Council Member John Beresford, who said he has been booed and chastised by the public during council meetings, plans to introduce guidelines for public participation at the council’s Thursday meeting.
“There is definitely a need to maintain some sort of control in the council chambers. The mayor continues to let things get out of hand,” he said. “We’re a joke. The city council, managed by the mayor, is a joke.”
The agenda item is listed as a discussion of couth and decorum.
Beresford’s proposed guidelines include a five-minute limit for each speaker on a particular issue, as well as requests that speakers sign in, state their name and address, and provide copies of any written statements and documentation to the city clerk.
Actions not accepted in the proposed guidelines include discussing items not on the council agenda, disruptive behavior, harassment or the threat of violence toward the council, mayor, city staff or others in attendance, personal attacks, debate among the audience, promotion of business ventures and abusive or profane language.
Public attendees should also direct their comments toward the council, Beresford said, and not toward other citizens or businesses.
Mayor Gene Hobgood said the city has appropriate guidelines regarding public input.
“We don’t need what (Beresford) is proposing. It’s designed to restrict public input,” Hobgood said. He added that he takes issue with the proposed restrictions regarding what the public can speak about.
“When we started the 10-minute public input several years ago, the idea was that any citizen could come before the mayor and the council and say whatever they wanted to … someone might come in and say, ‘I’ve got a great idea,’ and I don’t want to discourage that,” he said.
Beresford said he hopes to cut down on out-of-turn commenting from the public in attendance and things like clapping, cheering and jeering, adding that he is not opposed to speaking with the public outside of meetings.
“Please get to me after the meeting or later, or call me, or set up a meeting with me. I don’t have a problem with that, but to try to burst out a comment (during the meeting) is disrespectful,” he said.
People are not treating the council meetings with the deserved respect, Beresford added.
“There’s no business in the world, no courtroom, no judge, that would put up with that. We should be treated with the same demeanor you would have if you were in a courtroom. We’re in a council chambers,” he said, calling out-of-turn comments from the public “distracting and disappointing.”
But Hobgood said he doesn’t see the public’s actions in the meetings as a big problem.
“To clap for a minute and the meeting goes on, that’s not that disruptive, or even to jeer to a degree. The public has got the right to do some of that,” he said.
The council will also discuss:
* Recommendations for the award of a landfill closure contract;
n The award of a contract for the installation of a SCADA system at Hickory Log Reservoir;
* An ordinance changing the salaries of city council members;
* A resolution calling for a March 19 referendum on a proposed fire bond;
* Fire service delivery methodologies;
* An Environmental Protection Division-required soil and erosion ordinance amendment;
* A budget amendment regarding the Etowah River canoe launch; and
* The sale of city scrap metal.