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UPDATED: When will commission allow public to speak?

UPDATED for print version — Citizens wishing to address the Fayette County Commission in the future will not have to sign up a week in advance.

But they may have to wait to have their say to the end of any meeting, after all other business is conducted, under a proposal suggested Wednesday by Commission Chairman Herb Frady.

Frady noted that some of the citizens recently have become “boisterous” during public comments at the beginning of the meeting. Since there are sometimes Boy Scouts and other youths in the audience at the time, it’s not a good atmosphere, he said.

“It’s just not a good thing to see, or hear, some of the things that are being said, quite frankly. And the manner in which they’re said mostly,” Frady said. “People have a tendency out here to get a little bit ill.”

Commissioner Steve Brown opposed the move, saying it would disallow citizens from speaking about any item on the agenda.

“Having it afterward is a moot point,” Brown said.

Brown also said that citizens who wish to speak may have young children or other obligations that would preclude them waiting through the entire meeting for their chance to speak.

“I’d prefer to keep public comments at the beginning of the meeting because I know some people come here specifically to make a comment,” Brown said. “So to hold them in a meeting until the very end I think is kind of a disservice to the people who have come to the meeting to speak.”

Frady replied that he felt people coming to do business with the county should be handled first on the agenda, and he hoped that those wanting to make comments would stay until the end of the meeting.

“I would say if they don’t, they don’t have much interest in their government,” Frady said.

Commissioner Robert Horgan said he agreed with moving the public comments to the end of the agenda, though he also feels that commissioners “have to have a thick skin” about what is said to them.

Commissioner Lee Hearn didn’t comment about Frady’s proposal, but Commissioner Allen McCarty said he supported it too, noting that the commission would not be regulating any citizen’s ability to speak “or cause undue burdens on what they would like to say.”

“I’d also like to move public comments to a different portion of the agenda, to give people the chance to respond after the fact as to what we’ve said,” McCarty said. “I think that makes sense and they can comment on what our decisions were, what our discussions were and come in on the subject of that particular business session.”

Several days later, McCarty reversed course, saying in an email to The Citizen that he thinks the public comments should be the first item on the county’s agenda.

McCarty explained that he “voted” to move the matter forward to a regular commission meeting “where the public will see what and who votes for citizens rights.”

Since the beginning of the year, a handful of citizens have participated in public comment, meeting after meeting. All of them have been critical of three commissioners: Horgan, Hearn and Frady, particularly for their support of the West Fayetteville Bypass.

Most nights, with each speaker allowed up to five minutes each, the public comment portion of the agenda takes at least a half hour. Although the public comments are near the top of the agenda, if there are any public hearings to be conducted those occur prior to the public comments.

Even moving the public comment to the end of the agenda, people would still be allowed “to speak whatever they’d like to speak to,” Frady said.

The commission is not contemplating a reduction in the five-minute limit for citizens addressing the board.

Another potential change would require citizens to register immediately prior to the meeting if they wish to comment. Currently, citizens sign in after they raise their hands and are asked to step to the podium to give their comments.

Requiring a sign-in just prior to the meeting would make it easier to call speakers to the podium, Frady said.

None of the commissioners opposed that concept.

In his comments, Brown boasted that when he was Peachtree City Mayor, he accepted public comments on every agenda item. However, that was not the case at a late February 2002 council meeting in which he cut off a handful of people who wanted to speak about convening workshops to study creation of a sports and entertainment authority.

In that meeting, Brown silenced the development authority’s chairman, even after the chairman was asked to speak by Council member Annie McMenamin. McMenamin had asked Development Authority Chairman Tate Godfrey to respond to some of Brown’s allegations.

Several days after that meeting, Brown told The Citizen that the reason he withheld citizen comments was because he “didn’t want to get in a heated debate on the tennis center.”

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EARLIER ONLINE VERSION

Won't require sign-up, but citizens may have to wait until end of meeting to speak

Citizens wishing to address the Fayette County Commission in the future will not have to sign up a week in advance.

But they may be moved to the end of the meeting, under a proposal suggested Wednesday by Commission Chairman Herb Frady.
Frady noted that some of the citizens recently have become “boisterous” during public comments at the beginning of the meeting. Since there are sometimes Boy Scouts and other youths in the audience at the time, it’s not a good atmosphere, he said.

“I think the county needs to conduct its business first,” Frady added.

Commissioner Steve Brown opposed the move, saying it would disallow citizens from speaking about any item on the agenda.

“Having it afterward is a moot point,” Brown said.

Brown also said that citizens who wish to speak may have young children or other obligations that would preclude them waiting through the entire meeting for their chance to speak.

Frady replied that he felt people coming to do business with the county should be handled first, and he hoped that those wanting to make comments would stay until the end of the meeting.

“I would say if they don’t, they don’t have much interest in their government,” Frady said.

Commissioner Robert Horgan said he agreed with moving the public comments to the end of the agenda, though he also feels that commissioners “have to have a thick skin” about what is said to them.

Commissioner Lee Hearn didn’t comment about Frady’s proposal, but Commissioner Allen McCarty said he supported it because it would allow the citizens to give feedback on what decisions the commission made, and what was said leading up to those decisions.

Since the beginning of the year, a handful of citizens have participated in public comment, meeting after meeting. All of them have been critical of three commissioners: Horgan, Hearn and Frady, particularly for their support of the West Fayetteville Bypass.

Most nights, with each speaker allowed up to five minutes each, the public comment portion of the agenda takes at least a half hour. Although the public comments are near the top of the agenda, if there are any public hearings to be conducted those occur prior to the public comments.

Even moving the public comment to the end of the agenda, people would still be allowed “to speak whatever they’d like to speak to,” Frady said.

The proposal was not voted on, as county staff will have to prepare a formal modification of the existing county policies to be voted on at a later date.

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