The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to cut public comment time by one-third and to move the public comment period towards the end of the meeting near executive session. In a separate ordinance, the board also voted 3-2 to turn over executive powers of the elected county chair to the appointed chief operating officer, making the COO the supervisor of nearly all other appointed department heads and giving the COO the power to approve most contract modifications and change orders under $75,000 without the board having to vote on approving those changes in public.

The board did not include the PDF copies of the actual resolution text in the online agenda packet before taking the votes, nor were they added when the meeting summary was posted online.

On Thursday, The Clayton Crescent asked for copies of the ordinance texts that had been passed. We received them on Friday morning, including what was noted as a revised version of the public comment ordinance. County Attorney Charles Reed said the “revised” note did not include any substantive revisions to the ordinance and that it only means the file was resaved.

Here is the public’s first look at these new laws:

Limiting public comment time and content

Ordinance 2022-133 limits public comment to 2 minutes per person and 20 minutes per meeting, down from 3 minutes per person and 3o minutes per meeting. It also places the public comment period just before the executive session at the end of the agenda. Changes to the ordinance read:

(a) (1) The board welcomes public comment; however to manage available time,
public comment will be limited to two minutes per speaker at each regular
business meeting of the board of commissioners, however, in no event shall the
public comment period last longer than 20 minutes at any single meeting. All
public comments must be limited to matters on the agenda or over matters which
the governing body has jurisdiction.


(2) Speakers must maintain a decorous demeanor and refrain from personal
attacks upon members of the governing body, shouting and using obscene
language. Comments which are redundant or repetitive from previous statements
made in the same meeting may be ruled out of order and terminated by the
presiding officer. The presiding officer may interrupt and take the floor away
from individuals who violate this subsection
.

(3) At the end of the 20 minute public comment period, if any member of the
public who has signed up to speak has not been reached, that person shall have
the right to be carried forward to the next regular business meeting of the board
and shall be placed at the top of the list at that meeting. Any member of the public
wishing to make comment must sign up with the clerk prior to the call of the
meeting.


(4) Public comment shall occur at the regular meetings of the board immediately
preceding executive session.

We have asked the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the University of Georgia Law First Amendment Clinic to comment on the new ordinance. Last year, a federal appeals court ruled that citizens cannot be removed from public meetings for “personally directed” or “abusive” comments insulting or criticizing an elected official, because doing so would mean the government is unconstitutionally regulating the speaker’s First Amendment rights.

Moving power from the elected to the appointed

Ordinance 2022-134 puts the chief operating officer in charge of adding departmental items, like budget requests and contracts, to the agenda:

(b) Department heads wishing to place an item on the agenda. Any
department head may submit an item to the chief operating officer for
consideration as an agenda item. Such items shall be reviewed by the
chief operating officer to ensure that the item is consistent with the
policies and direction of the board of commissioners, and that any
required budgetary impact is reviewed and approved by the chief
financial officer. Such items shall also be reviewed and approved by
the staff attorney’s office, except for budget items submitted by the
finance department. If approved, the chief operating officer will notify
the clerk and supply supporting documents by close of business on the
Wednesday before the next meeting. Items submitted after that time
will be placed on the agenda for the meeting immediately following
the next meeting.

It also gives the COO the power to approve contracts under $75,000:

Sec. 2-135. – Approval of contracts.

(b) Chief operating officer authority. The chief operating officer or his/her
designee shall have the authority to sign all formal, written contracts up to
$74,999.99. Those contracts in excess of $74,999.99 shall be signed after
adoption and approval of the purchase by official action of the board of
commissioners.

It also gives the COO the power to approve contract modifications and change orders, which are the bread and butter of contractors, under $75,000, if the amount is no more than 20% of the original contract. In other words, the COO would have the power to sign a $74,999.99 check for additional charges or price increases on a contract that originally was approved for $374,999.95 or more. If the change order on a smaller contract pushes the new total to $75,000, the board would have to vote on the proposed change:

Sec. 2-136. – Change orders and contract modification.

(b) Chief operating officer authority. The chief operating officer or
his/her designee shall have authority to approve all change orders to
purchase orders and contracts up to an absolute value of 20 percent of the
original contract, provided the total change order amount is less than
$74,999.99. If the original contract or purchase order price did not exceed
$74,999.99, but the change order will make the total price of the contract
exceed $74,999.99, then the change order requires approval by official
action of the board of commissioners. Change orders to contracts that did
not require official action of the board of commissioners upon the original
execution thereof and which amend the scope of work, term, time and/or total
cost not exceeding $74,999.99 may be approved by the chief operating officer
or his/her designee in the same manner as the original contract.

The new ordinance also takes away the elected BOC chair’s authority as the person to whom most appointed department heads report—the Finance Department is not listed—and gives that power to the appointed COO:

Sec. 2-11. – Chief operating officer.

The board of commissioners hereby authorizes the chief operating officer to
perform the following duties in addition to those duties provided for in other
sections of the Code of Clayton County as well as in other county resolutions
and ordinances previously approved by the board:
(1) The chief operating officer shall supervise the following department director positions and persons holding said positions shall report
directly to the chief operating officer:

C Building Maintenance
Central Services
Community Development
Correction s
Economic Development
Elections and Registration
Extension Service
Fire Department
Fleet Maintenance
Human Resources
Indigent Defense
Information Technology
Library
Parks and Recreation
Police Department
Senior Services
Tax Assessor
Transportation and Development

The director of human resources is hereby authorized to update the
class specifications for the department director positions listed in section 2-
11(1) to reflect this reporting structure.


(2) The chief operating officer shall have the authority to
interview candidates for department director positions and recommend
candidates to the Board of Commissioners. The chief operating officer shall
have the authority to organize a committee to assist with this process.


(3) The chief operating officer shall have the authority to conduct
investigations and take disciplinary actions regarding department directors
provided that only the board of commissioners shall have the authority to
demote or terminate a department director. The chief operating officer shall
have the authority to investigate allegations regarding department directors
and to submit a recommendation for the demotion or termination of a
department director to the board of commissioners.

(4) The chief operating officer shall have the authority to conduct
performance reviews for department directors.

(5) The chief operating officer shall oversee, monitor and advise
contractors and/or department directors that are assigned to SPLOST
projects to ensure that all SPLOST projects are implemented as required in
the chief operating officer’s classification specification.

(6) The chief operating officer will manage daily operations and
strategic execution of initiatives assigned to department directors and direct
reports as assigned by the chairman and/or board of commissioners.

(7) In the event the chief operating officer position is vacant or
the chief operating officer is unable to perform the duties of the office all
duties vested in that position shall be carried out by the chairman of the board of commissioners.


Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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