Councilman Mike King said, “Whoa!” to deleting a citizen’s right to get on the City Council agenda. I say, Thank you, Councilman King, for tapping the brakes on this rush to take away a right that is already an ordinance.
Mayor Kim Learnard said she is “100% in favor” of deleting that right. “This brings Peachtree City in line with best practices,” she said. “We have a representative form of government,” she said, noting that she considers citizens “well represented” by the current council. “We are here for you,” she said.
New City Manager Robert Curnow said such deletion would “streamline the process” of determining which issues the council must consider, and reported that a survey of more than a dozen local governments uncovered no other example of such an ordinance being in effect.
New Councilman Clint Holland said that Peachtree City is “a special place” and that the rule has produced no problems. “Let the sleeping dog lie,” he said.
Councilman Phil Prebor said the revised process of asking the city manager or at least one of the council members to put an item on the twice-monthly meeting agenda was sufficient. “If they can’t get one in five [members] to listen, then maybe it doesn’t need to be on the agenda.”
Councilman Frank Destadio was noncommittal about whether to keep the current access unchanged.
The council voted 5-0 to postpone the decision to delete that ordinance from the city code to a March meeting.
So, let’s get my bias in the open — I’m close to an absolutist about First Amendment issues, which makes me a knee-jerk supporter of every government rule or law that furthers those rights. That’s why I am strongly in favor of Peachtree City retaining its unusual codified access to the agenda of the local government closest to us citizens.
I earlier said the ordinance is “the near-perfect implementation of the First Amendment right of the people ‘to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’ Democracy in a constitutional republic doesn’t get any more functional and grassroots than that. And government — local or higher — doesn’t get much closer to honoring in practice the First Amendment than that.”
Discussion last Thursday night revealed that no other Fayette government has such a rule on the books, so that Peachtree City is something of an outlier in providing a mandated way for ordinary citizens to get something in front of the council without having to get permission.
It also was revealed that the right was rarely used — maybe three times in the past decade — which would seem to indicate that the right was not being abused.
So why vote it out of existence? Why does that agenda access rule bother the new city manager and our mayor? Why does the new city manager pick that as the first city ordinance he believes needs changing? What threat does it pose that it must be “streamlined”?
That brings up another violation of the public’s right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” committed by our highly efficient mayor. Public comment time is frozen at 20 minutes, whether there are two persons or 40 persons wanting to speak.
In one flagrant instance in the past year, Mayor Learnard cut public comment time down to 53 seconds per speaker. 53 seconds. As if she couldn’t expand the 20 minutes to however long it might take for her constituents to get a chance for even 2 minutes each. She demonstrates a heavy-handed, negative approach to hearing from the public.
It’s not like such overflow crowds usually burden the council at their two meetings a month. The council has to really mess up to bring a crowd clamoring to talk. And then to be insulted with a 53-second timed limit?
No such time constraint limits other council members or the city manager or city staff members. How special.
And, no, such an accommodation to citizens — really, a demonstration of respect for their rights — manifestly would not cause the wheels of city government to grind to a halt. If city council members haven’t got time to listen to the public in a public meeting, then their priorities are questionable. Make time. Without a 53-second limit. It’s two meetings a month, for pity’s sake!
[Cal Beverly has been editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993 and first covered meetings of the Peachtree City Council in 1982.]
I will like to see every citizen of Peachtree City at the next City Council meeting, on Thursday, March 16, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. Our new City Manager is attempting to “streamline” Peachtree City’s procedures to the point of eliminating direct, public, and formal citizen input to City Council considerations, by deleting currently authorized citizen input into the City Council’s Agendas. If the City Manager’s recommendation is approved, and I think without opposing voice it will, citizens will have to persuade the Mayor or a City Councilmember to approve a citizen requested agenda item. The rationale presented is that other local cities do that, we should too.
I am personally opposed to this erosion of our general lawful civic rights, the right to redress, and the right to be heard. It is my hope, that if citizens act responsibly, we will have governments act responsibly. Please be there and be responsibly prepared to present an opinion on this recommended ordinance amendment.
Yeah, every Tom, Dick and Harry needs to speak..sounds great.
