Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series on the accessibility of local government meetings. On Tuesday, the Aiken Standard looks at Aiken City Council.
Meeting length and website timeliness
Length of Council's meetings since January
May 7 - 27 minutes
April 16 - 8 minutes
April 2 - 3 minutes
March 19 - 1 hour and 38 minutes
March 3 - 52 minutes
Feb. 19 - 1 hour and 2 minutes
Feb. 5 - 20 minutes
Jan. 15 - 2 hours and 8 minutes
Last agenda - May 7
Last minutes - April 16
Last budget - 2012-2013 Fiscal Year
Chairman Ronnie Young has a fine line to walk each time he taps his chairman's gavel to begin a meeting of Aiken County Council.
He aims to provide the public with as much information as possible, while still garnering public feedback and managing the meeting in a timely way.
It's a task made easier by guidelines and procedures in the County's Code of Laws, but one that still has to be enforced by him and the other members of Council.
Running an effective meeting is also tied to transparency, he said, meaning Council and the public should be able to express their concerns openly and effectively.
“There's nothing behind the scenes here,” Young said. “It's above the board, whatever we do.”
That attitude runs throughout the County, according to County Administrator Clay Killian.
“We're very sensitive to that,” Killian said about the need for transparency. “You want to give the public an opportunity to speak and attend your meetings, work sessions, and committee meetings. Everything is open to the public.”
When are meetings held?
The tapping of Young's gavel signals the beginning of each regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m.
The meetings are held the first and third Tuesdays of each month from January to June, but only the third Tuesday of each month from July to November. A meeting is also held on the second Tuesday in December.
Killian said Council typically sees more activity in the spring, so consequently, more meetings are scheduled in the early part of the year, particularly to handle development of the budget.
Council's goal is to have meetings completed by 10:30 p.m., but a majority vote can extend it later into the night.
Council can also schedule a special called meeting at the request of the chairman or a majority of Council members. The public must be given at least 24-hours notice of a special called meeting.
All Council meetings, including committee meetings and work sessions, are open to the public except for those stipulated in the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
Killian noted that closed-door executive sessions are typically called to discuss personnel matters regarding County employees and economic development deals that have not been completed.
The agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting is supposed to be distributed to the public by 8:30 a.m. on the Monday before a Tuesday meeting, according to the County's Code of Laws. For special meetings, the agenda should be distributed to the public at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.
All regular and special meeting agendas are also be posted in the County Council building, at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.
The agenda is set by the County administrator on Wednesday of the week preceding the regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting.
Speaking before Council
Anyone wanting to be heard at a full Council or committee meeting should request the County administrator place the matter on the agenda at least four days before the meeting.
This requirement may be waived by a two-thirds vote of Council if the matter is presented in writing and every member of Council is provided with a copy prior to the beginning of the meeting.
However, any person or group may speak to Council during the end of meetings with permission of the chairman. Each person must state his or her name and address, and may make comments only relevant to the subject matter at hand.
Those wishing to make comments are limited to three minutes per person or 15 minutes per group, unless additional time is granted in advance by Council.
Young said Council can be flexible in the amount of time allotted depending on the amount of people interested in speaking.
At public hearings, Council allows individuals to speak for no more than five minutes. There's actually no limit on the number of people who may speak during a public hearing.
Additionally, no one is allowed to speak at a meeting on a topic that has been previously heard by Council at an earlier public meeting unless approved by a two-thirds vote of Council.
All presentations, except for awards, recognitions, and other similar ceremonial presentations, will be heard during committee meetings. The committee can refer presentations to the full Council if it's a major item that needs to be outlined.
The County's website, www.aikencountysc.gov., offers a variety of information to help inform the public about County operations.
Council agendas are available online before meetings and minutes, which provide a written record of Council's activities, are available after meetings, according to County IT Director Johnny Walton.
County budgets dating back to 1996-1997 fiscal year can also be accessed online.
Young said he hopes every aspect of County government, from the meetings to its online presence, is done with the goal of being open and keeping the public informed.
“It's just the right thing to do. The public should know as much as we know and know why we make the decisions we make.”