Meetings of the new York County Council are long and disorderly and their direction is, at times, hazy.
That's the critique offered by several people who either work or volunteer for York County or are involved in other ways with county government.
With five new members taking office in January, the council's meetings include frequent back-and-forth conversations with a new group of watchdog citizens. There is occasional bickering among the seven-member council.
Some council members say there is room for improvement in how they conduct their business.
The council has faced some tough issues inherited from the previous council, said Councilman David Bowman, one of the first-time members.
"All coaches tell their players that a primary goal should be to show improvement as the season progresses," he said. "Along that line, I think we are doing just that, and I am proud of us."
Here's a look at how the council is doing:
Disorder in the chambers
A dedicated - and audible - group of citizens has added excitement in the council chambers, many say.
They sit in the front rows, raise their hands when they feel compelled to address council members, county staff or guest speakers. They bring pencils and paper to jot down notes, which they often share, and are the source of intermittent clapping.
Allowing them to speak throughout the meeting disrupts county business, said some county employees, who chose to remain anonymous out of respect for the council and fear of censure, they said.
This active presence evokes a "campaign" atmosphere in which conversation sometimes strays from the agenda and evolves into a debate about government's reach, they said.
Chairman Britt Blackwell, another freshman member, noticed the trend and tried to correct it at Thursday's meeting. He asked the council to "stay on task, remember that we're not campaigning."
Parliamentary procedures allow citizens to speak before and after meetings, County Manager Jim Baker said.
If someone not scheduled to speak wants to address the council , the council must vote to suspend the rules of order and add the new speaker to the agenda, he said.
Videos of council meetings, all available on the county's website, show that the council often ignores this procedure.
Instead, Blackwell yields the floor to audience members who wish to speak, seeking only informal approval from other council members.
Without a vote, it's not always clear a majority of the council wants to yield the floor.
There needs to be more order, said Councilman Chad Williams, who said he always errs on "too much public opinion." He also sees dialogue with the public as positive.
"I think we have communication going on, listening on both sides," he said.
'New people ... did listen'
Jane Gilfillan applauds the council for its openness.
A former county council member of 12 years, Gilfillan attended a meeting in early April to support a neighbor's request to rezone his property. Though staff opposed the rezoning, the council supported the request.
"I believe in representative democracy," she said. "That makes me proud that those new people on the council did listen to us."
But the public isn't always completely informed about the issues, and sometimes they "get in an uproar," she said.
That's why council members should always explain their positions and their votes carefully.
"You have to answer to constituents, and the constituents don't understand," she said.
Frank Duncan says he is "new to this business" of following local politics.
"I've always taken government for granted, and I've learned that was a terrible mistake," he said at Thursday night's meeting.
His brother David Duncan said he's learning about local government by attending the meetings and often doesn't fully understand the council's business.
Frank and David are part of a larger group of conservatives in York County who have formed a political action committee. The group meets regularly and invites politicians, as well as other government and community leaders, to speak.
They attend the meetings to remind the council of what their scope should be.
To Swain Sheppard, the council's scope should only be the "core functions of government."
They also remind the council they are under constant watch, Frank Duncan said.
"I'm looking at (the council members') votes, so I know how to vote" in the next election, he said.
Many involved in county business are waiting to see how the council defines itself, but the rhetoric in council meetings has been clear, employees have said.
"I've heard the anthem: We're protecting taxpayers' dollars, watching spending. To me, that's not a vision or a direction," said one employee.
Council members admit they are eager to focus on issues such as creating more work opportunities for residents and ensuring that the county has adequate water and sewer utilities in the future.
Since elected, they have dedicated much energy to changing the way the county's museums are governed and investigating the museums' foundation and a failed deal to develop land and build a new county museum.
Other projects handed to the council, including selecting a new site for the county fair and agri-tourism activities, have been put on hold.
The county fair site is an important project for Carol Deacon, a member of the committee tasked with helping the county find and evaluate properties.
Deacon said she understands why the council has not moved on the project, estimated to cost the county millions of dollars.
They are "literally starting from scratch" on many issues, she said, and learning about them before making rash decisions, which she respects.
Like others, Deacon said she is not sure whether council members will support such a project, or similar ones, that enhance the county's offerings.
She said she hopes they are willing to make some decisions that might be "politically difficult" to preserve quality of life in the county for the long term.
Pleased with the public's interest in county government, Blackwell said meetings have been "crossing the line a little too much, as in being casual."
"I have a little polishing up to do," he said.
He's also eager to work with the council to establish some goals, the most important of which is bringing more jobs to York County, he said.
On Thursday, Blackwell set out to get meetings back on track, asking the audience not to clap or cheer and asking council members to make sure their comments are "in good taste."
He warned them he wouldn't "allow any confrontational words between councilmen."
At a meeting earlier this month, a member of the audience criticized the council for requiring a resident who had lost his house due to a fire to seek county approval before living in a temporary dwelling on his property.
The man mistakenly thought the county was also charging the resident a fee. Councilman Bump Roddey explained there was no fee, that the council was only approving the resident's request. Roddey justified the policy, saying its purpose is to prevent people from living in sheds or other unsightly, unsanitary structures.
Councilman Curwood Chappell responded: "I just have one comment - I heard Hitler make the same statement."
Chappell has repeatedly spoken against the county policy for infringing on people's property rights. His comments often reference historic dictators and include scathing critiques of government overreach.
"That's Curwood," Roddey said.
"I watched him (Chappell) for years," he said. "He has a unique style that no one dares to emulate."
Roddey said he and Chappell get along well and always leave the chambers amicably.
"We've all earned the right to have our say, and hopefully at the end of the day, we're shaking hands."