After some tense and raucous meetings, West Chester considers changes

After almost two years of some tense and even raucous meetings, the West Chester Twp. trustee board is clarifying its meeting conduct rules.

Dr. Mohammed Aziz’s drug rehab center brought people to meetings to protest. Then the “Right to Work” issue had people packing the township hall for months. Former Trustee Board President Mark Welch — Trustee Lee Wong will lead the meetings now as president — repeatedly had to call for calm and decorum.

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“They were there to make a scene, to disrupt the meeting, to cause a circus event,” Welch told this news organization after union members first converged on a township meeting a year ago. “It’s not going to happen again, I’m going to lock it down so tight.”

People, many from outside the township, were angered when they weren’t allowed to speak. The rules say five people — residents, business and property owners only — get two minutes each at the start of the meeting, and there is another comment section at the end during which people can speak as long as they like.

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MORE: “Right to Work” prompts raucous behavior in West Chester

Last month, the trustees decided they needed to revisit their rules of conduct that have been in place since 1997. An emergency resolution was on Tuesday’s agenda, one that would not significantly change the rules for citizens’ comments, but trustees tabled the item.

Wong told the Journal-News that as president he wants the meetings to be more civil and strictly about township business. Any number of issues have drawn crowds to the meetings — most recently the Station Road schoolhouse has caused great consternation — but something that pops up often is the Sharia law issue. Many have come to many meetings the past year or so, some wanting the trustees to denounce the Islamic practice. Wong said he plans to shut down those discussions going forward.

“I don’t think that’s a proper forum for it,” Wong said. “That’s why we are trying to tighten these regulations. It is not the place for that. It is divisive and not good for our community. We have a good community here, not bring all this hate to stir it up. I will tell them this is not the forum to speak about that.”

MORE: Protest over Sharia law at Islamic Center in West Chester Twp.

Ann Becker, who recently joined the board, told this news organization she wanted to make sure they weren’t being too restrictive.

“I’m always a firm believer in the First Amendment,” she said. “So when we have issues where we’re putting rules on speech of citizens, I just want to make sure we’re doing it right. I think that if there’s a situation that the chair might want to relax the rules, we shouldn’t have rules in place where there is no means to do so.”

Welch has always maintained outsiders have no place voicing their opinions on township business, unless it is a special meeting setting where they might invite experts to weigh in on a given topic. They had planned to convene such a meeting for Right to Work but it never materialized.

Giving the board president more flexibility to open up discussion Welch said is unnecessary because if someone outside the acceptable scope of speakers wants to address the board, the board must agree. He said they have gone outside the rules in the past, allowing people who work but don’t live in the township, to talk.

“I don’t think it’s necessary…,” Welch said. “It’s never just the president who decides if somebody can speak.”

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