OPINION: Let the Public Speak!

Elected officials serve at our pleasure. From the local dog catcher to the President of the United States, they are supposed to be responsive to our concerns. And some do it better than others. The Atlanta City Council is exemplary in this regard, allowing citizens to stand before them and give public comment.

Given the stature of free speech in our Constitution, you might think that’s the norm. It is not.

From school boards to city councils and county commissions, I would bet many people think it's a constitutional right to address their elected officials. Not in Georgia. There is no requirement for a local government to allow public comment, which makes the Atlanta City Council look even better. Any citizen gets two minutes at the beginning of a meeting to vent. Need more than two minutes? Have a few friends sign up, and they can yield their time to you. Up to 16 minutes!!

But guess what happens in the northeast Georgia mountains in Rabun County?

Citizens have been silenced!

Rabun County residents used to get a few minutes to speak about any issue important to them or their community, but now they are limited to speaking about a topic on the agenda - an agenda set by the Commissioners. Those Commissioners decided their meetings were too long.

Even under the previous rules, the average MONTHLY commission meeting lasted a whopping hour. If you want to get into a non-agenda issue, then you have to ask the Commissioners to put you on the agenda. The same Commissioners that don't want the meeting to last too long!! Good luck with that!

And what topics do these trouble making citizens want to address? Such aggravating issues as tax relief for senior citizens and opposing the county's attempts to take over the city water system.  And by the way, at least one commissioner owns property that would skyrocket in value if city water comes to the county.

App users: Click here to watch Watch William Perry comment about public comment!

So what's the answer?

I think the Georgia legislature should create a law requiring local governments to allow a reasonable amount of time for public comment during any public meeting.  That way, the good folks in Rabun County and everywhere else cannot be silenced.

In this election season, when they ask for your vote, tell them to let the public speak!