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Covington Mayor Sherry Carran imposes ‘partial ban’ on questions at close of commission meetings

By Mike Rutledge
NKyTribune reporter

COVINGTON – Mayor Sherry Carran has imposed a partial ban on questions during the “public comments” period at the end of city commission meetings.

Carran started the ban because she no longer wanted to give a platform to people she believes are grandstanding with hopes of being elected to Covington’s commission next year. But in an interview today (Tuesday) with the NKYTribune, Carran said if people have just a question or two, and are respectful, she may let a question or two slide.

Her no-questions announcement during an April 14 commission meeting spurred 174 displeased people to sign a petition on change.org asking for reconsideration.

“I believe in a free exchange in public, and that citizens of Covington should have the right to question,” wrote a petition signer who identified himself as Tom Miller of Covington. “You say that we can ask questions via e-mail but as one commissioner admitted there is no obligation to answer. We deserve to have the right to question what goes on publicly.”

Mayor Sherry Carran

Mayor Sherry Carran

“Lately there are a handful of people who during the public comment period are coming to the podium with lists of questions – not one question, or two questions, but a list of questions,” Carran said. “And for the most part, these are people who were candidates for city commission, did not get elected, and it pretty much appears that they’re trying to draw attention to themselves.”

“And usually, when they get up, they’re not satisfied if you do give them an answer, or if you don’t have an answer right away, they’re not satisfied,” she said. “And then they try to get you into a debate. And that’s not what the public comment period is about.”

Carran and Michelle Williams, the former city commissioner whose questions during the April 14 meeting spurred Carran’s announcement, expect the ban to prompt comments from the audience when the commission meets at 6 p.m. tonight, in commission chambers, 20 W. Pike St.

“Hopefully we’ll have a group of people who will make comments tonight,” Williams said. “Our whole goal is just to get her to change her mind. That’s all.”

During an interview with the NKY Tribune, Carran backed away slightly from her statement during the April 14 commission that questions no longer would be allowed.

“This thing has totally gotten blown out of proportion by a few individuals, and now I’m trying to correct what was misrepresented by them,” Carran said.

“The public comment period is for if you have a concern, or an issue that you’re trying to bring to our attention,” she continued, “but it’s not a quizzing of the commission or the staff, and trying to put them on the spot.”
Carran said she discussed with the rest of the commission whether they’d be comfortable with a prohibition on questions.

She noted the city used to limit comments to three minutes per person, “but we were trying to be more respectful, and allowing more of an open format,” she said. “And usually I allow people way more than three minutes. Sometimes it goes on 10 minutes, or even more.”

She does plan to hold people to three minutes now.

“What I’m trying to discourage is the shenanigans,” Carran said. “Some of the people I’ve talked to say, ‘Well, you knew you were going into elected office, and you knew you were going to get beat up, so just accept it,’” Carran said. “I don’t feel I have to accept being beat up. I can take criticism, especially corrective criticism, but when someone’s purposely beating you up, not physically but verbally, I don’t think I have to take that.”

“I shouldn’t have to take that, just like they shouldn’t have to take it from me,” she said.

As for Carran’s claim of politicking, Williams said: “My comment to her is: This is not an election year. This is just an issue that she brought on herself.”

After what already had been a long meeting, and after Williams announced she had a long list of questions (but she pared them down because of the late hour), Carran announced the city was changing its protocol, and questions no longer would be allowed.

Carran noted during the meeting that anyone can reach them any time of day by email or phone call. She said officials are pretty accessible that way. She noted officials also can be approached after the city meeting, and they’ll do their best to answer her questions on the spot.

“It’s an open meeting, and that to me is where you can go every two weeks – it’s scheduled – and you can go see any or your elected officials and city leaders,” Williams said.

“That’s where the leaders are,” Williams said. “And we just want to be able to ask the question if something is coming to your neighborhood.”

Williams, like other members of the public who request them, gets meeting agendas and all the written background information about the issues.

“Being able to have that edge, I know all the questions I want to ask,” she said.

“I’m just asking general questions about things that are happening in the community,” Williams said. “And I think lots of people want answers to them.”

“You would think that with all that went on in City Hall, and she built a task force to restore the public trust, that’s over now, but we did implement transparency policies, and for her to just say, ‘No questions,’ it gets people to wondering: What happened to the transparency here?”

Williams was glad to hear that Carran may allow a question or two.

“Well, it sounds like we win, then, because that’s all we wanted, was to be able to ask questions.”
Williams said she wasn’t trying to put anybody on the spot, and only asked questions about items on that night’s agenda.

“I’ve always felt like, if they put it on the agenda, then it’s ready for the commission to vote on it, and they should have everything ready and be able to answer all the questions related to their agenda items,” she said.

A political friend and ally of Carran’s, ex-Commissioner Shawn Masters signed the petition with this comment: “As a former commissioner, serving two terms, I/we welcomed comments/questions from our constituents. As a public servant, I represented the good people of our city, as do our current sitting commissioners/mayor, and I’m saddened by this.

Many times questions were asked, not always answered – but referred to staff for further input. Transparency is paramount to open dialogue and civic engagement…this policy cannot be allowed to continue. If someone asks inappropriate questions, or makes inappropriate comments, censor them, but do not allow the actions of a few to censor those of us wanting to engage our city officials.”

Candace Wenger of Covington wrote, in connection with the petition: “As a resident of Covington I should be able to go to a city meeting and ask a question and feel not just allowed but welcomed in MY City of Covington. Thanks.”
Kenneth Brock of Covington wrote: “I’m signing because you are responsible to the public. Politicians have gotten so power hungry lately, that they have forgotten that they are answerable to the public.”

Marie Grant of Oak Grove, Ky., wondered: “How else are we to be represented?”

Here’s the text of the petition statement:

If our City can take away our voice, other cities will soon follow. No citizens will ever be heard and they win.

As of April 14, 2015 Mayor Sherry Carran implemented a new meeting policy. Questions will no longer be permitted during public comment portion of the meetings. We have always been able to ask questions and we want that right restored. It is important for the 40,000+ residents of Covington, Kentucky to have a voice in our local government and community.

We will speak. We will ask questions. We will be heard.

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One Comment

  1. Tom Miller says:

    Thank you for a balanced report of what happened regarding asking questions at the commissioner meetings.

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