The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission eased up on its public comment policy Thursday, allowing advocates for people with disabilities to push for more action on bus service in the region.
About a dozen people with disabilities, most members of Everybody Counts, showed at the meeting with protest signs after some of their members were denied the chance to talk at a NIRPC meeting last month.
Among those who took advantage of the liberalized policy was Everybody Counts board member Roy Dominguez, who proposed a special committee be set up at NIRPC to plan for integrating and improving bus service in the region.
"I would ask you to consider many of us who represent people out there in the community through Everybody Counts: people who are poor, people who have disabilities, people who want jobs," Dominguez said.
At NIRPC's last meeting April 17, NIRPC Chairman Brian Snedecor told members of the public they could only speak on agenda items and comments could only be offered before the business portion of the meeting began.
Several members of Everybody Counts had signed up to speak, citing the agenda items "public comment" and "other" on the signup sheet. When they were denied the chance to speak things grew testy between Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres and Snedecor. At one point she was told to leave but refused.
Snedecor on Thursday said as chairman he has a balancing act to perform in allowing the public to speak but also being respectful of commissioner's time.
He said it was his idea to hold public comment at the end of Thursday's meeting to let the public comment on things that might come up at the meeting.
"I want the public to be able to speak on issues that need to be discussed," he said.
The NIRPC chairman said he would discuss Dominguez' idea of a special committee to focus on busing with the agency's staff.
In all, nine members of the public spoke at the end of Thursday's meeting. Some spoke for a more than the three-minute limit imposed and some spoke for far less. Most spoke up on behalf of better bus service and to condemn the limits placed on public comment at the April 17 meeting.
"To stifle my First Amendment right because you said a matter isn't on the agenda is just not right," said Renne Jackson, of Gary.