Smith County commissioners to revisit rules of decorum today

Published on Tuesday, 6 September 2016 07:24 - Written by



Smith County commissioners on Tuesday will revisit rules of decorum for members of the public speaking at their meetings.

The rules became an issue as suspended Smith County Judge Joel Baker became embroiled in controversies, but after he was suspended without pay in June by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the issue was seemingly set aside.

“I think we’re all in agreement, that people should get to talk,” Commissioner Terry Phillips said. “That hasn’t changed, that I know of. Everyone should get their three minutes.”

The rules have been in place since 2012, but were never an issue until members of the public began to criticize Baker. The rules were then cited to cut off speakers when their comments were seen as disparaging or overly personal.

A committee was formed in March to discuss and revise the rules.

One of the committee’s recommendations was to allow for a vote by the court on whether a speaker should be cut off; previously, an individual member of the court (whoever was presiding, usually the county judge) could silence a critic.

Commissioners have said they want to err on the side of allowing members of the public to speak their minds.

One recommendation that didn’t find any support came from Baker, who said members of the public should be made to sign an oath that their statements are true and factual. He presented it as a way to keep speakers from mischaracterizing the truth.

Commissioners disagreed.

“I don’t want to restrict people’s speech,” Commissioner Jeff Warr said at the time. “I want to have a dialogue with the citizens, but it needs to be respectful.”

Tuesday’s agenda includes taking action on the matter, so new rules could be approved.

Also on the agenda is an action item regarding public access terminals in the county clerk’s office. Such terminals could allow members of the public to find and research county records without going to the county and enlisting the aid of a clerk.

Commissioners meet at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Smith County Courthouse Annex, 200 E. Ferguson St., Suite 100.