Joshua Morrison/News City Law Director Rob Broeren, left and assistant City Law Director Brittany Whitney listen as Auditor Terry Scott answers a question during the Employee and Community Relations committee. Whitney's salary was the only topic for the committee.

MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon City Council extended public participation Monday, opening comments to any subject a resident may wish to address.

In its 2020-21 rules for meetings, council voted to allow comment on issues that are pending before council. This was a reversal of a previous rule, in which persons could not address council during a meeting on an issue if the issue was pending as a resolution or ordinance.

Council President Bruce Hawkins said he does not know where the old rule came from, but said he believes it had to do with council not being allowed to discuss legislation until it reached a third reading. However, Hawkins said that a member of the public might have a point they want to bring up with council regarding legislation, and that point may be valuable to members of council when making a decision.

The 2020-21 rules also extended the time limit for addressing council from three minutes to four minutes. An additional four minutes may be approved by council.

Requesting an opportunity to speak must be done in writing on a designated city form. The form recommends submitting the request to speak by the Friday before a council meeting, but allows for requests to be submitted up to 15 minutes prior to council meetings.

Discussion on issues not pending before council has always been allowed and will continue to be, Hawkins said.

In the spirit of further opening dialogue between the city and residents, Councilmember Samantha Scoles has suggested bringing back monthly ‘coffee talks.’ These would be held once a month at a local business, where members of council will be available to meet informally with residents. Scoles suggested the meetings be held one Saturday a month, from 9-10 a.m. The coffee talks are scheduled to begin in February, Scoles said.

Council further heard a request presented by Auditor Terry Scott for a $10,000 salary increase to $78,117 for Assistant City Law Director Brittany Whitney. Whitney has been with the law director’s office for five years.

Scott insinuated that an outside law firm was interested in hiring Whitney, prompting several members of council to question her if the only reason for the raise was to keep her with the city. Councilmember Mike Hillier said he was only comfortable giving the raise based on merit.

Whitney, who attended Monday’s meeting, said she is “staying.” Whitney gave a brief presentation on a domestic violence special prosecution unit she leads, noting that she is doing that work as well as her other duties.

Council held a first reading on the ordinance carrying the raise, which also set salaries for other city supervisory positions. Separate ordinances which also had first reading included salaries for several officials. Included were the salary for police chief, at $81,682; police captain, $75,329; fire chief, $81,682; safety-service director, $86,095, and property maintenance officer, $46,133.

In his remarks to council, Mayor Matt Starr announced that the Mount Vernon Census 2020 committee has been created under the name Knox Counts. City Development Services Manager Lacie Blankenhorn will be the committee chair.

Council further approved the following committee appointments: Utilities— Tammy Woods, chair, Janis Seavolt, ranking chair, Tanner Salyers and John Francis, members; employee and community relations — Scoles, chair, Woods, ranking chair, Hillier and Julia Warga, members; parks and lands — Salyers, chair, Warga, ranking chair, Scoles and Seavolt, members; streets/public buildings — Warga, chair, Francis, ranking chair, Woods and Scoles, members; fire/police/civil defense — Seavolt, chair, Scoles, ranking chair, Salyers and Hillier, members; finance/budget — Francis, chair, Hillier, ranking chair, Seavolt and Woods, members; planning/zoning — Hillier, chair, Salyers, ranking chair, Warga and Francis, members.

Francis was elected president pro tem.

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Nick Sabo: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter,