Grantwood Village residents fear their voices will not be heard at meetings

By Kari Williams

Though Grantwood Village officials said they were abiding with village ordinances in removing public comment from last week’s meeting agenda, some residents have concerns their voices will not be heard.

Resident Pat Jones attempted to speak during the meeting’s recognition of residents and guests to note the public comment period was removed from the agenda. When Jones did so, board Chairwoman Cathy Forand ruled her out of order.

“I wanted to defy the rule and stand up and state my name and say that I was concerned about this omission from the agenda, and I would like the trustees — and I don’t know if I was able to get that out before I was slammed down with the gavel — but I wanted the trustees to explain why,” Jones told the Call.

Jones said when she approached the board after the meeting for an explanation, Forand explained her reasoning, but “most of the other trustees were leaving.”

Resident Pam Wendl, who contacted village trustees by email before the meeting, stood up after the meeting adjourned — but before residents began to leave — to question the board’s decision to remove public comment.

“I think several of us are frustrated about removing public comment from the forum,” Wendl said after the meeting.

Wendl said removing the public comment period is “not good government” and questioned the timing — right before the April 3 election.

“Now, that may not have been the intention, and I get that, but we come to this meeting to hear what goes on, to hear what other people have to say, to present our ideas and concepts,” she said. “I think that stifles an interchange in information, which is a horrible practice. I would like to have some comment on that.”

Forand then said, “The meeting is adjourned. Either everybody get up, and if you have a question, come up. If not, then we want you to leave, OK.”

Wendl said what occurred at the meeting was contrary to email conversations with Forand.

“It flies contrary to our Village Voice, which just came out on Saturday (and) Monday … about how they’re so transparent and everybody can come and answer questions,” she said.

The latest Village Voice, Grantwood Village’s quarterly newsletter, states, “The village is transparent. Our website, transparency and Sunshine Law adherence has been noted by local media as a model for any city, especially one of our small size.”

Wendl told the Call she was “just trying to play by the rules” by asking after the meeting.

“They were her (Cathy Forand’s) rules I was following, her change in the game plan at the 11th hour, because we’ve always had public comments,” Wendl said.

Public comment was moved to the end of meetings last September, Forand said, after being the sixth item on the agenda. Since changing the public comment format, the chairwoman said public comments have “just gotten more contentious.”

“This is not just a knee-jerk decision that I made. I think, because it was two weeks before the election, I think it made me decide to do it right now, rather than later,” she said.

Board Treasurer Mark Kienstra said the sudden change did bring the village in compliance with its ordinance, and the trustees’ task now is to recover.

“I thought our change in the order of business to comply with the ordinance, although it was technically and legally correct, it was inelegant to say the least,” he said. “And I know that it may have detracted from all the work that we did …”

Jones said she would have “been a little less concerned” if board members had addressed the absence of public comment during the meeting.

“If you didn’t bother to look at the agenda before the meeting, you would have had no idea,” Jones said.

Kienstra said he believes residents wanted back and forth dialogue that has occurred at previous meetings.

“I think they missed the point that that back and forth dialogue is not one of the orders of business that is specified in our ordinances …,” he said. “Our residents had, I think, a higher expectation because they wanted the back and forth dialogue.”

Jones, who has attended “many County Council meetings,” said she believes not having public comment included in the village’s ordinances is unfortunate.

“I think that might be something to look into, as a resident, and bring it up to the trustees,” she said. “That’s a vital part of city government.”

This story has been corrected to include Pat Jones’ correct first name.