Citizens' forum guidelines announced prior to reinstatement

Citizens' forum guidelines announced prior to reinstatement

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg City Council will reinstate Citizens' Forum at their March 16 agenda setting meeting, and the forum chairman has released

in advance of that meeting.

Ward 5 Councilman Henry Naylor, who will head up the forum that has been absent since late 2013, established seven procedures "to ensure that meetings are conducted with order and decorum."

Each speaker will have three minutes to address the council after they sign in to the forum to include their name and address. Council members are not allowed to engage in dialogue with the speaker unless deemed necessary and approved by Naylor. The guidelines state that rule is to maintain the forum's mission of being an opportunity for citizens to be heard and the council to listen.

"We are there to hear and then take those comments under advisement," said Naylor. "We've put citizens first as we always try to do."

After the controversial 2013 Hattiesburg mayoral election, citizens' forum became unruly, with attendees yelling, using hateful language toward council members and causing meetings to be unproductive. The council voted to suspend the forum at the end of 2013 for a minimum of 90 days.

"We want to make sure citizens are fully aware what we expect of them," said Naylor of the rules, which will be provided to those in attendance of the meeting.

Protests led by area ministers were held last month to demand the council to reinstate the forum. Those protests caused council meetings to end minutes after they began, two days in a row. Three Hattiesburg community leaders filed a temporary restraining order against the council and mayor in February, claiming the absence of the forum banned citizens from their right of free speech while important decisions were being made by the council that affected taxpayers. That court hearing ended with an agreement to reinstate the forum this month.

"We've heard from the citizens, and we are acting on their request," said Naylor. "We except this to be a win-win situation for all."

To review the full guidelines, click here.

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