Obtained Video: Winslow Calls Public Comment “Asylum Run By the People who are Ill”
(APN) ATLANTA — Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4) referred to members of the public who make public comment as mentally ill people who are running an insane asylum, during an October 2018 Council Retreat, according to a video reviewed exclusively today by Atlanta Progressive News.
“The asylum is being run by the people who are ill,” Winslow said. “We are no longer running it.”
Council President Felicia Moore laughed at the remark, adding, “That’ll be the quote of the day.”
The comment came in the midst of several attacks on members of the public, including attacks on current and former elected officials, by several Atlanta City Councilmembers at the October 2018 Retreat. The Retreat was held off-site at the Atlanta Community Food Bank offices.
The Retreat occurred at the height of the Gulch Redevelopment debacle, after several members of the public–including former State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), former State Rep. Douglas Dean (D-Atlanta), Deborah Scott of Georgia STAND UP, the News Editor of APN, and others–criticized the Council for approving the multi-billion taxpayer subsidy giveaway.
“There’s so many people coming down and bullying us – it’s their bully pulpit. They’re very disrespectful,” Winslow said at the Council Retreat.
“We have former elected officials coming down and disrespecting us,” Winslow said.
“Out of all of the government entities, we are the most liberal out of all of them; and it pisses me off,” Winslow said.
“We need to just kind of tighten our ship up, and people will respect us more,” Winslow said.
At issue at the October 2018 Council Retreat was the topic of public comment at Full Council Meetings, and whether to limit public comment of currently elected officials from other bodies and former elected officials. At that time, and historically, current and former elected officials had no limit to speak.
Jennifer Ide (District 6), the Chairwoman of Committee on Council, brought up the issue at the Retreat.
Following the Retreat, Ide drafted legislation that limited current and former elected officials to ten and six minutes, respectively; and limited public comment delegations from sixteen minutes to ten minutes.
Public comment delegations are where members of the public can donate their two minutes of allotted time to another member of the public, who speaks on behalf of the entire delegation.
“I have a more restrictive view,” Councilman Amir Farokhi (District 2) said at the Retreat. “I find the practice of ceding time to someone else peculiar. You should be able to accumulate ten or twenty minutes somewhere else.”
“A former elected official, we shouldn’t treat them differently than any citizen, they’re a citizen again. I’ve seen them speak for twenty minutes. I think it’s ridiculous,” Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12) said.
“I do feel like we’re being bullied by the public. What’s amazing to me, they say anything and everything, they’re going to take you out of office – sometimes I think it’s ridiculous some of the things,” Sheperd said.
“We all got ticked off when elected officials from the State came over,” Sheperd said, apparently referring to Sen. Fort and Rep. Dean’s participation in the Gulch debate.
CITY WITHHELD RETREAT VIDEO FROM APN, MAKING NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR PUBLIC TO OBTAIN
Atlanta Progressive News attended the Oct. 2018 Retreat for an earlier discussion that had been on the agenda; and witnessed the beginning of the public comment discussion, which was not on the agenda, but left during the discussion.
Since then, it has taken nearly a year for APN to obtain the video, which the City of Atlanta withheld through various mechanisms of obstruction.
APN first requested the video from the Municipal Clerk’s Office in November 2018, and was told, that unlike all other Council Meetings, Retreat videos are not available through the Clerk. APN was referred to the City Council Office of Communications.
Dexter Chambers, who then worked for that office, advised APN in November 2018 that the only way to obtain a copy of the Retreat was to bring a “hard drive” to City Hall – not a flash drive; a hard drive. This was unreasonable, as most people do not have extra hard drives they can bring to City Hall.
APN could have alleged a violation of the Georgia Open Records Act then, but the records became less pertinent when the Council passed its first round of public comment limits in November 2018.
Now, the Council is again preparing to consider further cutting public comment time for current and former elected officials – this time, with Chairwoman Ide claiming that it is required under the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Ide said that the City’s Law Department had advised as such.
However, the Council Retreat video sheds new light on the Council’s attitudes about members of the public, especially current and former elected officials.
The video suggests that the true motivation is not Councilmembers’ reverence for the Constitution; but their hatred for the public.
On Saturday, Sept, 21, APN emailed Kristen Denius, the City’s Transparency Officer, but she was out of the office. City Attorney Nina Hickson referred APN to Assistant Senior Attorney Amber Robinson.
On Tuesday, Sept, 24, APN received a call and email from Municipal Clerk Foris Webb, III, providing a link to a Retreat Video; however, it was the wrong Retreat. Webb said he would request the correct one.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, Webb said that APN would receive the video by the following day, but it was not received.
On today, Friday, Sept. 27, APN worked with Deputy City Attorney Susan Garrett and Deputy Municipal Clerk Vanessa Waldon in an attempt to access the video.
At 2:30 p.m. when APN had not received the video, the present writer went to City Hall to view the video on a City computer, but only the first hour of the video was available. The first hour actually cut into the conversation about public comment, so there could be more relevant comments that have not yet been made available.
It is unclear if the Council intended to frustrate public access to the videos of their Retreats, but if they were intentionally trying to do so, there isn’t much more they could possibly do than what they already have done.
At the Monday, October 07, 2019 Committee on Council Meeting, the Committee will be considering its latest efforts to limit public comment.
For further discussion of this proposal and why it is not required under the Constitution, please see APN’s previous coverage:
On September 17, APN emailed Councilwoman Ide to ask if the Law Department had issued a written opinion on why the public comment legislation is needed under the Constitution; and, if so, to provide the opinion; or, if not, to request that they issue an opinion.
Ide has not replied to date, a week and a half later.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)