we do that,” Clark said. “I think it’s good to go out and engage with people. What does it hurt to try it?”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if the program was something they “can vacate if there’s a lack of interest.”
“Lack of y’all’s interest or someone else’s?” Clark asked with a laugh.
The judge went on to say that some months “it may just be us sitting around looking at each other, but I do think we’ll have some people that want to come out and visit with us.”
“I also think it’s a proactive way for each of you to say, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on in this precinct,” he said. “I would appreciate y’all giving it a try.”
Kennedy made a motion to approve the mobile meetings program, and Burns gave it a second. After his protests, even White voted in favor of it.
The first mobile meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, at the Slidell High School cafeteria. In addition to the county judge and commissioner’s presentations, Sheriff David Walker will give a presentation on his department’s K-9 program.
Thursday’s meeting was rescheduled from Monday, which was canceled due to inclement weather.
COMMISSIONERS MOBILE MEETING
7 p.m., March 31
Slidell High School cafeteria