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Public Comment Section Causes Confusion at Dresden City Board

Dresden Mayor Mark Maddox and City Recorder Jennifer Branscum discuss condemnation notices that were sent out.

By Shannon Taylor

Associate Editor

With a light agenda consisting of a budget resolution, Dresden Mayor Mark Maddox did not allow for public comments at the Oct. 2 Dresden city board meeting, citing that a new law had passed that limited public comments to items on the agenda. 

When Maddox got to the “Input from Citizens” section of the agenda he stated, “In order to have the ability to speak, the new state law says that that topic has to be on the agenda. So, I know there’s a group here from Greenfield Highway…but in order to speak to the board that has to be on the agenda and there’s nothing on the agenda that I can find.”

Public Chapter 300 was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly and took effect July 1 of this year and requires a governing body to reserve a public comment section for items on the agenda, however, there has been a lot of confusion regarding the new law. 

Executive Director of TCOG (Tennessee Coalition for Open Government) stated that, “The new public comment law requires that a governing body reserve a period for comment “on matters that are germane to the items on the agenda for the meeting.” Nothing restricts a governing body from also allowing comment on items not on the agenda.”

Many municipalities across Tennessee have developed policies and incorporated guidelines into their public comment sections since the new law passed two months ago. Many municipalities added restrictions for time periods to speak, giving notice, ensuring opposing viewpoints are represented and number of speakers present. Many municipalities incorporated their city boards into the decision-making process by voting on the policy they would incorporate. 

Maddox and City Recorder Jennifer Branscum were contacted for comment regarding the policy and Branscum said that the new policy was attached to the agenda at the August board meeting which reads, “During this time, anyone wishing to address the board may do so for up to three minutes, although we ask that you have been recognized by the mayor to do so. We ask that you observe these simple rules when addressing the board: 1. At the beginning of your presentation, please tell us your name and address. 2. Please address all of your questions to the mayor. Do not ask questions of the Aldermen or staff. If necessary, the mayor will ask an alderman or staff member to address your question or comments. 3. Please avoid the use of improper language, profanity, or other inappropriate conduct. 4. Please limit comments, questions and concerns to the items listed on the agenda. Other items may be discussed at a future board meeting by requesting to be placed on the agenda prior to the agenda being distributed to the Board. Please contact City Recorder Jennifer Branscum to be placed on a future agenda.”

Maddox responded Tuesday stating, “I was not happy with the outcome last night. As I explained to Mr. Chappel and his group when I apologized for them not being able to speak, the board is bound by the new state law (TCA 8-44-1). I’m not sure what problem the new law was trying to solve. I intend to ask. Wanting citizens to have time to speak at a board meeting, I did a little research into 2023 Public Chapter 300 after the meeting.  With the help of others, I am informed what some municipalities are doing. Consulting with our city attorney, I will propose to the board at our November meeting a procedure for Dresden’s citizens to comment on items on the agenda and items not on the agenda, if possible.”

Resident Brandi George, who frequently participates in public comment showed emails between her and Branscum where she had asked questions and Branscum said she would add George to the agenda. “However, if you have questions, Mayor Maddox or I will be happy to answer them prior to the meeting. Public comment is not an opportunity to have questions answered,” Branscum stated. George asked for an explanation stating, “Can you please explain to me what the public comment section on the agenda for city government meetings is for if it is not for addressing citizens comments, questions, and concerns?” George said she has not received a response yet. 

The condemnation Board will meet again Monday, Oct. 16 at 5:30 p.m. The next City of Dresden Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting is set for Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. in city hall.

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