The Henry County Board of Commissioners will consider a resolution during their meeting on Tuesday, October 15, to amend county code to limit public comment during board meetings. The proposal comes after commissioners voted 5-1 (Commissioner Wilson opposed) at their last meeting to shorten public comments from five minutes to three minutes per speaker and change its place in the agenda, a time reduction that should not have been allowed since it violated county code.
The proposed changes include the following:
- Shorten the time period allotted for each speaker from five (5) minutes to three (3) minutes.
- Add a maximum time period for public comments of thirty (30) minutes, whereas no limit exists now.
- Limit public comments to “matters appearing on the board agenda for the meeting at which the speaker signed up for public comment,” whereas speakers may address any county-related topic now.
In January 2017, the board of commissioners considered reducing the time allotted per speaker, but they decided against it. Five of the six present-day commissioners were duly elected board members at that time, with only one seat changing since then.
Moving Henry Forward founder Clayton Carte opposes the proposed changes and encourages other residents in opposition to contact their county commissioner before Tuesday’s meeting. Contact information for individual commissioners is available on the county website.
BOC following in Hampton’s and Locust Grove’s footsteps
In January 2019, the Locust Grove city council unanimously voted to restrict public comment at their meetings to ten minutes in overall length. Last month, the Hampton city council started limiting public comments at their meetings to fifteen minutes in total length following an ordinance passed in summer 2018. Hampton’s change passed on a split vote. Because these changes do not affect zoning or development codes, state law does not require a public hearing for them to be enacted.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution published articles in December 2018 looking at public comment rules and time limits for each county commission and municipality in the five “core counties” of metro Atlanta (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett). That review found no local government that limited the overall time length to only ten minutes. Out of those that utilized a limit, thirty minutes or an hour were the most common.