Drop the mic? Speakers’ time could be clipped by Atlanta City Council

An effort to do away with the long standing Atlanta City Council practice of allowing elected officials and former elected officials more time to speak than other members of the public has been put on hold.

The ordinance governing public remarks at city council meetings grants elected officials 10 minutes to address the council. Former elected officials receive a maximum of six minutes.

Everyone else is allowed only two minutes.

At Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Jennifer Ide said the City Council’s Committee on Council, which she chairs, had sponsored the ordinance at the recommendation of the city’s law department. Attorneys in the department had warned that the current rules may violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The proposed legislation would strike out the provisions giving elected and former elected officials more time to speak.

“The way it reads now is that a former elected official who is now a paid lobbyist for somebody could come and take their extra time, where they are getting paid by an industry, but we are going to give them deference,” Ide said. “I think most of us would agree that’s not what we intended to do. And that probably really, really, really doesn’t meet the First Amendment.”

Some criticized the measure, arguing that it limited their free speech.

“It puts restrictions on former elected officials ability to speak,” said former State Senator Vincent Fort.

Councilwoman Marcia Overstreet made a motion for the matter to be referred back to the Committee on Council for futher study of other governments’ public comment practices. Overstreet’s motion passed with a 8-6 vote.

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