Atlanta Council to Receive Public Comments via Voicemail for Virtual Meetings
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta City Council has reversed course on its public comment practices for the virtual meetings of the Full Council and its Committees that are being held during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Previously, as reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Council began holding virtual meetings in March 2020, but was only offering members of the public an opportunity to comment by sending an email to email@example.com .
This practice did not follow the Charter of the City of Atlanta, which provides for a reasonable opportunity “to be heard.”
Nor did it follow the Code of Ordinances, which provides for at least two minutes of public comment per person in Full Council Meetings and at least one minute of public comment per person in Committee Meetings.
On March 31, 2020, Atlanta Progressive News emailed Council President Felicia A. Moore, Committee on Council Chairman JP Matzigkeit (District 8), and the Full City Council, raising those concerns. None responded.
To confirm all fifteen Councilmembers and the Council President received the email, on April 10, 2020, APN made an open records request for a copy of the March 31 email as received by all sixteen, to confirm they each received the email.
Theo Pace, Chief of Staff for Council President Moore, produced fifteen out of sixteen copies of the email on April 14, 2020. The email was apparently received by all Councilmembers with the exception of Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large).
On April 13, the Council amended its public comment policy to allow for members of the public to leave comments via voicemail.
PHONE NUMBERS AND INSTRUCTIONS TO LEAVE COMMENTS
“Residents can participate in the public comment portion of the meeting by calling (404) 330-6001 and leaving a voicemail, including their name and contact information,” the release said.
“Public comment will close one hour prior to the start of the meeting,” the release said.
There is also a call-in number for members of the public to listen to any Full Council or Committee Meeting live, including the ability to listen to the replay of the voice left by members of the public containing their public comments.
The call-in number, via Conference Bridge, is (877) 579-6743, ID number: 8315991256.
The Council has since further clarified that it will also accept comments via voicemail for its committee meetings being held virtually. Each committee has its own public comment voicemail phone number.
Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee – Monday, April 27, 2 p.m. – (404) 330-6022.
City Utilities Committee – Tuesday, April 28, 10 a.m. – (404) 330-6057.
Community Development/Human Services Committee – Tuesday, April 28, 1:30 p.m. – (404) 330-6089.
Transportation Committee – Wednesday, April 29, 9:30 a.m.. – (404) 330-6059.
Finance/Executive Committee – Wednesday, April 29, 1:30 p.m. – (404) 330-6066.
It appears that Committee on Council and Zoning Committee will be holding their meetings during the Full Council Meeting, as “Committee of the Whole.” This entitles members of the public to two additional sets of comments for any Full Council Meeting that also contains two committee meetings.
MAY 15, 2020 WORK SESSION ON IMPACT FEE SCHEDULE
On April 22, the Atlanta City Council posted a Public Notice to its official Facebook page regarding an upcoming Work Session of the Council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee to be held on May 15, 2020, regarding the City’s Impact Fee Schedule Update.
The Public Notice stated that the Work Session would only accept email comments.
On yesterday, April 24, APN emailed CD/HS Cmte Chairman Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large) notifying him that the Code of Ordinances requires at least one minute of public comment at Work Sessions, and the Charter requires a reasonable opportunity “to be heard.”
Theo Pace responded to the email, stating that the Public Notice had omitted the voicemail public comment due to a “scrivener’s error.” He said the Public Notice had been amended.
APN has another open records request that is still pending for all public comments received via firstname.lastname@example.org and any communications regarding public comment policy for virtual meetings.
APN requested those records on March 31, 2020. Mr. Pace provided a timely initial reply and an initial estimated date of production of records of April 24. On yesterday, April 24, Pace updated the new estimated date of production to be Friday, May 01.
Senior City Attorney Amber A. Robinson responded to a records request for similar records, if any, which happened to be in the custody of the Department of Law of the City of Atlanta. Robinson provided the records on yesterday, but they only included emails from APN’s Editor and an internal email announcing the City’s public comment policy.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2020)