Colerain Twp. trustee meeting heats up as officials pass resolut - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Colerain Twp. trustee meeting heats up as officials pass resolution limiting public comment

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COLERAIN TOWNSHIP, OH (FOX19) -

A Colerain Township trustee meeting turned into a heated and tense exchange after the trustees passed a resolution limiting public comment at future meetings.

The resolution states that residents who want to speak at a trustee meeting about an item that is on the agenda can do so if the board president deems public comment necessary.

It goes on to say that anyone who would like speak at a meeting about a topic that is not listed on the agenda must register with the trustees office by 3 p.m. the Monday before a Tuesday meeting. Then, the board president will decide if the topic is appropriate for public comment.

A group of residents who are not happy with the idea silently protested as the trustees talked it over at a special meeting Tuesday night. They stood up and covered their mouths with blue tape.

"Obviously, this is a hot bed, and people do not want to have their freedom of speech taken away," Stephanie Wright, a resident who is against the resolution, said.

The residents who do not agree with the resolution said that they believe the trustees are divided and that this is a way for two of the trustees to quiet citizens who have different opinions or to quiet residents who do not like them.

"The trustees, as their job, should have a thick skin to listen to all of the citizens - the good, the bad and the ugly," Christine Freiberg, who lives in Colerain Township and does not support the resolution, said.

Trustee Greg Insco said he is also against the resolution because he feels it is unfair to residents. He said that the trustee agendas are typically very short, so this limits citizens from speaking about a number of important topics that matter to them.

"Sneaking in a resolution to silence our residents at a special meeting that doesn't allow citizens' address is probably the least transparent thing you could do," Insco said during the meeting.

The resolution passed with a two to one vote. Almost immediately after the vote took place, the meeting room turned into a more tense environment with people yelling, clapping and standing up. The meeting then abruptly came to an end.

The two trustees who voted yes, Mike Inderhees and Jeff Ritter, said that the chaos at Tuesday's meeting is the perfect example of why they need new rules.

"For me this is about restoring order and civility to our meetings here in Colerain Township," Trustee President Mike Inderhees said at the meeting. "The intention of this is not to take away people's opportunity to speak."

Trustee Jeff Ritter said that the resolution is now in place and will be in effect at the next board meeting in September.

FOX19 NOW spoke with each of the three trustees following the meeting to find out why they voted yes or no on the resolution.

Insco reiterated that he feels the other two board members were sneaky by planning to pass the resolution at a special meeting that is supposed to be for zoning issues. He believes that if someone in the community chooses to come to the meetings and wants to address an issue, he or she should have the right to speak because the trustees job is to listen to the residents.

Ritter said that there have recently been incidents at the trustee meetings involving public comment that were embarrassing and unprofessional, so in response, the board members created the resolution to get back to civil, professional meetings that are effective.

Ritter added that he is available to speak with residents via phone or email outside of the meetings, so "to say that we are shutting people out is nonsense if they have a legitimate issue."

Board President Inderhees said that the resolution is important to avoid future shouting matches at meetings. He said that the only requirement by law is that the meeting is open to the public, but they do not want to keep people from having the opportunity to speak. He also provided the following statement:

"The resolution to restructure the rules for the public address portion of our monthly Board meeting is meant to restore professionalism and civility to Colerain Township.  I spoke with dozens of residents and employees who find the current discourse at our meetings utterly distasteful and unbecoming of our community.  Accordingly, I will no longer indulge the select few in our community who use the public address to insult select members of the Board, demean our department heads, and to advance their personal agendas.  Instead, I stand with the great silent majority in Colerain Township who want their local government to run efficiently and effectively.  Our meetings are held to conduct the business of Colerain Township, and I believe these changes will ensure the achievement of that objective.  As a reminder, a resident who has a concern of any kind can contact their trustees any time by phone at 385-7500, or by sending an email to the following addresses: minderhees@colerain.org; jritter@colerain.org; ginsco@colerain.org."

You can read the resolution in the trustee meeting agenda packet posted online.

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