Peachtree City Council approves compromise method of adding agenda items

Laura Johnson, Peachtree City Council member. Photo/Cal Beverly.
Laura Johnson, Peachtree City Council member. Photo/Cal Beverly.

The Peachtree City Council last week voted 3-to-2 to make adding an item to the council agenda a majority action during an open meeting — except for the city manager and city employees.

Voting for the change were Mayor Kim Learnard, Frank Destadio and Laura Johnson. Opposing it were Clint Holland and Suzanne Brown. Holland questioned why the change was even needed.

Here’s the text of the new process: “Agenda item request. City staff with approval from the city manager may request to have an item placed on the agenda, by filing such request in writing with the city clerk prior to noon on the Thursday preceding the council meeting.

“The mayor or any council member may introduce an item in accordance with Sec. 2-36(i) under staff and staff topics. Consensus must be reached in a public meeting by the mayor and council to determine if further investigation and research into the matter is warranted prior to bringing the item back for an official action at a subsequent meeting. Such items may not be placed or discussed on the agenda if council has already decided the issue within 180 days.”

So under the new rule, it takes more steps and a public vote for a single council member to get an item placed on the agenda than for a city employee, who needs only the permission of the city manager.

Council Member Laura Johnson moved the ordinance on the agenda, gave the presentation, and made the motion to approve a modified version of Mayor Kim Learnard’s proposal.

Learnard said the agenda item is about placing an item on the agenda, not deciding the issue.

Here’s Johnson’s explanation and council members’ responses in a transcript of the council conversation:

LAURA JOHNSON — “I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and so, I’m just gonna read this to you. It says the proposed ordinance that is on the agenda tonight would require the support of three council members or two council members and the mayor to put an item on the agenda.

“Since this proposal, it has been suggested that this change in procedure could be perceived as a quorum reaching a consensus behind closed doors, There were other scenarios discussed including just two council members, 2 council members and the city manager, 2 council members and the mayor, and the city manager, none of which seemed like good procedure.

“The city manager is not an elected official and thus should not have veto power over what can be put on the agenda. After much thought and many discussions, I heard a procedure that sounded like a viable option.

“Before I talk about this new procedure, I would like to quickly state the problems I see with the current procedure that we have.

“When a council member places an item on the agenda, it lacks transparency as it does not include a memo from staff giving an explanation and thus causes confusion for our citizens. We get emails from citizens thinking that we are trying to do the exact opposite of an item’s purpose.

“Items are at times hastily added to the agenda the last minute and become items for us to vote on the very next week creating a time and labor intensive process as we seek to understand the item’s need, purpose, quality, repercussions, and how we stand on the item. Much work is created for an item that is possibly only supported by 1 council member.

“Council members also have spent taxpayer’s dollars by going straight to the city attorney to get his approval, bypassing staff for an item that possibly, again, only one council member supports.

“Our city is blessed to have citizens who care and who pay attention. I value transparency as many of them do and I feel that this proposal gives them transparency on a silver platter. It also gives solutions to the issues just mentioned so I propose that items are added to an agenda by a majority of council during council staff topics in an open meeting. This would not be an official action. It is consensus on a future actionable item.

“It allows the public to see who is putting forth an item and who supports it. It allows our council to discuss the need for an item openly in front of our citizens without the pressure of an official vote. Staff would then have time to investigate and work on the item and bring it back at a later date for council to vote on.

“With this process each item would include a memo giving clarity to every item in our agenda packet. With the help of our experienced staff, we will have quality items that have a higher likelihood of having council support before it goes to legal, saving our taxpayers money.

“As individual council members, we are not allowed to direct staff. It always takes three of us to compel staff. This gives us the opportunity as a council to give a clear message as to what we want them to focus on. It also holds us the elected officials accountable to our citizens.

“This is not in y’all’s notes but I’m gonna add this real quick. What I also like about this is it allows our citizens, say if they want to come to me and add something for us to discuss in council staff topics. You could have come to me today and I could bring that up tonight. So it gets it in front of all of us even quicker and we each still have the ability to bring this topic forth for any of us to talk about during council staff topics.

“So, I asked for the council support in this proposal that I believe to that will be more transparent and unifying allowing us to have better communication in front of our residents. It saves our time, our staff’s time, and our taxpayers money. I feel that this proposal is a win for us, for staff, and most importantly our citizens.”

