Legislation that would allow Clayton to air public comments during commission meetings on the county’s cable access channel and online was put on hold Tuesday, much to the chagrin of residents who have been pushing for more transparency.
In a 3-2 vote, the board pulled the measure from the agenda, saying it wanted to wait until after the county hired a new communications director.
The decision sent groans through the commission chamber, with many residents throwing up their hands in disgust.
“The director of communications didn’t vote to remove this, so why do we need to have that person’s input to reinstate it,” Jonesboro resident Herman Andrews said.
Clayton stopped live-streaming public comments on taxpayer-funded CCTV 23 in February 2017 after a combative exchange between residents and the commission. Residents have asked that the commission rescind its decision at almost every meeting since, said Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, who pushed Tuesday’s legislation.
Public comments during county commission, city council and other government meetings have increasingly divided officials and citizens. Some officials have sought to limit public comments because they believe they are often used to attack leaders while the public sees them as a valuable tool to improve transparency.
Atlanta’s City Council meetings have often included citizens accusing members of malfeasance and Henry County Commission Chairwoman June Wood on Tuesday apologized to commission members, county staff and residents over a recent public comment period she said got out of hand.
“In the last meeting that we had … I allowed that meeting to get out of control,” Wood said. “I want to apologize to Henry County because it is important that our image here in Henry County represents the professionals that we are.”
Turner said he does not understand why his colleagues have tied the decision to begin broadcasting public comments again to the hiring of a communications director. He said he hopes its not to stymie public discourse at the meetings.
“To me that doesn’t fly,” he said. “This is the people’s voice and it should be accessible to all, including those who can’t make it down to the meetings.”
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