COVINGTON -- The Newton County Commission is taking its budget work sessions on the road.
Commissioners have decided to hold a work session in each district of the county during the budget process, and to relax the rules and allow the public to speak at the meetings.
District 1 Commissioner John Douglas made the suggestion at the board's March 19 meeting and it was unanimously approved.
"We've been looking for ways to increase public participation in their county government. This is a way to us to get out of the court house and take government to the people rather than them always having to come to us," Douglas said in a follow-up interview. "If we can do a meeting a year in each district, we would likely get first time visitors and others to come out when we meet closer to their homes. It's an effort to make government more accessible to the public."
The first budget work session will be held at the Mansfield Community Center at a date and time to be determined.
"I do agree with Commissioner Douglas that we do need to get out into the community, especially in my district, a lot of people are new to our community and don't get a chance to come to downtown Covington, let alone even know where downtown Covington is half the time, so I do agree we need to move some of the work sessions out in the districts," said District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims at the BOC's March 19 meeting.
Sims said it might be better to hold work sessions when a topic applies to a specific district -- giving examples such as the Salem Overlay on the west side and proposed change of ZIP code on the east side -- but questioned whether it would be appropriate to hold all work sessions away from the board's regular meeting spot at the Historic Courthouse on the Square.
Douglas said he was proposing one a year in each district.
"I just think like you said, people out in Mansfield and Newborn might not have ever been in this building before, or down in Rocky Plains, down that way, may not have ever have been in this building before. So if we can take it to them once a year, then I think it's something we ought to take a look at," he said.
District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson agreed.
"It would be a chance to get out and see some of the people possibly on the other side of town," he said.
County Manager John Middleton suggested holding the budget work sessions in the districts. Douglas also said he wanted to allow the public to speak on any topic, with the time limit of three minutes per person that is allotted during regular commission meetings. There is typically no public comment during work sessions.
Commissioners approved his motion to hold the first budget work session at Mansfield Community Center and to allow public comments.