Committee suggests voting on speakers' boundaries in public comment

Faith Harper/Staff

The Smith County Rules of Decorum committee suggested allowing commissioners to vote on whether a speaker is crossing the line of acceptable conduct at its meetings.

During its third meeting, the committee, made up of residents and county employees, looked at the mechanics of how the Smith County Commissioners Court conducts its meetings. The meeting was Thursday in the Smith County Courthouse Annex Building, 200 E. Ferguson St.

The committee is tasked with evaluating and making suggestions to update the county's Rules of Procedure, Conduct and Decorum at Meetings of the Smith County Commissioners Court, which dictates how the decision-making body conducts its meetings and provides guidelines for the public to address the Court.

Any final changes to the document would go before the Court for final approval.

The document, approved in 2012, has been the source of attention after parts of it were used to quiet speakers critical of County Judge Joel Baker.

In previous meetings, the committee suggested removing the language used to quiet speakers but was in favor of keeping language that disallowed the use of racial or gender slurs as well as profane, insulting or threatening language.

On Thursday, the committee sought to clarify the parameters of acceptable language for the public, deciding that should be decided by the Court as a whole and not one individual member.

The committee recommended adding a procedure to allow for a member of the Commissioners Court to call for a vote to decide if a speaker violates the rules of procedure, conduct and decorum.

If a majority thought the speaker crossed the line, their time would be up, but if the Court members thought the speaker wasn't demeaning, they could continue.

The committee also discussed adding an online option to submit public comment request forms with a to-be-determined deadline for submission. It recommended continuing the practice of allowing those forms to be submitted in person at the weekly meetings.

Other discussions included adding the web address where the minutes and meeting videos are archived online into the decorum document, and adding an opening statement to describe the document's intent.

Other suggestions included adding in a formal procedure for conducting the meetings in the absence of the county judge - which is already in place but not formalized in the procedures.

In the absence of the County Judge, the most senior commissioner would conduct the meeting, but that commissioner could delegate responsibility to another member.

Other suggestions include outlining a designated area for the media and formalizing that no recording equipment can be left in the courtroom during executive sessions - practices that are already in place but not formalized.

The committee has an evening meeting scheduled for Monday to continue discussions about the rules of decorum to accommodate working people who want to contribute to the discussion.

That meeting is set for 6 p.m. in the Smith County Courthouse Annex Building, 200 E. Ferguson St., and is open to the public.

Twitter: @TMTFaith



What: The Rules of Decorum Committee Meeting

Where: Smith County Courthouse Annex Building, 200 E. Ferguson St.

When: 6 p.m. Monday




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Faith Harper is an East Texas native working for her hometown newspaper. She specializes in digital content for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. In her spare time, she loves tacos, road trips and is currently learning to sail.