Senoia council expands public comments

A Feb. 24 vote by the Senoia City Council signaled a new era of public involvement in public meetings, one designed to encourage public participation by providing a venue for residents to speak during any agenda item.

The move by the council represents a sea-change in public participation. Some elected bodies allow for public comments at the beginning and/or end of regular public meetings. Senoia is taking the relatively unusual step of encouraging public comments for any agenda item during the time the item is being discussed and prior to a vote. As a policy, this represents a significant departure from the way public participation has been routed in the past.

Beginning with the second meeting in March the agenda will be posted online at www.senoia.com one week prior to the meeting.

The city’s website will also include a “Request to Comment” form to be completed prior to 1 p.m. the day of the meeting. The form will ask for the speaker’s name and address, the date of the meeting, the agenda item on which the resident would like to speak and whether the speaker is in favor or opposed.

The clerk will inform the speakers of their place on the agenda and inform the council of the names of the speakers and the topics to be addressed. Persons submitting the form should confirm their scheduled time and place prior to the meeting by contacting the clerk, according to the policy.  

All remarks should be made to the council as a group, in an orderly fashion and must pertain to the agenda item. The policy calls for speakers to have three minutes to present their comments, though that time frame could be amended by the mayor based on issues such as the number of speakers at the meeting.

All remarks should be original in content and not be redundant or overlapping in meaning with the other speakers, nor may speakers allocate a portion of their time to other speakers, the policy states.

If an item is added to the agenda after the deadline submission time it is expected that such item would be open for comment during the meeting.

The policy also notes that written testimony pertaining to the agenda item should include 10 copies supplied by the speaker and should be given to the city clerk in advance of the meeting.

Those interested should contact the city for a complete copy of the public participation policy or visit www.senoia.com

Public comments in the format now adopted for regular meetings have been and continue to be utilized in the same fashion during public hearings since residents at those hearings are customarily asked if they would like to make a comment on the item. Under the new format, residents are asked to complete the “Request to Comment” form for public hearings.

Senoia City Council meetings will continue to have an agenda item near the end of the meeting where those in attendance can comment on items not on the agenda. Residents are also asked to complete the form for this purpose.

While the policy may be new, council meetings under former Mayor Robert Belisle were often open to comments and exchanges in a more informal manner.

The only other governmental body in the two-county area providing public comments on every agenda item is the Fayette County Commission in a practice that began last year. Fayette imposes no time limits on speakers, which on occasion adds to what can become lengthy meetings.