Curt Yeomans covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It came to my attention this week that at least some Clayton County Board of Commissioners members are concerned that residents will use up their newly moved public comment period by asking what agenda items mean instead of offering their input on items up for consideration.
As it stands, this wasn’t an issue under the old method of holding public comment at the end of commission meetings because the commission had already done its business by that point. It does residents little good to ask what an item is about when the commission has already voted on it and moved on.
So, with the move to hold public comment before items are voted on, it raises the issue of how the commission can be more transparent about items on the agenda. How can residents have a better chance of understanding items about which they wish to comment?
One idea might be to have the meeting agendas include short descriptions in layman’s terms to explain what the items will do if passed by commissioners, but there might be a better way: Post agenda packets on the county’s website before a meeting.
The commission currently posts its agenda on its website the Friday before each meeting. It technically meets the requirements of Georgia law, which states the agenda must be made available to the public at least 24 hours before the meeting takes place.
The problem is, it’s just an agenda with only a short, sometimes vague explanation of each item scheduled for a vote. An agenda packet would include the agenda and the supporting documents for each item on the agenda, including legislative request forms, copies of proposed contracts and any other documents provided to commissioners for their information.
These documents are already available upon request to members of the media, even before the meeting takes place. Therefore, it’s not like these are secret documents which contain sensitive information.
Sometimes there are no supporting items to attach to a resolution, but many times there are pages upon pages of legislative request forms, compiled data, memorandums, letters from external agencies and e-mails attached to a resolution.
And, the county commission would not be the first government body to make agenda packets available to the public in advance of a meeting.
The technique is already used by the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, the State Board of Education, Clayton County Board of Education and the Morrow City Council.
Those governing bodies include lengthy executive summaries that explain the agenda item, as well as supporting documents, in their agenda packets. It makes it easy to read up on items up for a vote before the meeting takes place.
That creates informed residents who can follow along with their government as well as a county commission that is more transparent with its constituency.
Curt Yeomans is the Senior Reporter for the Clayton News Daily and has covered the Clayton County Board of Commissioners since 2010. He can be reached at 770-478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at email@example.com.