Atlanta Council Cuts Former Officials to Two Minutes of Public Comment



idethehorrible(APN) ATLANTA — After months of debate, the City Council of Atlanta moved forward on an ordinance to limit former elected officials to two minutes of public speaking time to address the Council.  Councilwoman Jennifer Ide (District 6) had been the proponent of the ordinance.


That means former Mayor Andrew Young, who on occasion addresses the Council, will now have only two minutes to speak.  


Former State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who opposed the change, will now have only two minutes. 


Former State Rep. Douglas Dean (D-Atlanta), whose fiery speech has slowed as he has advanced in age, will now have to make due with two minutes.


If former President Barack Obama chose to address the Atlanta Council, his two minutes would quickly expire.  Former President Jimmy Carter: two minutes. Former Mayor Shirley Franklin, two minutes; former Mayor Kasim Reed, two minutes.


Alternatively, they could go up and down the aisles of Full Council Chambers begging for time donations from other members of the public, to receive up to ten minutes. (i.e., “I used to be the Mayor of this City, could you please donate to me two more minutes to speak?)


In a City Government that has been devastated by a well-known “brain drain,” where more than half the Council is in their first term in office, where veteran bureaucrats with historical knowledge have fled City Hall, the Council has hamstrung its ability to hear from those who are best positioned to explain how and why things are the way they are.


The Council also created a new section of the Full Council Agenda, “Statements by Elected Officials,” to allow current elected officials from other bodies to address the Council for ten minutes.


The City’s Law Department, at the urging of Senior City Attorney Amber A. Robinson, said that silencing the voices of former elected officials was necessary to protect the First Amendment.


The Council’s historical practice of giving more time to former elected officials violated the Federal Constitution, Robinson argued.  


This was a turnabout for Ms. Robinson after months of arguing that neither current nor former elected officials deserved more time to speak.


Councilwoman Andrea Boone (District 10) made an amendment asking for former elected officials to also receive additional time, seconded by Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large).


“I think we need to do something for former elected officials,” Boone said.


“There has not been articulated a rational basis that separates the former elected officials from the rest of the public,” Senior City Attorney Robinson said, when asked to opine by Councilman Antonio Brown (District 3).


“Without said rational basis making a clear distinction between those two classes of individuals, we don’t believe there is as much support for adding former elected officials from a First Amendment basis,” Robinson said.


Apparently, the Council and Law Department do not see the historical or institutional knowledge that former elected officials can bring to discourse as a rational basis.


Nor do they see respect for former officials’ public service as a rational basis.


Nor do they see the relationship between age and cognitive decline–the fact that many former elected officials are aging and need more time to express their thoughts–as a rational basis.


Boone’s amendment failed eleven to four, with only Boone, Bond, Natalyn Archibong (District 5), and Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large) voting in favor.


The ordinance passed twelve to three, with only Boone, Bond, and Marci Overstreet (District 11) voting nay.


Councilman Brown (District 3) advocated for some additional amendments on behalf of APN’s News Editor in the Full Council Meeting, which Councilwoman Ide introduced, and which passed.  


The amendments changed the proposed language for current elected officials to receive ten minutes to speak, from “may” to “shall”; and clarified that any current official who “indicates an interest” to speak shall receive the time, removing the ability for the Council to pick and choose.


For decades, it had been the historical practice of the Council to allow unlimited time to both current and former elected officials.  


In December 2018, the Council cut current elected officials from unlimited time to ten minutes; and former elected officials from unlimited time to six minutes.


Unsatisfied with these cuts, the Council has now cut public comment again.


While the Council and Law Department claim that this whole affair has been motivated by the Federal Constitution, in reality, as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the discussion actually began at the October 2018 Council Retreat.


This Retreat occurred right after the Gulch Redevelopment debate, in which former Rep. Dean and former Sen. Fort criticized the Council for its multi-billion dollars taxpayer giveaway.


Numerous Councilmembers had complained about former elected officials being mean to them in their public comments.


(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)

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