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Johns Creek redefines council public comment

Move ends abuses at council meetings



JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The Johns Creek City Council redefined and reordered public comment at council meetings Monday night after recent discussions over suspending time limits kept recurring.

What the council mostly agreed to do was abide by its own rules and not routinely go off track on public comment.

One recent meeting in particular was the tipping point. At a May 22 City Council meeting, an organized group protested plans for ball fields proposed for the 132-acre Cauley Creek Park. Some two dozen people attended wanting to speak on the issue even though it was not an agenda item.

Normally, residents are allowed three minutes during the public comment part on the agenda and are allowed to speak on any issue. There is a 30-minute time limit.

However, Councilwoman Stephanie Endres stepped in to ask for a suspension of the three-minute rule and the 30-minute time limit to allow all of these people ample time to speak. The City Council allowed it.

Nearly 90 minutes later the one-sided appeal – all of the speakers lobbied to limit the new park to passive uses – ended.

This was not the first time Endres had asked for suspension of time limits for people to speak on positions she appeared to support.

At the Monday night meeting, the council passed a resolution 5-2 (Endres and Councilman Chris Coughlin dissenting) to do several things:

  • It reaffirmed the three-minute individual speaker’s time limit and overall 30-minute time limit.
  • The first round of public comment was moved from the first thing after roll call to after the consent agenda. The consent agenda is passed by a single vote and considered routine housekeeping. Any other presentations, such as conferring honors or passing resolutions, are under the consent agenda.
  • Public comment can resume after all city business is concluded. The 30-minute limit on this round of public comment was lifted. All will be heard. The 3-minute individual limit was left in force.

At the time of the vote, Endres said she would not support the new measures.

“I don’t think anyone who wants to address the City Council should be turned away. It [affects] a citizen’s ability to address the entire body,” Endres said.

Coughlin also defended allowing unlimited public comment during meetings. He said statistically it is a rare occurrence and should be allowed.

“When that rare event comes up, it shouldn’t be cut off,” he said.

Councilman Lenny Zaprowski pointed out public comment is continued after the agenda is complete.

“Or we can call a public meeting at any time,” Zaprowski said.

Councilman Steve Broadbent agreed. He said with unlimited time for people to speak after the meeting “people got the best of both worlds.”

Mayor Mike Bodker said the point of the City Council meeting is first and foremost to conduct the business of the city.

“We have time limits for a reason. This meeting needs to conduct its business in a timely fashion,” Bodker said.

After the meeting, Councilwoman Cori Davenport said there is a proper time and place for everything.

“We need a public comment portion of the meeting. But people come to our meetings for lots of reasons. They have a right to expect predictability in our meetings” Davenport said. “I know if I were having my property rezoned and had a lawyer beside me I was paying $600 an hour, I wouldn’t be happy.”

Davenport said their meetings were being turned into impromptu town hall meetings, but only one side of the issue gets the message.

“It is better to go public with [an issue] and let everyone weigh in,” she said.

Broadbent was on the side of keeping to the order of the agenda.

“We need a comment section, but it must have limits and it needs to be managed,” Broadbent said. “Government is deliberative by nature.”

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