Spyglass, I think I understand your thoughts about the potential to disrupt City Council meetings, wasting the public’s and City Staff’s time, as well as becoming an overall nuisance. It appears if we give people an inch, they oftentimes take a mile. I have that concern, and look at it as one of the risks associated with maintaining our liberties.
I also look at those things that contribute to desireability, such as integrity, spirit, honor, pride, freedom, and the vision to sustain those types of characteristics. I believe it takes leadership to provide the vision, accepting risks to exercise those characteristics to provide desireable communities. I also believe the basic core purpose of government is to protect. What to protect is obviously in the eyes of the beholder, but I will like to apply the cliche to protecting life, liberty and the persuit of happiness.
As other people have in municipalities across the Nation, I can live without our City Council allowing citizens to place items on the City Council’s agenda. However, I live in Peachtree City, a unique community, one that demonstrates patriotism and has thus far allowed the specific liberty for its citizens to place issues and praises, formally, publicly and as a matter of public record, in City Council meeting agendas. I don’t want to give up that liberty without a fight. What other forums do we, as citizens, have for redress? We have petitions for referendums, courts, soap boxes (only during daylight hours in Peachtree City), the ability to apply for permits to assemble, emails, letters, marketing and social media. Of those, only the courts guarantee redress, and yet we have been priviliged by a small group of civic leaders with forsight to place that guarantee in our ordinance under the right for individual citizens to place items on the City Council agenda. They took the risk, I want to sustain the right.
There are ways and means for City Council to continue protecting our city’s desireable characteristics. I hold our Councilmembers in high regard. On our current City Council, three of the five members took a considerable risk to protect our city’s integrity. I’m sure it was difficult for them then and now. It was a decision to amend the Water and Sewer Authority’s (WASA’s) management. They, the City Council seriously worked out controls to protect us from “party house” rentals. I am sure they can work out the controls to protect us from City Council meeting disruptions, wasting the public’s and City Staff’s time, as well as overall nuisances from irresponsible citizen requests.
This is an opportunity for our City Council to maintain Peachtree City’s desireable uniqueness. They can continue allowing individual citizens to place items on their meetings’ agendas, and at the same time, place specific administrative controls as to when and how those items are presented. In difficult times, brought about by social media, our Councilmembers have worked hard toward enhancing public trust in them. I hope they take advantage of this opportunity and take a place as Grand Marshals in our Independence Day Parade.
Ms Commie Mayor says we are a representative govt. Then she pushes SPLOST. Ya can’t have it both ways.
I am in support of Cal’s sentiments and oppose the elimination of this acres by citizens though I’m not opposed to reasonable tweeks.
I fully agree that citizens should not be so severely limited on time to address council. If council has a meeting that lasts until 1 am occasionally it only shows the importance of the issue to citizens and proved their willingness to listen and serve.
Sadly it is no surprise that our mayor would cut off council members from speaking. She should have respect for propriety and for them but alas… It should not be tolerated by them!
The Mayor and City Council Members stress they represent us. I’m compelled to believe them. They also need to resolve various issues pertaining to the City. The tools they have are citizen input, City Staff, City Attorney, and their own devices. It’s a hard job to run a municipality and I give them credit for doing the best they can with the resources they have available. Peachtree City is still unique, though some of that uniqueness seems to be withering. Of the things making the City uniques, is, as Mr. Beverly stated, “its unusual codified access to the agenda of the local government closest to us citizens.”
Here is where I see the rub from the City Manager’s proposal. Mr. Prebor’s comments gives the impression that a citizen must persuade an authority (City Attorney, City Manager, City Councilperson) to place a requested item on the agenda. That defeats the concept of redress. However a simple change to, “If a citizen requests placement of an item on the City Council’s agenda from either the City Attorney, City Manager, or City Council Member, the City “SHALL,” given sufficient time (however much time is deemed appropriate and equal to any authority’s normal request to place an item on the agenda), “PLACE” the requested item on the agenda.
With proper notice allowing the City Staff to research and recommend an opinion of the proposed agenda item, the City Council can efficiently discuss the item and make a knowledgeable motion on the citizen’s request. I don’t think it necessary to throw anybody “under the bus” over this, but a citizen’s right to redress under government is a serious issue and is the cornerstone of our form of government. If we need to make a tweak to the way we do things, tweak away, but don’t omit the core purpose of what we are trying to tweak, or “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”