Smith County commissioner’s motion to amend rules of decorum fails
TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A Smith County commissioner’s submitted agenda item to change the divisive rules for public comment was turned down.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Terry Phillips, father of Lance and Derrick Phillips and husband of Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips, all of whom were recently arrested in connection with various incidents, submitted the item for Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. Agenda item 1 was listed as “Consider and take necessary action to approve revisions to Smith County Commissioners Court Rules of Decorum.” These rules were what led to the arrest of Lance Phillips earlier this month.
The rules of decorum have been enforced by the court as limiting public comment to three minutes per speaker. During this time, the speaker must limit their comments to the items they have signed up to speak on, and are reprimanded if they stray to an unrelated topic. During the May 2 meeting, Lance Phillips was ejected from the court for violating decorum.
Speakers at the Tuesday meeting were all in favor of agenda item 1. It was their belief that the rules of decorum are too restrictive, and that it is the right of the citizens to speak in court without being shut down for violating rules. One speaker noted that the rule of three minutes to speak on agenda items may have been originally intended to allow for three per item, rather than three total.
Following public comment, the commissioners discussed their thoughts on the matter. County Judge Neal Franklin delivered his prepared comments, in which he pointed out that Phillips had been in agreement with the current rules of decorum when they were passed. He also pointed out that many times when a speaker is stopped while delivering their public comment, they are speaking on a topic which has no bearing in court and cannot be dealt with by the commissioners.
Phillips gave his opinion as well, saying that he had presented the agenda item because he believed that the public has a right to be heard. He also apologized for being in agreement with the current rules of decorum when they were instated, saying that he had been wrong. He said the decorum states that the intention of the court is to allow citizens open access, and he no longer believes that this is the case.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Pam Fredericks agreed with Franklin, saying that she and her fellow commissioners were available for non-agenda issues outside of court. During court sessions, however, she said that she preferred the rules preventing public comment from straying remain in place.
A motion was made by Phillips to amend the rules of decorum, and no second was heard. As a result, the motion died, and for the time being the rules remain unchanged.
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