Atlanta City Council passes tighter restrictions on public comment

The Atlanta City Council passed new limits Monday on how long residents can address elected officials.

Individuals are given two minutes to speak during meetings, but are permitted to donate their time to another person. The new legislation — sponsored by District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore and Post 2 At-Large Councilwoman Mary Norwood — caps those donations to 16 minutes total.

Initially, the council approved limiting a speaker’s time to 10 minutes. Moore later amended the paper.

Moore said the bill isn’t aimed at any particular group or regular speaker, and seeks to provide a “reasonable” framework for how long someone can speak in a public meeting.

“This legislation in no way, I think, keeps people from being able to express themselves,” she said, adding it gives a “sensible framework for how we engage ourselves in public comment.”

But a number of councilmembers opposed the bill.

Post 1 At-Large Councilman Michael Julian Bond said he’s fundamentally opposed to all limitations on public comment because the government works for its citizens.

“It’s a difference of philosophy; I’ll concede that,” he said. “But my philosophy is you are better served when the public tells you what to do.”

District 10 Councilman C.T. Martin said the legislation “has an atmosphere of suppression.”

And District 5 Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong said the paper attempts to fix a system that isn’t broken.

Whether it’s one person speaking for 20 minutes or two people in the same time frame, the bill doesn’t necessarily save time, she said. “I’m not sure what we’re fixing or addressing.”

District 1 Councilwoman Carla Smith, who voted in favor of the paper, noted councilmembers have the authority to extend a speaker’s time limit in any given meeting.

The initial paper, capping the limit at 10 minutes, passed by a 9 to 5 vote. District 3 Councilman Ivory Lee Young and Post 3 At-Large Councilman Andre Dickens also voted against the 10 minute restriction.

The council later approved increasing the time to 16 minutes per speaker.

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