Canton Council talks decorum
by Erin Dentmon
edentmon@cherokeetribune.com
December 07, 2012 11:27 PM | 1479 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — After an hour and 15 minutes of public input, with residents speaking on everything from Christmas lights to the fate of the mayor’s staff, the Canton City Council discussed suggestions for decorum at Thursday night’s meeting.

Council Member John Beresford, who brought the issue to the council Thursday and earlier in the fall, said he is not trying to stifle the public through talking about decorum.

Beresford said Friday bringing the issue up accomplished what he hoped, which was to get the city’s present code for decorum recognized.

“I support public input,” he said.

Beresford said things like clapping and jeering should be reserved for town-hall style meetings, and that the responsibility to maintain order lies with the mayor.

Before the public input time began Thursday night, Mayor Gene Hobgood laid out a set of “ground rules” for the public.

“We welcome your input. This is not a dialogue. We will not be responding to your comments,” he said to those in attendance. “Refrain from outbursts of applause or jeers. Remain respectful of our council chambers, and help us have an orderly meeting.”

Hobgood said he addressed the ground rules because of the large crowd in attendance and to remind people that the city does have rules in place.

“I knew there was a lot of excitement and interest in participation there, and some of it was emotional issues. Sometimes people kind of get carried away and cheer or clap or whatever. Most of the time, there’s not any sort of disturbance. Occasionally there could be, especially since it was a full house there,” he said.

Beresford attached a document to the meeting agenda outlining guidelines for public decorum, including a request that the public only speak regarding items on the meeting agenda.

During the meeting, after Hobgood said that provision “does seem to restrict public input,” Beresford said he, too, was opposed to limiting what topics the public can speak about.

“This is an opportunity for debate. I drew a line through that,” Beresford said, explaining that the document was a copy of the city of Roswell’s rules of decorum that he had brought for discussion. “By no means would I not allow the public to do what they did tonight.”

Beresford explained Friday that he left that provision in the document to incite debate.

“I left that in there so that debate could take place. The council reacted to it. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to show the public how the council should sit and debate and discuss issues.”

Council Member Glen Cummins objected to a provision requiring the public to bring extra copies of any written statements or documents.

“I think that’s an unnecessary burden,” he said, adding that members of the public should be able to speak about anything on their minds.

Council Member Jack Goodwin noted that the council schedules a 10-minute comment period at the beginning of meetings and heard 75 minutes of comments Thursday.

“I think this council is listening to what you (the public) have to say,” he said.

Council Member Bill Bryan thanked the mayor for “doing a better job than you did three weeks ago” in regard to maintaining order and referred to the council as “extremely lenient” when it comes to public participation.

“I would require even the clapping cease. It will get worse if we allow that,” he said.

Hobgood said on Friday that he does not feel the need to be more mindful of the public’s behavior during the meeting.

“I’m always mindful of what’s there. There’s clapping and everything, what’s the big deal if they do it for a second or two or three? The council wastes more time on little things, some of which are nothing. I have not seen any really bad behavior,” he said, noting that criticism is part of the job of an elected official. “Nobody likes criticism, and when it’s aimed at you, you can get a little bit defensive.”

The subject of council discussions outside public meetings also came up during the decorum conversation.

“I know you and I (other council members) do not get together in a cave with hoods and candles to talk about things,” Beresford said.

Bryan said council members do meet or talk outside of open meetings out of necessity.

“As long as it’s not a quorum, it’s OK,” he said.

Bryan then extended an invitation to meet with Hobgood one-on-one.

“That’s what elected officials do when they have differences they want to air out,” he said.

In a conversation Friday, Beresford said he would not be pursuing any code amendments or other changes regarding the city’s official decorum policy.

“There’s no need to continue the debate. The public did a good job behaving themselves. We accomplished what I wanted to accomplish,” he said. “We’ve got to see if it will continue. There is a code for the decorum in the city, and it just was not being recognized.”

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