Westmoreland Cuts Public Comment on Community Development, Human Services
(APN) ATLANTA — Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large) has used his discretion as the new Chairperson of the Community Development/Human Services Committee (CD/HS) to make cuts to public comment time.
Westmoreland has cut the total amount of public comment time from five minutes to three minutes per person, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.
Since 2010, members of the public have had at least five minutes per person total to address the CD/HS committee, until now.
CD/HS is one of the most important of Council’s seven committees, dealing with issues such as housing policy, allocation of federal funds to support affordable housing, and oversight of human services such as services for homeless people in Atlanta.
It meets every other Tuesday at noon.
Westmoreland replied to an email inquiry from APN with a string of irrelevant blather.
APN asked, “Why did you decide to cut the two minutes for public comment at the end of Community Development/Human Services Meeting?”
Westmoreland did not provide a reason.
APN asked, “If you didn’t want a comment section at the end of the meeting, why not combine the two sections and give members of the public five minutes at the beginning of the meeting (or allow them to use their time as desired throughout the meeting)? What is the rationale for the total reduction of two minutes?”
Westmoreland did not provide a rationale.
APN asked, “Is there something about the subject matter of community development and human services that is less appropriate for public comment in 2020 than it was over the last decade?”
Westmoreland did not answer.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT NOW ONE OF MOST RESTRICTIVE COMMITTEES
According to an APN review of current meeting agendas, CD/HS now offers one of the most restrictive public comment opportunities of all seven committees.
Committee on Council, chaired by J.P. Matzigkeit (District 8), currently offers five minutes total, with three minutes at the beginning and two at the end.
City Utilities, chaired by Natalyn Archibong (District 5), also offers the “three plus two” policy.
Transportation Committee, chaired by Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large), currently offers the “three plus two” policy.
Public Safety/Legal Administration, chaired by Joyce Sheperd (District 12), currently offers a “two plus two” policy, for a total of four minutes.
As noted above, CD/HS, chaired by Mr. Westmoreland, now offers three minutes, only at the beginning of the meeting.
Finance/Executive Committee, chaired by Jennifer Ide (District 6), currently offers only two minutes at the beginning of the meeting.
Zoning Committee, chaired by Carla Smith (District 1), offers a public comment opportunity at the beginning of the meeting, although no time limit is stated on the agenda.
COUNCIL’S ONGOING ASSAULT ON PUBLIC COMMENT
Atlanta City Council’s newer Council Members have increasingly continued their assault on public comment.
In addition to cutting public comment time in CD/HS, Councilman Westmoreland voted in favor of cutting public comment several times in Full Council.
On December 03, 2018, Westmoreland voted to cut public comment delegations in Full Council from sixteen minutes to ten minutes; and to cut current and former elected officials from no limit to ten minutes and six minutes, respectively.
On December 02, 2019, unsatisfied with previous cuts, Westmoreland voted to cut former elected officials from six minutes to two minutes in Full Council.
(December 02, 2018; December 03, 2019: This Council seems to love to make cuts to public comments at the last meeting of the year, as a sort of holiday gift to their constituents.)
HISTORY OF PUBLIC COMMENT IN CD/HS
Councilwoman Sheperd, who chaired the CD/HS committee from 2010 to 2013 (then known as CD/HR), had a five minute limit. She allowed members of the public to choose how to allocate their time. This meant that members of the public could use all or some of their five minutes at the beginning of the meeting, at the end of the meeting, or prior to a vote on a legislative item; or they could choose to split up their time between the beginning, end, and legislative items.
Prior to 2010, it is believed there was no set limit, and advocates vigorously opposed the five minute limit. Ironically, now, the five minute limit is seen as favorable to the current direction of public comment in some committees, which is as low as two, three, or four minutes.
Councilman Dickens, who chaired CD/HS from 2014 to 2016, began 2014 with no time limit, but later changed back to five minutes total, allocating three minutes at the beginning of the meeting and two minutes at the end.
Councilwoman Archibong continued Dickens’s “three plus two” policy from 2017 to 2019.
STATEMENT BY MATT WESTMORELAND
“I look forward to hearing from the public at the beginning of our meetings— as well as through phone calls, e-mails, in-person meetings, and all the other ways all of us on Council engage with community members on a daily basis,” Westmoreland wrote.
“At our meeting Tuesday, the Committee adopted a comprehensive collection of aggressive goals and objectives around focus areas like housing affordability, inclusive economic growth, workforce development, protecting our tree canopy, caring for our homeless population, ensuring our residents are counted in the 2020 Census, and empowering the community through public art,” he wrote.
“Hope you will take some time to review them and share them with your readers as well,” he wrote.
“Lots of work to be done, and many opportunities for the public to share their thoughts and ideas as we work to develop meaningful policy and legislation to move the City forward and better the lives of our residents. Looking forward to the year ahead.”
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2020)