Public comments limited as accusations of bad behavior fly

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County Council Chair Douglas Pauley announced at Monday night’s council meeting that council would no longer allow the public to speak during the second public comment session of council meetings. In that session, speakers are allowed to address any issue concerning the county. Pauley said the decision to eliminate that session was made by council members.

He made the announcement after a member of the audience, Jeff Schaffer, became upset as he was addressing council last month. After he began to speak, Schaffer abruptly pounded the podium and shouted offensive words. He was then escorted from the building by a sheriff’s deputy for his disruption.

Schaffer subsequently sent a letter of apology to the community that was published in The Voice and to each council member, acknowledging that his actions were out of line. 

In his letter of apology, Schaffer also addressed what he called council’s disrespect for the speakers which, he said, precipitated his outburst.

“As frequently happens now to me and other speakers, when we step up to address council, one or more council members or administrators began laughing and talking to each other, letting it be known that they are not paying us any attention,” Schaffer wrote.

“Council members are quick to complain if a speaker makes any comment the council members don’t like, but they have no problem disrespecting and disregarding community members who address them.

“It’s frustrating, and I’m sorry that I let it get to me. I just lost it,” he wrote, again apologizing for his offensive words.

In his announcement about eliminating the second comment session, Pauley did not address council members’ behavior toward the speakers.

“The majority of council has agreed to temporarily remove the second public comment session,” Pauley announced. “We will possibly revisit this issue in the future.”

He went on to say, “Council does value input from citizens on topics related to improving our county, but we cannot allow pubic disrespect or disruption of the county council meeting.”

According to the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, any kind of decision by council on an issue – vote, agreement, straw poll, etc. – is only allowed to take place in the public meeting.

“Council cannot make a decision unless the decision is made by public vote in a meeting properly announced and convened in public,” said Media Attorney Jay Bender who represents the S.C. Press Association, of which The Voice is a member.

Council’s decision to eliminate the second public session, as described by Pauley, had not appeared on the agenda and the decision was not voted on by council members in public.

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