Following is the in-depth conversation that continued with other council members adding their comments.

FRANK DESTADIO — As far as I’m concerned, we’ve discussed and debated who can put items on the city’s council city council’s agenda for at least two years now. Last year, we all agreed that the version that any citizen, all he has to do is request an item be added to the agenda. All they need to do is get another council member to agree. You may not remember that but that’s what we put into the ordinance and it’s worked fine for the last year or so.

“We continue to receive criticism for not allowing enough time for the citizens. We continue to review and several council members like or have offered suggestions for improvement on how we can do this faster and more openly.

“We have, we just heard from Councilwoman Laura Johnson and that’s been vetted by several of us already. As we all have recall, there are several cities within the county, they all have combination of City Council members, city manager, or mayor required to get an item on the agenda, but I’m personally grateful for Laura’s approach because I think it’s very open and very easy to put things on the agenda, in fact, the same day. So, now I think the council is ready to vote.”

Suzanne Brown, Peachtree City Council member. Photo/Cal Beverly.
Suzanne Brown, Peachtree City Council member. Photo/Cal Beverly.

SUZANNE BROWN — “This appears to me to be an insult to council members and an attempt to block them from redressing their or their constituent’s grievances to this council. It is odd that it was brought not to the agenda by the mayor immediately after I placed the TDK resolution onto the agenda for the March 3rd meeting. I only withdrew it at the behest of the mayor and Councilman Holland.

“Does the timing of this change indicate the mayor was hoping to gain enough support from this council so she could block me from bringing the TDK resolution back onto the agenda because that’s what it looks like to me.

“As I look back as a citizen, I placed an issue on the City Council agenda to address disenfranchisement of voters in Rising Starr precinct after the special election, and then almost immediately a proposal was made to change the procedures for citizens to place items onto the agenda.

“A citizen must speak during public comments and then ask to have an issue added to a future agenda but it would only be added to an agenda if the mayor or one of the councilman agrees to add it. Keep in mind, if you change this ordinance, it will have a direct impact on a councilman sponsoring a citizen item onto an agenda. Two councilmen would be needed, so in addition to the one who’s making the proposal.

“So, this proposal will take away free speech from council and citizens. Let’s all remember the rights of citizens and council members to redress their grievances to the full council.

“And as proposed by the mayor, we are facing a direct attempt to take away the rights of the elected officials of this city, and she is asking this council to vote to take away their own rights.

“Aside from this being a veiled but direct attack on my abilities to function on behalf of my constituents. I view it as a direct attempt to silence me and every member of this council to bring issues to the agenda, especially if the mayor does not like you or support your ideas.

“The idea that there are too many frivolous items placed on the agenda and that it costs too much is a sham. There are a few items placed onto the agenda by any council member and they are being placed there to execute the business of the city in the best interest of our citizens.

“As an elected official, I have the right to bring items to the attention of council by placing them on the agenda for discussion and a vote. A council that has no voice is not a council. A councilman must gain support from two other councilmen to put an item onto an agenda must conduct too many conversations with other councilmen behind closed doors to get their support.

“I feel the process of having all those conversations risks having three councilmen say they do not support the idea, and then in total darkness outside the view of our citizens, council members can conduct the equivalent of a vote by a majority of council to block an issue. Changing this ordinance runs the risk of violating the open meetings law by requiring a majority of council to discuss it prior to it being shown to the public. Any council member who votes in favor of this proposal is casting a vote to take away their own right to function on this council as a council. I think you can tell that I do not support this proposal at all, and Laura, thank you for trying to do a compromise but I don’t support that either.”

KIM LEARNARD — “Mr. Meeker [City Attorney Ted Meeker], can you clarify have you had a chance to review this verbiage, and has this been pass muster with with you legally?”

TED MEEKER — “Yes, I was able to review it and the change to having the discussion in public as to the items alleviated a major concern that I had with the previous proposal.”

CLINT HOLLAND — “First of all, I’ve used this many times, I’ve said that Peachtree City is special place. We do things a little bit differently. We allow the citizens to come up and redress their grievances openly, come to talk to us, our phones are out there, call us. So, I think that special place is what we got to keep in mind as we think about this. That’s point number one.

