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Fayette County to muzzle public comment?

At its workshop meeting this afternoon, the Fayette County Commission is slated to discuss a slate of new meeting rules, one of which, if enacted, would severely impact citizens’ right to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Under a so-called “model ordinance” proposed by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia — which the commissioners will be discussing — a citizen would be required to submit their name and the topic of their comments at least one week prior to the meeting at which they wish to speak.

Currently citizens are allowed to speak up to five minutes each simply by raising their hand and being recognized by the chairman during the public comment portion of the meeting, which takes place prior to the agenda items on which the commission will vote.

Speakers are required to sign their name once they reach the podium and state their name for the record.

It is unknown if the registration requirement will even be considered by the commission, but it is certain to be a topic of discussion as Commissioner Allen McCarty has previously said he would oppose such rules.

A handful of citizens have been using the public comments portion of the meeting to criticize several commissioners in recent months. Although many of the comments have been lodged against the West Fayetteville Bypass, citizens also have complained numerous times about a lack of transparency in county government.

In recent weeks, much of the public criticism has been aimed at Commissioner Lee Hearn for failing to disclose that the person he recommended for a position on the county’s board of elections was his second cousin. Commissioner Robert Horgan and Chairman Herb Frady also have taken some lumps, since they voted along with Hearn’s recommendation.

Several members of the audience on occasion have expressed their displeasure verbally while the commission discusses a matter on the regular agenda. At times, such outbursts have disrupted the meeting.

Also on numerous occasions, the crowd has burst into applause in support of either another speaker or a comment made by a commissioner during discussion on a regular agenda item, also disrupting the meeting.

Under the model ordinance, such disruptions could lead to violators being “removed from the meeting at the direction of the chairman.”

One section of the model ordinance has a list of requirements for conduct of not just the general public, but also of the commissioners and the chairman.

Among the requirements for the public is that “all meeting attendees must be silent during the meeting while business is conducted.”

Another requirement disallows “personal attacks and derogatory or inappropriate remarks.” What would be ruled “inappropriate” is not spelled out.

Among the proposed rules for commissioners’ conduct is that “only one commissioner at a time is permitted to speak. Commissioners shall not interrupt any other person who has the floor.”

This rule, if implemented and followed, would cut down on the skirmishes that have occurred infrequently between the outspoken Commissioner Steve Brown and Chairman Frady, as Brown has taken to raising his voice on several occasions and Frady has responded by banging his gavel in an attempt to restore order.

The commission is not expected to vote on the model ordinance, as it traditionally saves its workshop meetings for such policy discussions.

A vote would be required to formally adopt any of the changes proposed by the model ordinance, and that vote would come at one of the commission’s regular meetings on either the second or fourth Thursday of the month.

The commission’s workshop meeting starts at 3:30 p.m. today at the county’s Stonewall government complex in downtown Fayetteville.

Frady has previously said that he has supported the expansion of the public’s right to address the commission over the years, including an extension of the alloted time per speaker from three to five minutes.

Frady also has said he supported removing a previous restriction that forbid citizens from commenting on items that were listed on the agenda, which effectively disallowed citizen input on matters to be decided that evening.



Steve Brown's picture

Keep in mind that I only raise my voice when Chairman Frady is trying to censor something he does not want to hear by slamming the gavel. Also, keep in mind that Chairman Frady and Commissioner Horgan voted against allowing commissioners to speak at the end of meetings as has been the custom for a long time.

This "model" ordinance is an affront to the First Amendment. There is only one reason you pass an ordinance like this and that is to quash the public and eliminate all forms of public criticism.

suggarfoot's picture

I think we, the taxpayer ought to be able to say whatever we please as long as it pertains to their actions.

Sorry just ain't gone get away with it!!!!

If you don't start throwing out reasonably accurate numbers, most won't even consider what you say.

Two hours work a month is totally inaccurate and you know it!

Another number of yours about Temp business owners keeping all of $20 they are paid for an hour of temp work and then pay 7.25-10.00 and KEEP the rest is stupid, and you must know that!

After keeping all of the records, filing all the government papers, paying workers Compensation, and many other fees, he is faced with building and equipment depreciation or rent. A few employees of his own are also necessary if he does enough business to stay in business.

Most don't net enough to draw much salary for themselves!

