Canal Winchester City Council seeks deadline for written public comment

Scott Gerfen
ThisWeek
City of Canal Winchester

Residents wishing to submit written comments to Canal Winchester City Council soon likely will have an earlier deadline to meet.

Council members – who have been meeting in person, wearing masks and social distancing because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – are expected to approve the deadline Monday, Oct. 19.

If approved, written public comments would be due by noon the Friday before a regularly scheduled council meeting. Any comments received after that deadline would appear on the following meeting’s agenda. The previous deadline had been 3 p.m. on the day of the meeting.

“This is in order for the clerk of council to have time to get the agenda out to us,” said Councilwoman Jill Amos, who had questioned why some public comments were left out of prior meeting agendas and minutes.

City Council meetings generally are 7 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month. However, due to pandemic, the public has been prohibited from attending the meetings, where the rules allow residents to provide in-person comments for no more than five minutes.

Meetings instead have been broadcast to the public through an online platform, which is permitted by the Ohio Public Meetings Act. However, the law does not deal with public comments.

“Nothing in Ohio law affords the public the right to make comments, pose questions or otherwise speak at a meeting of a public body,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in an April 6 online newsletter available at /tinyurl.com/y5smwsot about COVID-19 and Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.

“Generally, most public bodies do give those attending in person the opportunity to speak, usually under reasonable, defined and uniform limitations."

However, governmental bodies still must comply with the Open Meetings Act by streaming their gatherings online or otherwise providing access to the public, Yost said. Teleconferences and video conferences are acceptable means of member participation.

Canal Winchester City Council has opened meetings to in-person public comment at the Francis Steube Community Center, 22 S. Trine St., on a few occasions.

Residents could address council via video from the community center, where masks and social distancing were required.

“Since the virus restrictions were put in place, we use the community center site for council when there are public hearings where we are legally required to allow public comments,” said Matt Peoples, the city's public service director who manages the community center.

The city also used the community center for public comments and interaction with City Council during a June 23 town hall.

Canal Winchester’s planning and zoning and landmarks commissions also use the site for the same reason, Peoples said.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews