Carden surveyed all 159 county commissions in Georgia and found that only much smaller counties, with comparatively short agendas, begin their zoning hearings as late as Gwinnett. He suggested starting the Gwinnett zoning hearings at 5:30 p.m., like in DeKalb County.
Carden suggested further streamlining meetings by sending some cases to a consent agenda, as Cobb County does.
In Cobb, staffers place cases on a consent agenda if commissioners have worked with applicants and neighbors and everyone seems to agree, said Keli Gambrill, a commissioner who previously spoke at zoning hearings as a neighborhood advocate.
At the beginning of each hearing, consent agenda cases are read into the record but those filing the application do not present, Gambrill said. If there is an objection to a consent case, the person raising it and the applicant or attorney leave the room to discuss it while the meeting continues, Gambrill said. If their differences can’t be worked out, the case is moved to the regular agenda for commissioners to hear the presentation and objections, she said.
“There is the assumption that you know what’s going on in your community prior to coming there,” Gambrill said. “Consent, to me, means there was a lot of work done before the hearing.”
Gwinnett Commissioner Jasper Watkins said the commissioners — including himself — needed to do a better job preparing for each hearing so they don’t spend as much time asking questions themselves.
Gwinnett County’s staff attorneys and County Administrator Glenn Stephens have expressed reservations about instituting a consent agenda, in part because the applicants’ presentations would not take place for consent cases. Many people in the audience don’t intend to speak on certain cases but decide to after hearing something in a presentation, county officials said.
“I don’t know if it matches up with y’all’s values of transparency and openness,” Stephens said.