Recent meetings of the Liberty Township board of trustees have often been loud and heated.
That's why township staff this week introduced a first draft of a set of rules of decorum for board meetings.
The merits of the rules were debated by Trustees Curt Sybert and Melanie Leneghan at their meeting Monday, March 18. Trustee Mary Carducci was absent.
Sybert requested township staff develop the rules of conduct after recent meetings were disrupted by frequent outbursts from residents and heated exchanges with trustees outside of the time designated for public comment.
Particularly animated exchanges occurred during back-to-back campaigns in November and February to pass a levy to support the fire department. Since a levy was passed in February, arguments have focused mostly on how fire-department funding should be spent.
But Leneghan said the first draft of suggested rules goes too far.
The draft states residents should refrain from verbal outbursts or interrupting others who are speaking, but it also makes less-concrete suggestions for audience conduct.
It asks that residents who address the trustees "criticize ideas, not people." It states "no arguing with trustees" and adds that "accusations are not acceptable."
Township Administrator Dave Anderson said much of the language was borrowed from rules of decorum used by other governmental bodies. He said it's far from final and invited suggested revisions from trustees.
But Leneghan said any rules are "insulting" to residents.
"This suggests the residents don't know how to conduct themselves," she said. "I think they know how to behave and, 99 percent of the time, they do."
She said as chairman, Sybert could deal with individual instances of unruly behavior on an as-needed basis.
She added residents have the right to address the board however they wish.
"This is the people's opportunity to come forward and express their opinion," Leneghan said. "I have sat here over the past year and listened to a lot of opinions about myself that aren't so nice, but it's their right to tell me what they think of what I've done."
Sybert countered that rules are needed to allow the board to conduct business meetings in an orderly fashion.
He said Delaware County Sheriff Russ Martin backed the idea as a way to reduce "heckling" from residents.
"It's gotten to the point in some of these discussions where there has to be more decorum than what has been shown," Sybert said. "It's still first and foremost a business meeting. It's not an opportunity to interrupt people. "
Leneghan agreed interruptions should be curbed.
Trustees agreed they could compromise on revisions to the rules before adoption, then tabled the issue.
Also at this week's meeting, trustees approved a final development plan for 39 condominiums, which will be situated on an 11.69-acre plot just west of state Route 315 on the south side of Manning Parkway.
Anderson said construction will begin this spring.
The developer is Loch Lomond Hills LLC. The plan was reviewed by the township's zoning commission in January before it was recommended for final approval by the trustees.