“Second, I completely agree that Laura did a great job in trying to find a compromise, and I think it’s a great choice of words that she put together, and I commend her for that hard work, but unfortunately, this is a solution that is looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

“Last year, we had, and maybe the year before because I wasn’t on it, but on the council then, but last year we went through a lot of discussion to come up with what we have today. It is a solution that’s worked for a year and I commend that and I support that.

“So, quite honestly nothing is broken. We don’t have a problem right now. Why would we be looking for a solution when we don’t have a problem? So, in my mind, although I commend completely all the work that Councilman Johnson did, she did a fabulous job, I just can’t support it.”

KIM LEARNARD — “I think this is masterful and I appreciate that you’ve even talked through this with staff. (Mayor to city manager —  Have any concerns about this Justin, Mr. Strickland? Interim City Manager replies to mayor — “Well, I mean, whatever council decides. Is what start I appreciate that.”)

“First of all to be crystal clear, Ms. Brown, you and I met in my office the afternoon of Tuesday March 26th, and I ran this by you and then the next day on Wednesday March 27th you submitted an agenda item for this evening’s meeting to staff. Tuesday afternoon in my office, you and I because I made sure to discuss this item with each and everyone of us before I would even consider putting it on a council meeting agenda, (Council Member Brown interjects, “And I’d stay and I didn’t agree that with it.”)

That’s fine, but the next day is when you submitted your proposal to staff for an agenda item. The next day, not the other way around, thank you. I think this is masterful. This will make sure that we don’t, that we optimize staff time, that we optimize lawyer time, and money. It is well thought out and well vetted and I am fully ready to support it.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction to assuring that the City Council meetings for Peachtree City are an opportunity for council to hear the agenda items in public, have our discussions in public, and vote in public, and also hear from the public in our public comment, in our workshops.

“I think I’m going to go ahead and speak for each and every one of the five of us when I say we read every e-mail. We answer the phone calls. We have coffee meetings. We are very busy listening to our constituents. That’s what we’re here to do. I have probably two meetings a day on average. To imagine that our citizens don’t feel that they are being heard, I humbly disagree and I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction. Does anybody have any last thing to add?”

LAURA JOHNSON — “I was, I’ve been able to kind of hear from you guys and just so y’all know I would not be putting this forth if I felt like it was putting stuff behind closed doors. My effort here is to bring things out in front of our public as much as we can and to open meetings.

“I truly value transparency, so the fact that where this agenda item originally, you know, it seemed like there was a consensus being made behind closed doors. This agenda has now been amended where I feel like it helps with that and council can bring any topic to the dais, and you can bring it the day of in council staff topics.

“It’s not limiting us as council members because in council staff topics you can bring up as many items as you want to talk about, and so you are not limited. In fact, I feel like it frees me up and we can discuss anything we want, and I also think it allows us to counsel even more.

“My goal in this is to have a better relationship with my council members. For me personally, if I’m going to bring something and bring it up in council staff topics, you will know that I will have gone to every single one of my council members, they will have known about this, and I would have a plan, and then it would be very clear. I would present things in council staff topics as if I were bringing something on an agenda, and what happens is you guys, as the public, it’s not that you get to know that an item is coming on an agenda, when that agenda comes out you know that the all of us we have voted on it or not voted because it’s not we’re not voting.

“It is a consensus on a future actionable item, and so during the time that we discuss this and approve it in order for it to officially go on an agenda. Each of you has the ability to come and talk to us, and so it’s not kind of vote that we’re saying yes we want this or no we don’t it’s that we’re allowing staff to spend time on it so I think I personally think that this is a great compromise it is in a true effort to bring clarity to be transparent, and I understand your points and I respect it.”

FRANK DESTADIO — “You know recently we’ve seen articles in The Citizen, at least I have, in which I’ve commented on staff time and impacted to your schedule. We all met is in the retreat. We gave the staff a list of, I don’t know, 40-ish kind of topics are not topics projects that all of you have asked us for from pickleball courts to dredging the lake to you name it.

“There’s been 40 different projects that we tasked the city manager to come up with a plan on how we’re going to get these done with the SPLOST dollars and with with the other project dollars that we had, and that’s what they’ve been working on and we’ve seen results of that, and anybody that stands up and says I would like to see a plan needs, just to go on the front page and go down the project list and you can see the projects and you get a sample of their current schedule.

