By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners is working on creating a policy that would stop members of the public from launching attacks at the commissioners during their meetings.
During a recent commission retreat, Commissioner Gail Hambrick called for the development and adoption of a policy that would curtail personal attacks, which she said are "getting worse" at commission meetings.
Hambrick said the attacks and comments that she wants to see an end to, have, in the past, ranged from name-calling, to comments about relatives of commissioners, to threats of "we know where you live."
Hambrick said this is not in response to recent comments made by citizens, including one calling for an investigation of Hambrick for alleged misuse of Clayton County Housing Authority money.
"I've had a couple of people to call me, and they've either been in the meetings, or heard about it, and they just thought it was so outrageous," Hambrick said. "And not only disrespectful, but just outrageous, and demeaning for the county on a whole -- not just for the individual commissioners."
Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said a public comment policy could be presented to commissioners as early as their next meeting, on March 1. Hambrick presented commissioners with a copy of the Clayton County Board of Education's two-and-a-half year old public comment and civility policy, which forbids personal attacks.
Some commissioners at the retreat had questions about how to define a personal attack, but Bell said officials from the school board will not be consulted on how to structure the policy, or how to interpret and enforce it.
If the policy is enforced like the school board's policy, members of the public would be forced to use vague language, and omit names, to identify any commissioner, or county employee that they have complaints about. Bell said that, as commission chairman, it would be his responsibility to enforce the policy during meetings.
The chairman conceded that as elected officials, commissioners have to accept that they may be the subject of some degree of civil public criticism.
"There's so much abuse we have to take," Bell said. "I just want it civil."
Hambrick said she does not appreciate the personal attacks members of the public have launched at commissioners during commission meetings, "but I can't really say anything. I just have to sit there, and listen, and take it."
Hambrick said there have been public comment speakers in the past who have engaged in personal attacks against relatives of commissioners. She indicated the comments began as veiled threats against every member of the commission, except Bell, last year when commissioners were considering shutting down the county's public transportation system, C-Tran.
"They took us one-by-one, you know [with comments such as] 'We know where you live,' " Hambrick said. "It's just been [happening] over a period of time, and then for the last month, [there have been] the other personal attacks, and I'm thinking, you know, this thing is just getting worse."
Hambrick did not specify what the cause was for the personal attacks, that have occurred in the last month. Many of the people who have been appearing before the commissioners during public comment periods have been senior citizens who are upset about fee increases at the county's senior center. Hambrick said the senior citizens have not been a problem, however.
"Actually, the seniors have been OK I think, with the exception of maybe one or two," she said. "But, then I know I've personally had folks come up to name names, and then talk about members of my family, which doesn't bother me, but I know the truth behind that."