RAPID CITY, S.D. — The Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board in South Dakota is re-examining its move to ban public comments at meetings due to criticism of the planned change.
Public comments of up to three minutes each are typically allowed at the monthly board meeting if there is time near the end. But the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting at the Mystic Ranger District office said comments should be written and provided to the board’s coordinator before the meeting, the Rapid City Journal reported .
Board Chairman Bob Burns said the agenda language is a result of some public comments that drifted into the middle of the meeting rather than the end and extended beyond the time limit in recent meetings. He said he isn’t necessarily committed to eliminating public comments and replacing them with written ones.
“We’ll probably discuss it at the meeting, and we may go ahead and allow public comments, but really tighten them up,” he said.
Board members are appointed to represent forest-related interest areas such as recreation, mining, logging, environmentalism and livestock grazing. Burns said the board’s bylaws allow for public comment at meetings but don’t require it. He said people who want input are encouraged to privately contact individual board members who represent their specific area of concern.
Sam Griner, a resident who regularly attends the meetings, said the change would amount to censorship.
“I’d be kind of disappointed if they would do that,” he said. “I think public comment is good for any government agency when they have a public meeting like that.”
Attendee Kent Jacobs said the board’s agenda items are typically vague, which would make it difficult for the public to offer informed written comments beforehand rather than reacting verbally to what they hear at the meetings.
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com