“So, that’s really not, I think, a legal argument anymore. Legal is probably not the right word but the argument is transparency and we want to be transparent. We want to make sure you know what’s going on and how, when it’s going to get done. But part of the problem putting other things on the agenda is somebody puts in a something on the agenda like I’m I know that Suzanne is very interested at some point in time to get chickens allowed in Peachtree City.

“That’s, believe me, that’s more than just yes or no. You gotta go through the safety of having chickens. You gotta go through the peak, the amount of impact it’s got on the schedule, the cost to do that, the staff time, and cost to do that.

“Those are the kinds of things we’re trying to cut the cost on. So, there’s not impact on the cost of the staff time or impact on the cost of having the attorney to do things. We’ve talked about this when we went through our journey throughout the city and the bus, and I made comments about cost to the impact of the schedule.

“We can change it all the time we want but every time you complain about not having enough pickleball courts remember somebody else put something on the agenda that bumped you. So, I think we need to have a system in which we’re gonna stop putting things on the agenda that takes time away from the staff and cost the city more money. I’m done.”

SUZANNE BROWN — “We already have the right to bring any issue we want up as council staff topics. We also have the right to request that it then be added to the agenda. We don’t need an ordinance change to do that. What this does is it requires you to get somebody else to agree just to put it on to the agenda again.

“I echo, you know, we’re elected officials, we have the right to put things on the agenda. That should not change. This is an egregious take away of freedom of speech for council members to restrict us by forcing us to just to put something on to the agenda.

“The discussion should be on the dais in front of people, and, yes, OK, putting it on council’s topics may solve part of that but I should have the right as an elected official in this city. Why are you trying to take away my right to put this, an issue onto the agenda, for discussion? It doesn’t happen often enough to bankrupt the city, Frank, it just doesn’t.

CLINT HOLLAND — “I mean all of this so far has been about the discussion on this side of the dais. Am I right, that’s what we’ve been talking about. (Mayor interjects — “Direct your comments to the mayor, please.”) OK, that’s what we’ve been talking about but we’ve forgotten about the citizens and we had that previously with they can come to us, and where they can put on, we can put something on the agenda.

“Now, we’ve gotta go through a number of hoops to be able to do that so I think that we’ve got a little bit of a restriction on our First Amendment rights of free speech and redress. I don’t know, but you know I’m not a lawyer. I just do a reading of this stuff but it seems to me that there’s a little bit of a restriction with this type of arrangement under this ordinance.

“This new ordinance, and for me that’s not what we’re here for, we’re here to do business of the city and we’re here to support our citizens, and I forget, I think sometimes, we forget that.”

FRANK DESTADIO — “This comment that can’t be left the current ordinance that we worked on last year does just what they said. You get one more person, you put it on the agenda. It doesn’t restrict anybody from doing anything. You just ask, you can, would you support it, yes, it’s on the agenda. Why do we keep saying we’re restricting people, we’re taking away their rights, it’s what’s currently there alright.”

KIM LEARNARD — “With that Ms. Brown, I’m glad you and I could clear up the misunderstanding, learning about what came first, our conversation together and then following that a submittal to put something on the agenda. Just to be clear we have a motion and a second on the table all in favor say aye, all opposed no. Motion carries.”

VOTE — Learnard, Destadio, and Johnson in favor.

Holland and Brown in opposition.


  1. I think Dr. Chancey’s April 8 article title, “Are you Exhausted, or Empowered?” applies to this issue. I hope a decision flow chart of Councilmember Johnson’s compromise and the Council’s action will make sense. Our Honorable Mayor’s initiative and Councilmember Destadio’s logic completely lost me. It’s exhausting trying to understand why the Mayor distrusts citizens to place items on Council meeting agendas; history has shown we citizens have not abused the right. It’s exhausting trying to see how every agenda item costs money; not all agenda items require volumes of research or legal sufficiency reviews. Where we once were individually empowered to address the City Council, now we are not.

    • Yes, after reading others comments I’m beginning to think, like Clint Holland, that this was all a ‘solution ‘ to a problem that didn’t exist. I guess we’ll see going forward how this new process plays out.

  2. Why would anyone except a developer or a council person with a developer in their ear or pocket, ever try to bring back the TDK extension??? Suzanne Brown is trying to turn Crosstown Rd area into another Hwy 74/54 madhouse! She needs to stop.