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Public input section back on Ramsey County agenda

DEVILS LAKE--A decades-old public input section that was taken off the Ramsey County Commission's agenda earlier this year is back on the lineup, with commissioners suggesting a few changes.


DEVILS LAKE-A decades-old public input section that was taken off the Ramsey County Commission's agenda earlier this year is back on the lineup, with commissioners suggesting a few changes.

In his first act as the newly appointed chair of the commission, Mark Olson reinstated the visitors and delegations portion of the meeting when the commission met Thursday. He noted it would have all of the rules it previously had, including limiting the time of speaking to five minutes each at the discretion of the chair.

"It must pertain to county business," Olson said during the meeting.

Visitors and delegation was taken off the agenda in June by former Commission Chairwoman Myrna Heisler, who said the portion of the meeting had become disruptive and was being used by several residents to grandstand. Former Commissioner Bill Mertens criticized the move, stating the rest of the commissioners should have a voice in the decision. He also said it made the board look like it was trying to limit public input at meetings. His opposition was demonstrated multiple times-he sent a letter to Heisler stating his concerns, he voted against approving the agenda at several meetings and he called for a vote to put visitors and delegation back on the agenda in his last meeting Nov. 15.

Heisler defended her decision, backing it up with law that allows the chairperson of a government board in North Dakota to control the agenda. She added residents who wanted to speak during meetings could ask to be put on the agenda and the next full commission could reverse her decision if it wanted.


That's exactly what happened at Thursday's meeting, which was rescheduled from Tuesday due to a snowstorm. Commissioner Adam Leiphon, who was appointed vice chairman, said in November he would make a motion to put visitors and delegation back on the agenda during the first December meeting-Thursday.

One change proposed by Commissioner Lucas Wakefield, a challenger who was elected to the commission in November with Olson and Jeff Frith, was to limit the amount of times a person could speak to the commission repeatedly on the subject. He suggested a resident could speak on the same issue once every three meetings.

"My sense of visitors and delegation is that it is supposed to be a platform by which people who wouldn't otherwise, for whatever reason, be able to get their voice heard," Wakefield said, adding those who want to come up more than once every three meetings should request to be placed on the agenda.

Frith was not at the meeting due to a prior commitment. He will be sworn in as a commissioner at a later date.

State's Attorney Lonnie Olson also said the commission should decide where on the agenda to place visitors and delegation. Before it was removed, it was placed at the end of the agenda.

Mertens advocated in previous meetings that it should be placed at the beginning of the meeting so people didn't get discouraged from speaking because they would have to wait until the end of the meeting.

Lonnie Olson said those who asked to be placed on the agenda may have to wait longer than scheduled to speak if visitors and delegation has a lot of residents.

"There were times when we had about 30 to 45 minutes of visitors and delegation sections," he said. "You might want to put those people (who were scheduled) up front and visitors and delegation toward the end as a consideration for the people who called ahead and asked for their items to be put on (the agenda)."


Commissioners unanimously passed a motion to reinstate visitors and delegation but did not decide where it would be on the agenda and how many times a person could speak on the same matter.

Leiphon will draft language to outline the county's guidelines on visitors and delegation, which is expected to be reviewed at the next meeting.

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