Commission updates its bylaws

A city panel is revising its rules and procedures for the first time in almost 20 years.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission recently voted to adopt updated bylaws, which went into effect Sunday.

According to Redevelopment Director Heather Pope, the update mainly focuses on the rules regarding electronic meetings, as allowed by state statute. Officials also made some organizational and formatting changes to the bylaws.

Commission Attorney Stan Gamso added that the bylaws now contain language about how members of the public should behave during meetings.

Prior to this update, the commission’s original bylaws had not been changed since the body was created in 2003, Pope said.

“With the most recent pandemic, holding meetings has taken on a whole new meaning, one that was not even contemplated back in 2003,” she said.

The approved bylaws state that during an electronic meeting, all commissioners must “communicate simultaneously” with each other, and the public must also be allowed to simultaneously attend and participate. The number of commissioners who are allowed to participate electronically during any one meeting is limited to 50%; at least 50% must attend in person.

The rules state that “all participants shall be observed by all parties” per state statute. Gamso said that while it is unclear if this restricts commissioners from dialing in, his recommendation is that it means they must have “live, bidirectional communication by video.”

Commissioners may attend no more than half of the year’s meetings electronically and are expected to be in-person during all other meetings. They are only allowed to attend two consecutive meetings electronically.

Furthermore, commissioners who attend electronically may not take final action on certain items. These include budget adoption; personnel reduction; referendum initiation; establishment or increase of a fee; establishment or increase of a penalty; use of eminent domain authority; or establishment, increase or review of a tax.

However, the bylaws also note that, “In the event of an emergency or disaster, the terms and conditions of any electronic meeting may be modified by legislative or executive order.”

The updated bylaws also contain rules regarding public hearings and public comments.

“You’ve no doubt seen in the last year, certainly on national television — it’s not a problem in Bartholomew County for sure — but you’ve seen nationally, people come to meetings and they’re very upset for whatever reason, they get out of hand,” said Gamso. “And we thought it made sense just to put some language in that would put some limits on that or certainly give the board the authority to decide whether to continue with the meeting or public input.”

In regards to public hearings, the bylaws state that the commission will hold these in all situations where it is required to do so by Indiana law.

During public hearings, the presiding officer will have the authority to “prohibit repetitious, irrelevant, or immaterial testimony” and limit the length of each testimony.

The bylaws add, “Discourteous, disorderly, or contemptuous conduct shall not be tolerated, and the presiding officer may take such action as is deemed necessary to prevent such conduct, specifically including, but not limited to, requiring the offensive person(s) to depart the meeting; summoning law enforcement personnel or adjourning the meeting.”

The bylaws also contain a separate article on public comments, which the commission is not required to accept. However, the body can, at the direction of the presiding officer, invite public comment. Similarly to a public hearing, individuals who speak during this time are not to be “rude, vulgar, offensive, discourteous, disorderly, contemptuous, repetitious, repetitive, duplicitous, or threatening to any person in attendance at the meeting.” They are also expected not to deviate from the set topic of discussion.

If members of the public do not abide by these rules, the presiding officer has the ability to end the public comment.