[EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter is from Steve Brown, former mayor of Peachtree City and former member of the Fayette County Commission.]
I love Peachtree City and Fayette County. Show me another place where the citizens display more civic pride and a willingness to stand up for their rights.
So far, 2019 has offered a number of challenges to our citizenry from local governments wanting to bend the will of the people to the breaking point, whether it is forcing apartment complexes down our throats or cutting off our free speech.
Both the City Council of Peachtree City and the Fayette County Board of Commissioners have adopted ultra-restrictive limitations on public expression in their twice monthly meetings. I absolutely detest how they project a large 2-minute stopwatch on the meeting room screen telling all in attendance to talk very fast and they could care less if the citizen has a substantive comment to make.
To make matters worse, they limit the total amount of time for public comment, even on issues where state law mandates public comment, to just 10 minutes. This means that out of a population of 38,000 in Peachtree City (112,000 in the entire county) that only five people will be allowed to offer an opinion in the public forum.
Now the elected officials will tell you that they can choose to expand the number of citizens who are allowed to speak, if they feel like it, if they think you are worthy of being heard, perhaps if you are going say what they want you to say. I know this to be a problem because there have been times where the city council did not want anyone else to speak and shut it down.
Thursday’s city council meeting agenda was a testament to just how badly things can deteriorate. In an act of outward intimidation, the mayor and council wanted to pass the public edict that taxpayer funds would be used to actively sue local citizens who were critical of city officials, employees and volunteers in print, social media, etc. Truly, an idea so bad that it made state and national headlines.
Mayor Fleisch gave an almost comical explanation of why the new legal tactics were necessary. No one on the city council even had the guts to admit to initiating the tragic plan.
There was a lot of false deflection at the meeting, essentially blaming city staff for putting something on the agenda at the last minute, failing to give the mayor and council enough time to object. The excuses were laughable and patently false.
Mayor Fleisch freely offered robust support for the plan on the televised news the day before. Additionally, the city council breakfast club had been discussing it long before it appeared on a meeting agenda.
Over the years, we have spent lots of government funds on enhancing our local image to attract quality business opportunities. How much will it cost us to get our reputation back?
Expediting meetings at the expense of citizen speech is inexcusable. If the officials say they do not want to spend the extra time necessary at their meetings two times a month, vacate the position.
It would be wise for our elected officials to get rid of the oppressive stopwatch, eliminate the five-citizen speaker rule and respect the constituents by listening to what all of them have to say. Additionally, tamp down on your ego, remember who put you in elected office and try to act like you care.
It took a crowded room of angry citizens who refused to back down to make the city council abandon the intimidation tactics. Let’s not go there ever again.
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Brown is a former Peachtree City mayor and Fayette County commissioner.]