Chairman Randy Ognio wants the County Board of Commissioners to rethink allowing unlimited public comments at their meetings. 

In end of meeting commissioner’s comments at Thursday night’s meeting, Ognio proposed a change to public comments. 

“I think we might look at changing that, if it’s okay with everybody, and limit it to just five minutes per comment just to speed the meetings up,” he said.

Ognio made a motion that was later withdrawn to limit public comments to five minutes per speaker, but the other commissioners weren’t ready to make a decision.

“I would encourage us to look at those nuances first and present something,” said Commissioner Charles Rousseau. “At the end of the meeting, I think it might do us a disservice to vote on it now.”

Commissioner Eric Maxwell expressed support for the suggestion, saying it could help limit repetitive comments that make meetings drag on into the night.

“I will say that, on at least three occasions that I remember over the last couple years, we were here listening for several hours, listening sometimes to the same argument and sometimes for 15 minutes at a time for the same argument, and I think that’s what you’re trying to address,” he said to Ognio. “(Citizens) want to talk about this, and we want to hear it, but we don’t want to hear it 15 times from 15 different folks if you’re saying the exact things. If you’re saying something new, we’re more than happy to receive that information, and (we’re) just trying to be a little expeditious for a formal meeting.”

Throwing a wrench into the discussion was what would be done with debate over public hearings. Ognio suggested limiting the time to 10 minutes per side maximum.

“But that’s going to mean people need to talk quickly and not take up too much time so that more people can talk,” he said.

Putting a cap on speakers for public hearings would be a more complicated process, as staff would have to be directed to rework the ordinance and take it to the Planning Commission. 

Even with an immediate change to public hearing procedures off the table, Rousseau still wasn’t ready to commit to changing public comments.

“Even if it’s centered on that, I would hesitate because we didn’t give public the benefit, even if they’re watching to some degree, to know that we’re making that change because their expectations have been for X amount of years that it’s unlimited,” he said.

Ognio’s proposal did not limit the total time limit for public comments, but Commissioner Edge Gibbons thought it would be worth considering, and he cited an AJC story examining procedures among other government bodies, with Cobb the only other county with no limits.

“I’d personally like to see a time limit for the total number,” he said. “I think that’s pretty reasonable.” 

At the commissioners’ request, staff will look at the county’s policy on public comments and compare it to best practices around the state and bring that information back at the next meeting.