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Commissioners to consider adopting written code of conduct, new public comment policies

Denton County Judge Mary Horn is pushing for more stringent meeting decorum after the tense, months-long discussion over the Confederate monument during commissioners' meetings. 

County commissioners are expected to vote Tuesday on a new policy for public comment and a code of conduct, which hasn't been put in writing until now, Horn said. 

The biggest change to public comment — which is typically the first item in a meeting — includes a new online registration form for speakers. If the policy is adopted, speakers will have to complete an online application on the county website. Then, only the first five applicants will be able to speak  for three minutes each on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the policy.  

For a typical Tuesday meeting, registration for public comment will open when a Tuesday meeting agenda is posted (usually about noon Thursdays) until 3 p.m. Monday. That window would change for the occasional meeting that falls on another day. 

"I hope to get it approved Tuesday in Commissioners Court, and then it would be effective immediately," Horn said.

The online form hasn't been posted on the website yet, she added. 

The proposed code of conduct comes after two people were temporarily banned from speaking in commissioners' meetings last week. 

Denton resident Jessica Luther spoke out of turn when Commissioner Andy Eads expressed disappointment at the tone of speakers' comments during the Nov. 7 meeting. 

Eads felt that commissioners had already agreed on broad-reaching guidelines for the committee that everyone could agree on. While Eads was talking, Luther shouted back from her seat in the audience, and she was escorted out of the building. 

Horn also banned Gerald DeMarsh Sr., an 86-year-old Denton resident, because he used a racial slur during public comment several weeks ago. 

Some rules in the code of conduct have been longtime requirements in Commissioners Court, such as silencing electronic devices and not interrupting the flow of court business. But now, the proposed rules specify that there will be  "no yelling, no use of profanity, and no personally abusive statements." 

Also, signs and banners will be prohibited if commissioners adopt the policy. Several people brought signs in protest of the Confederate monument over the last few months. 

"It's never been necessary to go to such lengths to maintain decorum in the courtroom, so I felt it was necessary," Horn said. 

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.