MONTICELLO — Piatt County’s newly hired administrative firm is recommending changes in how the county board handles business at its monthly meetings.
At the July 14 county board meeting, Bruce DeLashmit of Bloomington-based Bellwether suggested agenda format changes that could include the addition of consent agendas and moving public comment to before action items. Public comment is currently near the end of meeting agenda, after action items have been voted on.
“The philosophy is based on, if it is at the end of the meeting, the board has already taken action before the public has had an opportunity to express an opinion. So, the driving force is to get the public a voice earlier, so they have the opportunity,” DeLashmit said.
County board member Randy Shumard said he was fine with moving public comment, but pointed out the public also has the opportunity to speak at various committee meetings leading up to the monthly county board meeting.
“We have vetted everything we could possibly vet (at the committee level) before it gets to this board,” Shumard said.
He was also concerned about the possibility of heated discussion with audience members when the board is conducting business.
Fellow board member Todd Henricks said that is why boards typically do not respond to comments made during that portion of the meeting.
“The thing that board members have to understand is, there is no answer to any question presented in public comment. It is ‘thank you for your input.’”
DeLashmit agreed, saying that portion of the meeting should be devoted to what the public wishes to provide.
“There is thinking behind this that, response from a board member to a public comment could be interpreted as dissuading comment, so if you do anything that dissuades public comment, you open exposure to the county. That is why it is not rude (to not reply); it’s just ‘this is your opportunity to communicate to the board.’”
He also noted public comment is required by state law at public meetings, and a board needs to be careful not to violate the Open Meetings Act in that regard.
“The OMA says people should have a reasonable amount of time. We see between three and five minutes on that,” DeLashmit said.
Current board policy limits comment to two minutes per person unless the chair allows them to continue.
“If there is an OMA objection by somebody, they will look historically at what you’ve done and how much time you have allowed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t shift the trend and say we’re going to try real hard to stay at three minutes, because meetings could go forever and forever,” DeLashmit said.
Also suggested by the consultant was the addition of two consent agendas. One would approve routine items such as appointments and some zoning issues to be approved with one motion. The other would lump department claim approvals into one action.
Board members can request items from the consent agenda be pulled out and considered separately.
DeLashmit complimented the county board on the input it receives from department heads at its meetings.
“I think Piatt County does better than most clients at getting reports from department heads,” he said, noting department heads are not always in attendance in other counties. “I think it’s a good partnership.”
The order of DeLashmit’s suggested agenda would be: Call to order, Pledge of Allegiance, roll call, approval of minutes, department reports, administrator’s report, public comment, consent agenda, old business, new business, claims consent agenda, county board member non-action items and comments, and adjournment.
The new format may be tried out at the Aug. 11 county board meeting.
Upon investigation, DeLashmit told the board Piatt County is not eligible to use federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for lost revenue. That means the $3 million available to the county will need to follow stricter ARPA rules to be eligible.
He said of the 26 counties that Bellwether provides administrative services to, 11 were found to be eligible for the lost revenue reimbursement from ARPA.
DeLashmit said the next step is to get a list of possible projects from department heads to determine which ones would be eligible. County board member Randy Edwards said it is in the works and should be completed by the end of the month.
Mental health center grant
Piatt County Mental Health Center Director Tony Kirkman said the center has been awarded a $95,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services for additional substance abuse recovery services.
He said it will supplement existing Drug Free Communities, youth prevention and addiction treatment services.
“We are going to have a certified recovery support specialist, who is going to be able to come alongside individuals in recovery, and to be able to create events for the sober community in Piatt County. We’re going to be bringing a treatment group to southern Piatt County because resources are really, really short down there,” Kirkman said.
In other business, the board:
—heard from Piatt County Transportation Director Jami Trybom that the agency has been filming commercials to try to boost awareness of PIATTRAN. Flyers have also been printed up and distributed;
—was told by Nursing Home Director Scott Porter repairs on an outside ramp and handrail are nearly complete, but that some portions of the last phase of room and hallway updates will wait until the end of the year due to a delay in furniture deliveries;
—approved a commendation for David Hunt, who retired as Piatt County sheriff June 30;
—appointed Michael Morgan to the board of review; Jake Lieb and Janette Porter to the plat committee; and Mark Fred to the DeWitt/Piatt Bi-County Board of Health;
—approved $1,600 from the county bridge fund to help repair a culvert in Goose Creek; and
—approved a resolution to award a $59,375 contract to Cross Construction for pavement patching on County Highway 2 south of Mansfield.