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Explainers

Atlanta City Council Proposes New Ordinance to Ensure Residents Are Heard in Public Comment

The ordinance could mean residents can expect changes at future council meetings.

(Photo by Braunger/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

If you’ve ever been to an Atlanta City Council meeting and tried to speak during the public comment section, you may have had to wait several hours to state your piece.

Now, the city is proposing a change to its public comment system to help ensure that all residents can voice their concerns.

Here’s what you need to know.

How does public comment work? 

At the start of each city council meeting, Atlanta residents are allotted two minutes each to speak with council members about any issue outside of zoning. 

Interested residents must sign up for the slots before the 1 p.m. meeting. When called, they can speak about any piece of legislation or give their views on community issues.

If public comment continues beyond the time set aside in the meeting agenda, council members can vote to extend the period. 

What is the issue? 

The issue stemmed from what council members were doing before citizens were allowed to speak.

Historically, council members would take time at the start of every full council meeting to honor community members with proclamations. 

These proclamations sometimes took hours to complete, pushing back the timeline for residents to voice their concerns and delaying how long it took before legislation was read to the public.

According to some reports, at the May 15 meeting, proclamations took well over an hour to complete before nearly 300 people were given time to speak against the proposed public safety training facility dubbed “Cop City” by its critics.  

So, what would actually changing?

Proclamations won’t completely go away.

But, according to the proposal, city council would move the commending period to 11 a.m., preceding the full council meeting.

Proclamations were previously slated as the sixth agenda item. Now, proclamations will be removed from council agendas altogether, allowing for immediate public comment after statements from elected officials, according to the ordinance.

How can I sign up for public comment at meetings moving forward in the meantime?

Before the beginning of each council meeting, a running list is available outside council chambers for residents to sign up to speak. As long as you register before 1 p.m., you can make public comments. 

I can’t make City Council in person. Where can I watch online?

Council meetings are always live-streamed on the city’s website, Youtube, Facebook and Channel 26. Each meeting, public comment and agenda will also be posted and archived on the city’s website here

Full council meetings are held every first and third Monday of the month. You can check the city’s meeting calendar here.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when the public comment ordinance went into effect. The ordinance is still pending in committee and hasn’t passed City Council yet.