Warsaw changed the time of its town council meeting from the 7 p.m. to 6 p.m., but not before the switch drew some candid comments from Mayor Randy Phelps about his constituents.
Initially, Belinda Reynolds, a resident of Warsaw was the only person to comment on the matter. “Changing the time is very inconvenient for people who want to come because most people don’t get off until 5 or 6 o’clock. So that cuts into people getting here on time. And it doesn’t allow us to be here to talk and speak. Then, you don’t allow us to be here to give our opinions…That’s not fair,” she said.
“You changing your time is making it convenient for y’all to come in here and make your decisions without allowing the town to have opinions. That’s wrong. You already make opinions and decisions now that are not right. So why should we allow you to make time changes? You should do what’s right for the citizens of this town and not what’s convenient for y’all. That’s what the county already does,” she added.
Although the public comment period was closed after Reynolds’ remarks, once the councilmembers started discussing the issue, it prompted a back-and-forth exchange involving the audience.
Addressing Reynold’s comments about making decisions without the public, Councilman Faron Hamblin tried to explain that the intent of the time change wasn’t to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. “We weren’t trying to make it so the community couldn’t be here. We want the community here,” he said.
Councilman Ralph Self tried to explain that the change was being suggested partly with staff from the town office in mind. Town staff arrives at 8:00 in the morning and stay until late night when there are meetings, he said. “They’d probably like to get home to their families a little earlier.” “We’re doing this to help everyone involved. It’s not just for council,” he added.
Councilman Johnathan English said he understood Reynolds’ concern because he also struggles with getting off work and getting to the meetings by 7 p.m. However, he expressed support for the change because a lot of the meetings run until 9 or 10 p.m. and for the two years he’s sat on council, most nights hardly anyone turns out. Starting earlier would not only allow him to get home to his family sooner but it would allow everyone who participates to do the same, he explained.
Phelps said there is more to the push for a time change than council, staff, or citizen convenience. And town council has already done things to mitigate inconvenience to the public, like streaming the meetings on Facebook.
He went on to explain that town council often needs to interact with other agencies and businesses like the representative for RDK Land Holdings who was present that night seeking a rezoning request to accommodate a 30-acre development project. Meeting at 7 p.m. makes it difficult to make appointments with others. So there’s all sorts of reasons, he said.
“I will tell you the citizenry has been a little bit lazy. They’ve always been lazy. They don’t want to come. They don’t come until there is a specific issue that makes them move to come… But there are many, many, many nights that there is no one in those seats,” he said referring to where the audience was sitting.
Phelps said he believes that anyone who wants to come to town council meetings can make it by 6 p.m., and if they couldn’t they could call the town office in advance and make some arrangements to be heard later in a meeting.
At Warsaw’s meetings, public comment periods are held near the beginning. English agreed that if the meetings start earlier, there’s valid concern about everyone being able to be heard. He said he likes having people at the meetings, wants to hear more comments from the public, and he would only support a time change measure that ensures there’s some point later in the meeting for late-comers to be heard.
Phelps was opposed to that sort of flexibility. He and vice-mayor Paul Yackel voted against English’s motion. But with a count of 5-2, the time was changed to 6 p.m. and people will have an opportunity to speak after the initial public comment period.