Virtual Public-Comment Period Saved for Door County Board of Supervisor Meetings

Born during the pandemic, the virtual public-comment period for Door County Board of Supervisors meetings survived an elimination threat this week.

The county is not required to allow public comments, but it does so at the beginning of each county board meeting. When meetings went virtual during the pandemic, so did the public-comment period. When in-person meetings resumed, the virtual viewing remained, as did the opportunity for those participating virtually to speak during the public-comment period.

The board considered eliminating the option last year, and again, during the board’s April 18 meeting, the opportunity to make remote public comments was on the chopping block – this time as a recommendation from the county’s Administrative Committee. 

Ken Pabich, county administrator, said the recommendation to remove virtual public comments evolved from a contradiction within the board’s Rules of Order. One part of that document allows remote public comments, but another part does not.

“The rules, as written right now, have a conflict, so we have to clean it up either way,” Pabich said. 

The Administrative Committee recommended they clean it up by eliminating the remote option, though “not to prohibit participation,” Pabich said. “There are other methods [by which] people can provide comments” – such as writing, calling a supervisor or attending in person.

The League of Women Voters advocated for preserving remote participation. Another public comment against eliminating the option – there were five total for the meeting – came from Susan Kohout, a former county board supervisor. 

Upon her retirement in 2022, she had given the board a sampler she had stitched herself that read, “Just because we don’t have to, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.” Kohout referred to that sampler that hangs on the wall within the county board room, saying it pertained to the situation at hand.

“It’s not required, but it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

The supervisors voted 17-4 to keep the virtual option. Their expressed reasons were that it allowed people in all situations to participate when they couldn’t otherwise due to work or challenges related to child care, disabilities or transportation. There are also constituents who are out of town when a meeting occurs, or find they can’t travel the distance to Sturgeon Bay to speak for the three minutes (the maximum allotted time per speaker). 

All those who voted against it were on the Administrative Committee, with two from that committee voting with the majority to keep remote comments (Supervisor Elizabeth Gauger, who represents parts of the towns of Egg Harbor and Sevastopol, and Door County Board Chair Dave Lienau, who represents parts of Baileys Harbor, Ephraim, Liberty Grove and Sister Bay). 

“This is the dumbest thing we’ve ever talked about on the board,” said Supervisor Joel Gunnlaugsson, who represents Washington Island and voted to keep remote comments. “It is our job to listen to the community. That’s their opportunity to vent, praise, complain, whatever. We’ve spent oodles of money on technology. It’s our job, our duty, to listen to them in any way, shape or form.”

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