ARC Public Comment Policy Falls Short
By Field Searcy
September 28, 2014
Last Wednesday, twelve private citizens addressed the Atlanta Regional Commission about the adoption of a more friendly public comment policy at the monthly board meetings. For some on the board, the comments were not welcomed. Maybe they were offended by the tone or the political correctness. Maybe the words cut to close too home. Or, maybe they’ve forgotten the price that was paid to secure the right.
The very foundation of the First Amendment was the right of political speech of the people to petition their government or challenge its authority. The ARC receives federal, state and local money. Its existence is the creature of government legislation at the state and federal level even its structure violates the republican form of government. In every way, it is bound by the Constitution for the United States and the Georgia Constitution. In fact, the board members all swear an oath of allegiance to the same.
While all the ARC board members have busy lives and political careers, they should never be too busy to hear from the people that have delegated representative authority to them.
Indeed, the policy adopted is more liberal than the previous policy which required a 10 day notice, a motion by a board member, a second and a 2/3rd’s vote. The new policy on public comment remains inadequate for the following reasons.
- For a regional commission for 10 counties and a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) of 20 counties representing more than 5 million people, allowing a total of only 10 minutes with up to 2 minutes per person is not sufficient. Even Cobb County, which has recently been under fire for limiting public comment, has a more liberal policy.
- Given the limited amount of time allotted for public comment, safeguards should have been included to allow time for all points of view to be heard. Witness the backlash that was caused in Cobb by stacking of the deck with supporting voices against the citizens with opposing views. A true consultative approach of allowing differing opinions should be protected. A wise person once said “The shining spark of truth, cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.”
- Public comment should be guaranteed directly in the ARC governing bylaws rather than a policy that can be changed “from time to time.”
The ARC Board passed the new policy with a vote of 19-7. We don’t believe the 7 that voted “no” are against free speech. Quite the contrary, we believe they wanted the sounding committee to rework the policy with some of the reasons cited above in mind. We salute them for their courage to not vote in lockstep with the rest. This was really the significant event since rarely is there ever a dissenting vote on any ARC Board decisions.
For too long, the people have been asleep and silent; not paying attention to what our elected representatives have been doing. We were too busy or too trusting to notice that authority was being subverted to unelected persons that cannot be held accountable to the people.
That is no longer the case. All across the spectrum, a political awakening is taking shape. The citizens are coming together, rediscovering that “We The People” are the sovereigns’ of the government and are reclaiming our rightful place to keep the government accountable and safeguard our liberties.
Field Searcy, a Cobb citizen, represents RepealRegionalism.com an education campaign by the Transportation Leadership Coalition, LLC which led the grassroots effort against the Regional Transportation Tax (TSPLOST) in 2012.
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