County removes address requirement for public comment
Columbia County commissioners have agreed to stop requiring speakers to state their address during the public comment period at meetings.
When meeting attendees have spoken during the public comment portion of county board meetings, they've typically been asked to state their name and address.
Following a complaint from a Columbia County resident alleging that some residents were "doxxed" after speaking at a contentious Aug. 25 board meeting, the county commissioners agreed to change their procedure.
"Doxxing" is when someone gathers personal information about someone and shares it online with the intention of encouraging harassment. Two of the three commissioners said they didn't know what doxxing was before receiving the letter.
An apparently short-lived Facebook page called "Columbia County Alpha Dogs" had shared information about local conservatives and anti-mask, anti-vaccine activists, primarily drawing from social media posts.
"It's pretty easy to find somebody's address if you know their name and know what city they live in," Commissioner Casey Garrett said. "But I can understand the discomfort of saying your address on camera, and (that) probably isn't necessary."
"We're in that age of 'everybody knows everything about everyone,'" Commissioner Henry Heimuller said. "If we can bring a higher level of comfort to those folks who want to come before us in public meetings, that's fine."
Tiffany Galloway-Trahan had written to the county commissioners after the Aug. 25 meeting, asking them to allow public commenters to give their address via email, rather than out loud in a public forum.
"This antiquated system has not been addressed to keep up with modern-day technology. Being required to give a physical address in a public forum places witnesses in harm's way, from those in opposition to a witness's religious, political or personal views," Galloway-Trahan wrote.
Commissioners said they had no problem removing the address requirement, but they still want commenters to state their name and city of residence.
"When someone is giving public comment regarding things happening in Columbia County, it's nice to know if they are a resident or not," Commissioner Margaret Magruder said.
Addresses will still be required when testifying during an official hearing, because the county is required to send notice to people who testify, the county's attorney said.
At city meetings, St. Helens only asks for commenters' names. Scappoose asks for both name and city.
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