A vote by the South Carolina Transportation Commission has drawn severe criticism from state lawmakers. Two weeks ago, the commission voted down an effort to create a new public comment period during its monthly meetings.
Most commission members said the public has already plenty of time to comment on highway projects before they come up before the full commission and shot down the attempt by a 5-2 vote.
That didn’t sit well with some state legislators. Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) took to the Senate floor last week to criticize the commission, saying the members need to remember that public citizens are technically their boss.
This is not going to be tolerated. The (Department of Transportation) should not operate in the cloak of silence. The commissioners need to hear from the public when the public has something to say.
However, those commissioners who made the decision say the entire issue has been blown out of proportion, pointing out the legislature wrote the body’s rules only four years ago.
The Transportation Commission is a seven-member board consisting of one representative from each congressional district (appointed by state legislators from that area) and one at-large member appointed by the governor. It oversees the Department of Transportation and makes most of the final decisions regarding which road projects will be funded by the state.
J. Craig Forrest represents the 2nd Congressional District on the commission. He said the board has never had public comments at its monthly board meetings, but that does not mean they want to shut out the public. Forrest said his phone number is available on the commission’s website if anyone has concerns about road projects.
We as commissioners are available almost twenty-four-seven. If someone calls me and says they have a problem or they have an issue, I bring it to the attention of the department as quickly as possible.
Commissioners Danny Isaac, Craig Forrest, Eddie Adams, Harrison Rearden, and Clifton Parker voted on the prevailing side. Commissioners John Edwards and Sarah Nuckles voted to add a public comment period.
Forrest said, by the time the board votes on a highway project, the public has already had several years to weigh in. He worried allowing a public comment period at the monthly meetings would have little impact on commissioners’ decisions.
Parker, the governor’s pick, said he voted to keep the current policy until he could find out why public comment was not allowed when the commission was revamped. He said he had only been on the body for eight weeks and did not want to change its rules until he could learn more.
It was restructured in 2007 to be done a certain way. The General Assembly gave us this directive. If that was important enough (to not have a public comment period)… then I think it should be something that we were mandated to do.