Despite the pleas of several residents, the Bowling Green City Commission on Tuesday approved a second and final reading of an ordinance amendment to move the public comment section of city commission meetings from near the beginning to the end of meetings.
At the March 21 meeting, commissioners in a 4-1 vote approved a first reading of the amendment, sponsored by Commissioner Sue Parrigin, to move the public comment section to the end of meetings.
Nine people spoke against the change Tuesday, saying that not having a set time for public comments hinders the opportunity for residents to address concerns. Some also said they believed the move was a result of the controversy over a fairness ordinance.
Supporters of the change to the city’s discrimination ordinance, which would add protections in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, have been regularly speaking at commission meetings.
Among those who spoke against the public comment change was Laura Harper. Commissioners “are supposed to be working for the citizens of Bowling Green. Public engagement ... should be a priority. Don’t call it a public comment section if it’s not available,” she said to applause.
Commissioner Joe Denning then asked the seemingly rhetorical question of whether the commission had a right to change the order of agenda items in meetings.
“You set the agenda. That’s the point,” someone called out from the audience.
Maria Davila also spoke against the change.
“We want to be able to speak to you at a regular, scheduled time,” she said. “Yes, city business is important ... . We are the city’s business.”
Anthony Survance added to the chorus.
“The city commission is strategically reorienting the flow of debate ... this is laughable and disgraceful,” he said.
After other speakers, Commissioner Rick Williams said the commission wanted to hear from constituents, but that there was a reason to take care of other business first, citing as an example a person or business who was requesting a zoning change who was paying an attorney by the hour to attend a meeting.
Parrigin said the move was not spurred by the fairness ordinance debate, but by seeing how well a March 7 work session regarding the ordinance worked. Fifty people spoke in favor of the ordinance at the work session.
“It seemed to work very well ... that’s the reason,” she said.
Brian Packard noted that this “decision didn’t come before a controversial issue came up.” He acknowledged the at-times contentious nature of the debate regarding the fairness ordinance, which is only supported by Commissioner Brian “Slim” Nash.
“Sorry, but government is messy,” he said to loud applause.
After other speakers who asked that the comments not be moved, Patricia Minter said the change was “anti-democracy, anti-citizen and it’s really anti-Bowling Green,” adding that Williams seemed to be indicating that a business seeking a zoning change was being privileged above “ordinary citizens.”
“You will not silence the fairness ordinance,” she said.
No member of the public spoke in favor of the change. Commissioners voted 4-0 for approval of the second reading. Nash, who cast the sole “no” vote March 21, was not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
Some of those who spoke against the comment change, as well as several other speakers, also lobbied for the fairness ordinance. Many referenced Mayor Bruce Wilkerson’s comments at the March 21 meeting that he didn’t consider those who were speaking for the fairness ordinance to be marginalized.
Several speakers pointed to examples of discrimination and the fact that current city ordinance does extend discrimination protections to others, but not the LGBT community, as proof that the city’s LGBT community was being marginalized.
“When one of us feels unsafe, we are all diminished,” Jennifer Thomas said. “Bowling Green is better than this.”
Also Tuesday, commissioners:
- Accepted a bid not to exceed $120,000 from B&H Environmental Services of Louisville for the collection and disposal of leachate – liquid that leaches through a landfill – from the city’s closed landfill in Butler County.
- Approved a $121,155 grant application to the Kentucky Fire Commission Training Facilities grant program for various training props to be used by firefighters. The application includes a request for funds for a trailer to transport the fire department’s existing car fire trainer prop.