Atlanta Council to Consider Limiting Public Comment
(APN) ATLANTA — Another Atlanta City Council term, another attack on public comment; there always is at least one ordinance introduced or action taken that is aimed at undermining the effectiveness of Atlantans to make a difference in the democratic process.
This time at least some members of the Atlanta City Council–following a discussion at their Fall Retreat held at the Atlanta Community Food Bank–are looking to limit public comment delegations to ten minutes, whereas the current limit is sixteen minutes per delegation.
The proposed ordinance, 18-O-1671, would also limit former elected officials, like former Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) or former State Rep. Douglas Dean (D-Atlanta)–who by tradition have had no limit on speaking time–to two minutes per person.
Current elected officials from other elected bodies–who currently have no speaking limit–would be limited to ten minutes per person.
The item will be on the Monday, November 19, 2018, Committee on Council agenda. Committee on Council meets in Committee Room 1 at 11:15 a.m. To make public comment, individuals should sign up to speak prior to the start of the meeting.
The current limit per person at Full Council Meeting is two minutes per person; however, the Code of Ordinances Section 2-104 (“Remarks from the Public”) allows for members of the public to receive delegated time from other speakers who are signed up and present, up to a total of sixteen minutes.
Thus, if seven people donate their time to someone who has already signed up, that person–who already had their own two minutes–can speak now for sixteen minutes on behalf of themselves and the entire delegation.
Delegations increase efficiency of meetings by allowing one speaker to speak on behalf of the delegation, in one organized presentation that includes facts and analyses.
Each member of the delegation could still speak for two minutes per person of this passes, and that would surely be less efficient.
At the Fall 2018 Council Retreat, Atlanta Progressive News observed as Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4) revealed the true motivations behind the legislation. Winslow claimed that she believes speakers are mean and abusive to Councilmembers and that they attack Councilmembers.
Therefore, the ordinance is content-driven.
The First Amendments to the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions provide for the right to free speech and the right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances. Speech rules that are grounded in animus and driven by content are inherently suspect.
“What we have is a situation where you have Councilmembers who are bought and sold by the wealthy, by billionaires, not wanting to be called out, and that’s exactly it. That’s my first reaction. That these people don’t want to hear from somebody that knows what they’re doing,” former Sen. Fort told Atlanta Progressive News.
“These are people who put billionaires’ interests above working people’s interests in the City of Atlanta, and they will do anything that they see fit to abridge, to limit people talking about them, telling the truth about them,” Fort said.
“It’s a slap at the powers of the Council President and her discretion,” Fort said.
“They should be concerned about unintended consequences. If that was in place, Ambassador [Andrew] Young, the week before last, would not have had the minutes he had to speak,” Fort said.
The City Council has also twice over the last several years considered setting a consistent time limit for members of the public to speak that would apply to all Council Committees, but each time has decided to continue to allow Committee Chair discretion.
If the ordinance passes Committee on Council, it would advance to Full Council for consideration also on tomorrow, November 19, 2018.
The Committee on Council will also be considering two other ordinances of significance related to public participation on tomorrow, November 19.
First, 18-O-1416, by Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-Large), to require that all Council Committee Briefings be videotaped.
At the Council Retreat, some Councilmembers, including Councilman Bond, expressed that they did not feel that the Committee Briefings are useful or necessary. It appears that some Committee Chairs next year may opt not to hold Committee Briefings.
The pending ordinance would require that, if held, the Briefings be videotaped.
Second, 18-O-1587, by Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5), to require that all Committee Chairs allow at least one opportunity for public comment in every committee meeting prior to voting on legislation items.
This ordinance is in response to a situation earlier this year when the Finance/Executive Committee was only allowing public comment after the Committee had already taken action on the legislative items.
Finance/Executive Committee changed its public comment rule upon a motion by Councilwoman Archibong. Currently, no Committee fails to offer public comment prior to voting, but the proposed ordinance would eliminate the possibility in the future.
APN’s News Editor, the present writer, drafted 18-O-1416 for Bond and 18-O-1587 for Archibong as citizen-initiated legislation.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)