Lovejoy Mayor Bobby Cartwright welcomes new members of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners during their public comment period Wednesday. The commission has voted to move public input to the beginning of meetings to give residents more of a voice in county government.
JONESBORO Clayton County residents will likely get to have more of a say in county government affairs after the Board of Commissioners decided to move its public input to the beginning of commission meetings Wednesday.
In a 3-2 decision, commissioners voted to move public comment from the end of commission meetings to a point closer to the beginning of the gatherings — before the county’s governing body votes on matters coming before it. Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted against the change.
“I thought it was important to let the public feel their voices are being heard on issues that affect them,” said new commission Chairman Jeff Turner, who took office Tuesday. “Those voices might cause a commissioner to change their mind on an issue and vote a different way from how they originally planned to vote.”
Turner said the change in when public comment is held could have a “positive” impact on the commission and its relationship with residents because citizens will have more of a role in the decision making process.
Public comment will now be held after proclamations and reports are given. Then residents will have three minutes to speak, instead of the two minutes they previously had, said Interim County Attorney Jack Hancock during a commission pre-meeting Wednesday. He added it is similar to a public comment model used by the Clayton County Board of Education.
There will be a maximum of 30 minutes allotted for public comment at each commission meeting. Anyone who does not get a chance to speak at a meeting because of time will automatically be added to the top of the public comment list for the next meeting, Hancock said.
“I want the public involved in discussions that impact their daily lives and we vote on items at every meeting which impact our citizens,” said Turner. “It’s about being good servants to the community.”
The change had been requested last year by some residents who had complained at commission meetings that they felt left out of the decision making process because public comment was held after votes were already taken. Turner said those complaints were a factor in why the input period was moved to an earlier point in the meetings.
Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee chairman Carl Swensson said he was “tickled” by the commission’s decision to change the public comment period and praised commissioners for voting in favor of the change. Swensson is also the president of the Clayton County Republican Party and frequently speaks during public comment at commission meetings.
Swensson said he thought the commissioners’ decision “shows they are serious about receiving public input” from residents.
“It’s going to make it a little harder for them to flat out ignore the will of the people,” Swensson said.