Ashland City Commissioners voted 3 to 2 on Thursday to move its public meeting days and times.
If the issue is given final approval next month, the commission will begin having meetings at noon on the second and fourth Thursday of each month beginning in August. The commission now meets the first Thursday of each month at noon and the third Thursday at 7 p.m.
Commissioner Larry Brown and Mayor Chuck Charles voted against the switch, while Commissioners Cheryl Spriggs, Marty Gute and Kevin Gunderson voted in favor. Each elected official spoke publicly Thursday about their decision.
Former commissioner Tom Cantrell, along with resident Amanda Clay, a parent and Autism activist, spoke against the change, urging commissioners to keep the split schedule.
Cantrell was on the commission when it voted to have one meeting at noon and another at 7 p.m. as opposed to both at night.
“I think the split meetings worked well. It is a better opportunity for the public to come, some people cannot get off work at noon to come to meetings,” he said.
Clay said she was concerned students, including her son, Austin, who was present at Thursday’s meeting, would not have the opportunity to see a meeting and learn about city government if meetings were all during school hours.
Gute, Spriggs and Gunderson said they felt the change would serve citizens best.
“Times have changed in the city,” said Gute. “Our population is aging, with 60 percent over 65 years old, and they do the majority of their activities during the daylight hours,” he said.
Gute added that with technology, including cellphones and email, citizens can reach their elected officials and city staff instantly.
“The need to come to a meeting to resolve an issue is becoming a thing of the past, unless it’s some kind of controversial issue,” he said.
Brown disagreed. “I think we are better serving our community by having a meeting in the afternoon and evening. We do have all this technology, but I can tell you right now that when the issues are hot and individuals have concerns about what is going on in city hall, they want to come down here and look us eye to eye. (A meeting) that is where they should be able to do so, anytime they are available. I want to make it open and transparent all the time,” he said.
“The real answer,” suggested Gunderson, “maybe is to have these meetings broadcast on cable community access channels. Every other city around here (does it). There is no reason we shouldn’t be on television.”
Spriggs said other than Cantrell and Clay, she had not received a negative comment about the meeting change.
“I just think it’s the best thing to do. If it doesn’t work, we can move it back,” she said.
Charles said he opposed the change because the split meeting times appeared to be working fine.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606)-326-2653 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.