The headaches are enormous.
Business savvy is required and you would never make it there!

suggarfoot's picture

Hit a sore spot did I? Well those are ACURATE FIGURES...and you know it!

"Another number of yours about Temp business owners keeping all of $20 they are paid for an hour of temp work and then pay 7.25-10.00 and KEEP the rest is stupid, and you must know that!"

PLEASE...if it was such a poor money maker...they wouldn't be lining up to get the contracts would they? nor we see such poor results as consumers would we? It is very poor business and makes a few rich and the customer never gets their monies worth!!! N..E..V..E..R!!!! and I do mean as in ever!

Are you gonna say the former head of the FAA doesn't know what he's talking about either?

This has been common knowlege among most for over 10 years....or are you just taken back that we all know about it?

suggarfoot's picture

anyway under another place.

Commissioner Brown, you are correct. An affront to our Constitutional right is a mild description. Elected officials who are afraid of their own shadow, or who are unable to grasp the meaning of serving the community would hide behind this ridiculous proposal. If elected officers of the community would conduct themselves in more cordial ways and refrain from bombastic rhetoric, perhaps the small community of residents who do attend city or county meetings would follow in the similar path. Do not restrict public input. If you do, you may find yourselves involved in legal action by the people who elected you to office. Taking heat is part of the job. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

BHH's picture

We just have with great difficulty got them to agree to publish the agenda 24 hours in advance of the meetings.

How the heck will they be able to publish the agenda early enough for a citizen to even know if they want to comment or not?


BHH's picture

if any taxes are supporting it whatsoever.

It is obviously not in the best interest of taxpayers.


ginga1414's picture

Obviously, some commissioners are afraid of what some citizens are saying!!!

Hey Roundabout. Since you didn't address the subject, I assume that you don't mind if your First Amendment rights are trampled upon.

Does this mean that I can't go to an official government meeting and continue to disrupt it with speeches against something already law?

How many 3-2 votes does it take? Isn't that illegal to continue voting again and again on the same thing?

If the Commissioners themselves want to dig the ditches, let them! Just don't go over budget.

Virtually all public comments to the commissioners have been negative.The new rules to be discussed today are obviously intended to dash cold water upon the hopes of those of us who have stood up for transparency in government. Hundreds of comments have been presented regarding the West Bypass over the past 3 years, and 100% of those have been negative. Commissioner Hearn has told people that he will never vote against the West Bypass, and he is tired of listening to comments against it. Further, it seems obvious now that Commissioner Frady constitutes a quorum of the BOC, as Commissioners Hearn and Horgan have never voted against him. With those three "one for all and all for one", Commissioners McCarty and Brown are outnumbered when it comes to voting for change, no matter what they might propose to bring transparency to the BOC. Therefore, it is very possible, Mr. Frady and company may impose the captioned "model ordinance", which is supported by an organization, but not by law.All it will do is cast additional stumbling blocks directly in the path of free speech.

I attended the preliminary budget meetings, and believe me,it's not going to be pretty when the property tax bills go out. We will find out today how ugly it's going to get. It's worth a listen.

If you approve of major property tax increases and shutting down vocal opposition to the policies of the 3 holdover commissioners, then don't bother attending the Commissioners Workshop Meeting. It is scheduled today (Wednesday) at 3:30 P.M. in the Commissioners Room at the Fayette County Government Complex, located diagonally Southwest across the street from the old Fayette County Courthouse. But if you support the rights of citizens to be heard on public issues, you should by all means attend.

Also, please mark your calendars for the Commissioners meeting to be held Thursday, June 9 at 7 P.M. We really need to try and get the commissioners to pass a referendum under authority of House Bill #240, which has now become law. It allows redirecting funds from impractical SPLOST projects to reducing debt and property taxes. If the commissioners grant the referendum, and if it passes, many, many millions of dollars earmarked for the West Bypass may be redirected. That meeting must play to a packed house.

So please attend both meetings.If you voted for Brown or McCarty, come and stand up for them.

After all, today's meeting is air conditioned, and its too hot to do anything else anyway.

Can we have the Three Amigos declared imbeciles and unfit for office? Otherwise Herr Frady and his Gestapo will silence us all!

When Frady, Horgan and Hearn start pulling manure like this.

Long-standing stream of crap coming from the Association of County Commissioners and Ross King, the exec director....worthless organization.

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