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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County Commissioners discuss improving agenda efficiency

The Orange County Board of Commissioners wrestled with options of how to frame agendas and meetings more efficiently Tuesday night.

“We have citizens come before us with resolutions, and we have no process of deciding if they have merit or how much time our staff should devote to them,” Commissioner vice chairman Steve Yuhasz said at the meeting.

Yuhasz supported the creation of a separate subcommittee that would review public petitions before bringing them to the board’s attention.

But Commissioner Pam Hemminger said a subcommittee would require excess staff resources, and residents wouldn’t know the status of their requests.

“I’m not wanting someone to bring a request to the board, have it shuffled around and then killed,” Commissioner Earl McKee said. “We have a responsibility to reply to the public.”

Commissioner Chairwoman Bernadette Pelissier proposed a process where requests would be reviewed by a committee consisting of the commissioner chairman, vice chairman and county manager.

They would then determine how much time and staff resources would be needed for the request and report to the public whether the resolution would be put on the agenda.

This discussion would cause board members to consider how they add their own items to meeting agendas.

“I don’t think commissioners should be held to a higher standard than the public,” Commissioner Barry Jacobs said. “I should get the same consideration about my requests.”

The board unanimously agreed that commissioners will go through the same process the public does.

In other business, County Attorney John Roberts presented the latest draft of an ethics policy that would apply to senior staff members, including department heads and employees that are appointed by the board rather than elected.

“We thought it would be a good idea to have a consistent set of ethics provisions that apply to all senior staff,” Yuhasz said. “It’s not that we expected them to be unethical before, but it just levels the field.”

But commissioners were concerned about what personal information the staff members would have to provide in a disclosure statement, particularly the names of their spouses, domestic partners or children.

Roberts said the disclosure statement would be private and viewed only by the county manager. Employees would need to list their family’s information — without names — to avoid potential conflicts of interest without invading employee privacy.

“The staff doesn’t want their personal lives known, as they aren’t elected,” Roberts said. “I don’t think the disclosure should be the same as that of an elected person’s.”

No formal decision was made, though Roberts said he plans to amend the policy by concealing the names of the staffs’ spouses or domestic partners and generically listing the businesses with which they are associated.

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