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.