GT Commissioners Vote to No Longer Allow Remote Public Comment

Grand Traverse County commissioners voted Tuesday to no longer allow remote public comment at county commission meetings moving forward.

At a Special Board of Commissioners meeting called to address equalization issues on Tuesday morning, Commission Vice Chair Ron Clous unexpectedly proposed a rule change that would prohibit remote public comment.

County Deputy Civil Counsel Kit Tholen said at the meeting, “Public comment would still be taken, this is just changing the time, place and manner of it. So, I wouldn’t have legal concerns with this change”

Clous’ proposal comes one day after a federal lawsuit filed against him claims constitutional violations because he pulled out a rifle in response to public comment during a January meeting.

On Tuesday, commissioners voiced concerns that the virtual meetings have caused issues in the past comments from people who don’t live in the county, state or even the country.

Commissioner Darryl Nelson says, “We’ve had a lot of technical issues and that has been a problem, also have had some issues with people being more anonymous and remote, and there’s been some threats, there’s been some language issues, we’ve had members of the public that have been harassed by other callers.”

However, commissioner Betsy Coffia says the proposal is appalling.

“We are telling the public that unless you are willing to come and be in a room for multiple hours, with multiple people who by choice in some cases are unwilling to wear their mask, they don’t get to participate in public business, decisions made with their tax dollars,” says Coffia.

Commissioners voted 5 to 2 to pass the rule change.

Now, if the public wants to make a comment, they must attend the meetings in person.

Commissioner Penny Morris says, “It just seemed like the best thing to me and as long as the voters are able to contact us and tell us how they feel about issues, that’s the most important to me.”

To follow social distancing guidelines, three rooms will be used with a 75 person capacity.