Cobb commission changes public comment rules for meetings

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners meets in Marietta on Tuesday, September 27, 2022.   (Arvin Temkar /



The Cobb County Board of Commissioners meets in Marietta on Tuesday, September 27, 2022. (Arvin Temkar /

The Cobb County Commission approved changes to its public comment policy last week to allow for more speakers during meetings, but with a shorter time slot for each person.

There are 20 public comment slots under the new rules, up from 12 before. Each speaker will have three minutes to speak instead of five minutes. Half will speak toward the start of meetings, and the rest toward the end. Individuals will not be allowed to sign up for more than one slot per meeting.

The last time commissioners considered changes to public comment, they faced a deluge of criticism from residents and did not move forward. That 2021 proposal would have cut the number of speakers down to 10 for three minutes each, and only at the end of the meeting.

This time, the commission did not face the same staunch criticism and approved the public comment changes 4-1, with JoAnn Birrell opposed.

“This does give more people an opportunity to address us, so I think it’s is a good thing,” Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said.

Communication Director Ross Cavitt had also proposed a ban on audio and visual presentations during public comment. Sometimes, the county is unable to use the media individuals bring in, which causes a perception of unfairness, he said. Also, the county has no regulation on what is or isn’t appropriate to show in a presentation.

“We’re just not going to take these now until we get all these issues sorted out,” Cavitt said.

Commissioner Jerica Richardson said she is opposed to restricting those presentations because they can help explain complex ideas.

“I think it’s a slippery slope,” Richardson said. “I don’t see where we should regulate that piece at all.”

Deputy county attorney Debbie Blair said the county can limit “features of speech in a limited public forum” such as a board meeting under the First Amendment if the restrictions are “narrowly tailored, they address a significant government interest, and there are alternative ways of communication.” And they wouldn’t be restricting topics of conversation, just the audio or visual format utilizing county technology, she said.

Commissioners tabled that element of the policy until more discussion can be had. Until then, Cavitt’s instruction to county staff to prohibit audio and visual media during public comment is still in place.