Public comments at County Commission meetings modified

Sometimes the more things change the more they go back to pretty much where they started. That was the case Tuesday night when the Coweta County Commission voted unanimously to essentially reinstate the procedure on public comments at commission meetings.

The board has two public comment sections on its agendas. One comes near the beginning of the meeting and is intended for comments pertaining to items on the agenda. The other comes at the end of the meeting for comments pertaining to issues not on the agenda. Those two public comments portions of the meetings have not changed.

The vote Tuesday reinstated a seemingly minor, but nonetheless significant, change made earlier this year to the public comments procedure pertaining to items on the agenda. The board at that time decided not to allow comments on agenda items that had already been the subject of a public hearing before an elected or appointed body. Tuesday’s vote essentially reversed the earlier decision but included the caveat that those comments would not be allowed at commission meetings when the board had conducted and closed a public hearing on the issue.

Addressing the change in procedure, County Administrator Theron Gay said, “In a recent meeting there was some confusion about when public hearings are closed.”

Adding that public comments cannot be heard once a public hearing has been conducted and closed by the board, Gay said the issue was being brought up “tonight to clarify” the board’s intention.

As before, those wishing to speak during the public comment portions of the meetings must fill out an audience participation form and deliver it to the county clerk prior to the discussion of that issue.

The Tuesday vote stemmed from an issue that surfaced at the Mar. 16 meeting during an agenda item relating to a conditional use permit for a church on Lora Smith Road. An audience member wishing to speak on the request was told by Chairman Paul Poole that speakers had the opportunity to speak when the conditional use permit request went before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals and, therefore The Citizen could not address commissioners on the issue.

While he agreed with Poole, Commissioner Randolph Collins said the county should develop a pamphlet to assist citizens in understanding the rules on public comments as they apply to all departments. His comment was met by one from Poole saying he thought the commission had already addressed the situation. After a brief exchange of words between the two the issue was brought to a close.

Commenting on the issue Tuesday night prior to the vote, Commissioner Tim Lassetter noted the same position he had stated at the Mar. 16 meeting.  
“It was never our intention not to give the citizens the opportunity to have their say,” Lassetter said.

Rules pertaining to public comments will be posted on the county’s website, http://www.coweta.ga.us/