“Hateful” comments lead to changes on policy during Darlington city council meetings

Darlington City Council makes changes to public comment

DARLINGTON, SC (WMBF) - A proposed ordinance in Darlington would require people to notify city officials almost a week before the meeting that they want to make a public comment. It would also shorten the time they’re allowed to speak.

Darlington Mayor Gloria Hines introduced the changes during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. It has since raised concerns for some people.

In a video of the meeting, Mayor Hines said the reason for the new policy is because of what she calls hateful comments being made by the public toward council and even other citizens.

"These comments have gotten out of hand and must cease at once if we are to more Darlington forward," she said during the meeting. "We as a community must lay aside our personal differences and do what is in the best interests of our beloved city."

However, some residents like George Knapp who usually attends the meetings, said while he has seen some hate speech on social media, he personally hasn’t witnessed any hateful comments during meetings and added the potential new policy is limiting the most important part of the discussion.

“You can be effective more than just voting for someone, you can exercise your rights you know during the process between the 2 years or the 4 years or the 6 years they’re in office,” Knapp said.

Currently, the time allotted for public comments is five minutes. Originally, the new policy limited speaking time to two minutes instead of five. Council approved a change to three minutes during the reading, which Knapp believes is too short.

“There was a big deal with the park one time were there was a bunch of people lined up, but typically there’s three or four, maybe five so you’re talking less than an half hour even if you give them five minutes,” he said.

Those wishing to speak would also have to meet with the city manager six days before the meeting, instead of signing up 5 minutes prior.

Mayor Hines said they chose six days to give the city manager enough time to research the concern if needed.

Knapp said while he doesn’t mind meeting beforehand, it may cause some inconvenience.

"My argument is put the agenda out ahead of time, give the city a methodology like the internet, not just going to visit the manager who’s busy all the time, sometimes can be difficult to get a hold of, most of us work 9, 10, 12 hours a day. We don’t have time,” he said.

Hines stresses the new policy is not intended to stop citizens from expressing their opinions, but it’s a more effective way to do so prohibiting personal attacks on city officials or citizens.

Despite some opposition, both Knapp and Hines are hoping the community can somehow come together towards making Darlington better.

“There’s a lot of potential for this town, but I think we have to get over this social economic and racial barrier thing,” Knapp said.

City council will have a second and final reading on the ordinance on March 5th.

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