Atlanta Council Passes Moore, Norwood Plan to Limit Public Comment Delegations
(APN) ATLANTA — At the July 07, 2014 Full Council Meeting, a majority of Members of the City Council of Atlanta continued their collective efforts to silence and oppress members of the public, by setting new restrictions on public comment delegations at future Full Council Meetings.
The Council originally passed a ten minute limit for delegations, but Atlanta Progressive News has learned that after union leaders pulled aside Councilman Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large), Dickens worked out a deal to raise the limit to sixteen minutes.
For some time, the Council has allowed members of the public who sign up to speak the opportunity to delegate their time to other people. That way, one person can speak on behalf of several members of the public, constituting a delegation, and allowing for more efficient, and non-repetitive delivery of public comments by a group of citizens who share the same opinion on one or more matters.
Councilmembers Felicia Moore (District 9) and Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large) led the effort to oppress citizens, but offered not a single historical example of when a public comment delegation was, in their view, excessive in their delivery of comments.
The legislation passed the Committee on Council earlier that day, and then came up during the Committee on Council report.
The ordinance, 14-0-1328, amended Section 2-104(A) of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta, and was entitled, “Remarks for the Public, Limiting Yield Time to Ten Minutes.”
Three members of the Atlanta Police Department (APD), their union attorney, and others spoke out against the amendment, during public comment.
“I was a little distraught upon seeing this,” Ken Allen, President, International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623, told the Council.
Allen was originally there to speak about a “Compression Program” in APD, regarding the equity of salaries for new and retired police officers. Instead, Allen came out swinging against 14-0-1328.
“I’m appalled, at the thought process of you telling my colleagues to come up and yield their time to ten minutes about things of the greatest important to them and their futures. I find this very appalling for anyone to bring forward. I ask this Council to shut this down quickly. I don’t want to see this kind of thing come up. It’s appalling to me that this came forward, in this Council, in this City!” Allen exclaimed.
Over an hour and a half later, Council arrived at the agenda item.
“This is about creating a sensible framework… for public comment,” Councilwoman Moore said. “This is not intended to punish anyone or any group; it has no specific target. With the current rules, folks can yield their [two minute slot of] time to anyone they choose. Council members have a ten minute speaking limit per motion; it is consistent to keep public comments at ten minutes as well.”
But several Councilmembers disagreed.
“I appreciate the authors of the amendment considering the process of public comment, but I disagree philosophically,” Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1 At-Large) said.
“I am fundamentally opposed to limiting how long the public can speak to us. They put us here; they are our bosses. We are creating laws that affect everyone in the City. We should allow them to speak as long as they’d like. The Council meetings have no time limit,” Bond said.
Councilman Bond motioned to have the Council file the amendment, which failed.
Councilman Dickens and Councilman C.T. Martin (District 10) agreed with Bond.
“Since I’ve been in Council, I haven’t seen an abuse of public comment,” Dickens said. “Council people talk much more than the public. Sorry y’all. Gotta point out the facts. It helps me learn and keeps me informed [when hearing from the public],” Dickens finished.
Councilman Martin seemed distraught, saying he “couldn’t believe this is coming up… here we go again.”
Councilman Martin offered his distaste for the amendment, what “with the suppression we’ve endured.”
“I’ve passed more legislation here than anyone in Council. My best legislation came straight from the people. I would love to see no time limits on public comment. Many years ago, there wasn’t any. It was a license to get cussed out and that’s what should happen. That is our job,” Bond said.
The ten minute time limit for delegations passed in a vote of nine to five, with Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2) not voting.
Voting yea were Councilmembers Carla Smith (District 1), Cleta Winslow (District 4), Alex Wan (District 6), Howard Shook (District 7), Yolanda Adrean (District 8), Moore, Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11), Joyce Sheperd (District 12), and Norwood.
Voting nay were Councilmembers Ivory Young (District 3), Natalyn Archibong (District 5), Martin, Bond, and Dickens.
When all seemed lost–and with only a few minutes left of the Meeting–Councilwoman Moore, in attempt to “work with everyone and find middle ground,” proposed an amendment to change the ten minute minute yield limit to sixteen minutes.
In a quick parliamentary three-step, the motion to again amend section 2-104(A) was passed, with only Councilman Bond dissenting. Bond was opposed to any time limit.
With a majority of the Council voting in favor of the original ten minute yield limit, the public should consider why, and should take it personally.
BRIEF RECENT HISTORY OF COUNCIL’S EFFORTS TO LIMIT PUBLIC COMMENT
In January 2010, Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12) set a time limit at the Community Development/Human Resources Committee of five minutes per speaker, two minutes for late speakers. At the urging of APN’s News Editor, the two minute limit was eliminated and the Committee sometimes allowed certain citizens to speak longer than five minutes.
In February 2010, the Council took an unrecorded vote on whether to establish a priority for the Committee on Council to draft legislation to set a public comment limit for all Council Committees. The vote took place while the Council was on Retreat and having lunch, and the proposal failed 7 yeas, 8 nays.
In May 2010, APN’s News Editor sued the City of Atlanta to learn which Council members voted which way in the February 2010 vote.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled in favor of APN’s News Editor that public bodies in Georgia could not take non-roll call votes without recording at least the naysayers and abstainers in the minutes. Shortly thereafter, the Council amended the minutes from February 2010 to list who voted which way.
In 2013, the Council again considered whether to limit public comment at all Committee Meetings, but the legislation failed. Also in 2013, Councilman Howard Shook became chair of City Utilities and enacted a time limit for that Committee.
In 2014, Andre Dickens became Chair of CD/HR and removed the five minute time limit, while Natalyn Archibong again became Chair of City Utilities, removing the time limit for that Committee as well.