Change in traffic law corrects unintended consequences

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By Stan Welch

During their regular meeting Monday, West Pelzer Town Council approved changes in the wording of a traffic law because of unintended consequences and established guidelines for public comments during meetings.

The traffic law, dealing with what was called careless operation of a motor vehicle, was intended to allow an alternative to imposing points on a motorist.

However, when the convictions on the careless operation charge reached the DMV, they were translated as a six point violation; a penalty never intended and seldom deserved.

In addition, out of state agencies were also imposing unintended penalties; and two such violations could cost a CDL driver his license and his livelihood.

The language was changed to reflect a violation of the “manner of driving” instead.

The Council also approved a number of changes in the way in which it will conduct its meetings and interact with the public in attendance at those meetings. Town Clerk Paula Payton reported to the Council that during recent training she attended it was strongly suggested that certain procedures be put in place for conducting meetings and creating agendas.

The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, defines the way in which meetings are publicized and agendas established. The crux of the agenda is to make known, in advance and to the public, what business will be conducted by the political body at any given meeting.

While there is no legal requirement for citizens’ concerns to be on the agenda, the Municipal Association encourages erring on the side of openness and public information. Payton said a common problem is that a citizen might show up at a meeting and make remarks about a neighbor who has no idea that they are the topic of a public discussion.

Payton explained that state law does not require that the public be given a chance to speak, but if the body chooses to allow public comment, controls should be in place. Among suggestions was a requirement that citizens wishing to speak inform the clerk in time for a specific explanation of the topic to be included on the published agenda. That would require notification of the clerk by 5p.m. on Thursday, the same time limit that applies to council members.

Citizens will be allowed 3-5 minutes to speak on their topic. Council can vote to allow additional time if it is necessary. The Mayor and Council will receive the citizens’ comments as information only. They will not respond or debate the matter.

Mayor Paxton said that she agreed that too many meetings turn into debates, but added she would be glad to speak with any citizen after the meeting.

As to the general conduct of the meetings, Roberts’ Rules of order are the guidelines, with any disputes referred to the town attorney. Council approved the procedural changes unanimously.