City attorney agrees variance committee meetings must follow law —
Drawing angry rebukes from Peachtree City Councilmen Phil Prebor and Mike King, Councilman Clint Holland on July 13 accused the city of continually violating the Georgia Open Meetings law with its non-public zoning variance procedures.
Holland presented a slide show detailing 15 administrative variance requests related to zoning setback changes that occurred without public notice with outcomes that were not announced publicly. He called for the city ordinance section setting up that process be eliminated from the city code.
“We should do all variances in full view of the public,” Holland said during the July 13 council meeting.
Assked by King if the city ordinance violated the state law, City Attorney Ted Meeker replied that the ordinance itself was lawful. Meeker added that any committee of the council — including the variance committee — must follow the open meetings law. That law requires advance public notice as well as access for the public to attend during a variance committee meeting.
Prebor objected to Holland bringing up the issue in the public meeting, saying it should have been handled privately. He accused Holland of using Holland’s private email to receive and answer citizen complaints about the city instead of his city email address. Prebor said that Holland himself was thus violating the Open Meetings law.
King said Holland’s concerns should have been conveyed to other council members before putting on a slide show that accused the city of being a lawbreaker. King questioned whether Holland’s email issue was an ethics violation.
Mayor Kim Learnard joined in on Prebor’s and King’s side, objecting to Holland’s public approach.
City Planning Director Robin Cailloux presented her own slide about the history of non-public administrative actions taken by the city. She said the council created administrative variances in 1992 with the ordinance setting up the committee of one council member, one planning commissioner and the planning director.
In 2008 the council created the special exception variance and changed the committee makeup to one council member, the city manager and the planning director — one elected official and two city employees.
In December 2021, the council modified the administrative variance to allow larger rear setback encroachments.
What was unchallenged by any staffer or council member was the fact that an unknown number of zoning variance requests have been reviewed and decided upon by a City Council-appointed committee since 1992 without advance public notice and without opportunities for the public to attend.
That process would appear to indicate continued violations of the Georgia Open Meetings law over a period of more than three decades involving an undetermined number of variance requests.
No motion was made about the issue, and thus no vote occurred. The council adjourned without taking action on Holland’s request.