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Georgia’s Albany Commission set to vote on rules for conducting meetings

By Alan Mauldin

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    ALBANY (Albany Herald) — In September 2020 and again in June 2021, anger spilled into an Albany City Commission meeting, with protesters loudly making their voices heard on issues related to COVID-19.

The 2020 discussion centered around a controversial face mask ordinance that narrowly passed in a 4-3 vote, and the second involved the city’s 2020-2021 budgeting of federal coronavirus relief funds for sewer/stormwater system repairs.

After the June meeting, during which protesters banged on the windows at the back of the meeting room and chanted so loudly commissioners had a hard time hearing each other, Ward IV Commissioner Chad Warbington led the call for a revamping of the city’s meeting procedures. The commission had a lengthy discussion at a retreat earlier this year, and a set of rules formulated as a result is up for a Tuesday vote.

During the pandemic, the commission has held meetings with as few as three members attending in person and a majority attending online, although more commissioners have been attending in person in recent months.

To accommodate the unusual situation, Mayor Bo Dorough and the commission have adopted a procedure of holding a round of questions for each presenter who addresses the board and then another round of comments from commissioners.

At times the result has been a 30-minute presentation and question-and-answer period for a single speaker, and limiting such episodes appears to be one of the issues addressed in the new rules of commission procedure and comportment.

Under the draft presented to commissioners this month, the number of speakers allowed to comment during work sessions on matters that are not on the agenda is limited to two, and residents are encouraged to first contact city staff and his or her commissioner before bringing a concern to the full commission.

City residents who wish to address the commission would be required to fill out a speaker appearance form and would have five minutes to comment followed by a five-minute period for commissioners to ask questions, for a maximum of 10 minutes per speaker.

The five-minute question period could be extended by the mayor, but a majority of four commissioners could overrule that decision.

In work session matters that are on the agenda speakers would be given three minutes to speak with no time set aside for questions from commissioners.

In all cases, speakers would be required to follow rules of conduct.

“All speakers appearing before the Commission on any matter or issue must be respectful and courteous in their language and comportment and must not engage in or comment on personalities or indulge in derogatory remarks or insinuations in respect to any member of the commission, or any member of the staff or the public, but must always confine their remarks to those facts which are germane and relevant to the question or matter under discussion,” the draft document states.

The rules also prohibit speakers from endorsing or making derogatory comments about a candidate in a political comment, and the mayor would have the authority to manage or limit those who violate the commenting rules.

Other sections deal with the media, specifying that reporters are to sit in a specified area and prohibiting movement beyond the speaker’s podium in the meeting room.

Another section prohibits commissioners from recording or broadcasting meetings while being involved as part of the meeting quorum.

One concern raised by Warbington following the June meeting was a person with a camera who filmed commissioners while on the dais where commissioners sit.

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