Officer to police tourism meeting: Board warns that outbursts could end in removal

GREENFIELD — A police officer will be posted at next month’s county tourism commission meeting to deter outbursts from the public that board members say have gotten out of hand.

Tourism commission president Earl Smith opened the board’s most recent meeting with a statement about disruptions, which have become common during commission meetings. Those who interrupt will face being removed by law enforcement and possibly charged with a misdemeanor, he said.

Smith cited Indiana criminal code defining disorderly conduct, which states, a person who intentionally disrupts a lawful assembly can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. He told citizens they’ll be called on when they’re allowed to speak; otherwise, they need to stay quiet. Smith plans to arrange for a Greenfield Police Department officer to be present at the Aug. 8 meeting to enforce the rules, he said.

Commission officials say several people who regularly attend county meetings have become disruptive. Commission member Kelly McClarnon said an attorney hired to assist the commission, Kevin Harvey, told the commission’s appointed volunteer members they are not required to entertain queries from members of the public who aren’t on the agenda.

“We don’t have to have a time for general public comment,” he said. “The meeting is to review grant applications and reward funds — that’s the beginning and end of what the meetings are for.”

But two residents who show up to nearly every meeting say people speak out of turn because it’s the only option they have to make their voices heard.

John Priore and George Langston, two area residents who regularly attend many county meetings, say the tourism commission has shut down attempts to speak during the meetings. Priore, who often raises his hand during tourism commission meetings with questions and comments, called Smith’s statement “deplorable.”

“The whole purpose of public meetings is it’s the only time the public and the voters get an opportunity to express themselves,” Priore said.

Priore said he and Langston have asked multiple times to sit down with tourism commission members and tourism director Brigette Cook Jones to discuss issues they have with the way the commission operates — including how the county innkeepers tax, collected from hotel guests, is used to support tourism in the county.

“Civility is letting the other guy talk, too,” Priore said.

Langston said he asked to be put on the April tourism commission meeting agenda to speak about a records request he filed with the board’s members. He was allowed to talk for only a few minutes, despite having more to say, he said.

“This is a pattern,” he said. “They limit us to a few minutes, when they give (presenters on the agenda) 45 minutes to an hour to speak.”

Smith and commission member Rosalie Richardson said they don’t mind fielding questions and comments, but in recent months, the interruptions have become lengthy. Richardson said Priore and Langston should write letters to the commission explaining their concerns.

Jones said the commission often conducts business with potential grant recipients who have other commitments, requiring they be heard at specific times.

And that business is delayed when the behavior becomes disruptive by people who speak out, she said.

Jones contends board members have been patient by listening when members of the public speak out during tourism commission meetings.

“They’ve been given the ability to voice their concerns more often than not,” Jones said.

How to get on the agenda

Hancock County Tourism Commission officials require about five business days’ notice before a meeting in order to add an action item to the agenda allowing public comment, officials said.

The next tourism commission meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 8 in the city council chambers of City Hall, 10 S. State St., Greenfield. To request a place on the agenda, contact tourism director Brigette Cook Jones at tourhancockcounty@outlook.com or 317-477-8687. 

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.