The Albemarle County Economic Development Authority will now take public comment at its monthly meetings.
At its virtual meeting on Tuesday, authority members approved an amendment to its bylaws to add 15 minutes of public comment to its meetings.
The move comes after more than a year after requests from community members for more transparency about economic development projects and decisions in Albemarle.
“I’m all in favor of encouraging public comment, but also being able to manage it at the same time, so I think this is a balance,” said EDA member Stuart Munson.
Public comment will be limited to 15 minutes total and each speaker will be allowed up to 3 minutes. They may only speak on topics “germane or materially related to matters on the authority’s meeting agenda.” Authority members can’t reply to speakers during public comment, according to the new bylaws. To accommodate more speakers, the chair can limit commenters to two minutes.
The authority first publicly discussed the addition at its meeting in October. EDA member David Shreve initially said he wanted a public comment period available for each agenda item, but other members suggested it be all at one time, at the beginning of each meeting.
Last month, Shreve said he would like to occasionally see public commenters respond to events in the middle of those discussions.
“Now maybe it’s OK if they’re present and they come back the next meeting and respond to what was discussed and it’s a little more slow moving in that regard, and maybe that works OK, but I’d like to be as responsive as possible without clogging up the works too much,” he said.
Last year, multiple community members spoke at a Board of Supervisors meeting and urged the board for more transparency when evaluating economic development proposals.
Earlier this year, three members of the EDA resigned over new state Conflict of Interests Act requirements.
At a joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors in 2019, an Albemarle supervisor had asked EDA members if they considered taking public comment at meetings. Former EDA member Rod Gentry said they talked about it but chose not to do it currently, saying that “it serves very little purpose for our body to sit and take up a lot of time hearing people complain about what we’re supposed to be doing.”