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Clayton County citizens will have to wait until after tonight’s zoning hearing in order to express their views to the Board of Commissioners.

Under a new ordinance passed at the last meeting, the BOC voted 3-2 to move the public comment period to just before the executive session. That would make it the last agenda item at meetings where no executive session is called.

Zoning matters are treated separately and have a separate public comment period.

The move came after frequent critics of the current board majority demanded to know why former Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins had been fired. Some accused Commissioners Alieka Anderson, Felicia Franklin, and Gail Hambrick of ill will or outright corruption.

The new public comment period also is one-third shorter. Individuals will get two minutes instead of three, and the entire period will last 20 minutes instead of 30.

Hambrick said that she didn’t understand what all the “fuss” was about because public comment used to be at the end of the meeting. Anderson, who had not been on the board at the time, echoed Hambrick’s comment.

However, that claim overlooks a very public fight over public comment.

After a protracted battle over the board censoring televised public comment, which culminated in sign-waving demonstrations outside 112 Smith Street, the former board voted to restore televised public comment, but moved it to the end of the meeting, After former District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson was replaced by DeMont Davis, the public comment period was restored to near the beginning of the meeting.

Since then, Anderson won a special and regular election to District 1, and is part of a de facto voting bloc with Franklin and Hambrick. Critics allege the three are allied with suspended Clayton County Sherif Victor Hill and convicted felon and money launderer Mitzi Bickers, who awaits sentencing on federal bribery charges related to the contracting scandal at Atlanta City Hall.

Hill campaigned for Janice Scott, who challenged Davis for District 4 in the last election and lost. Hill also backed Anderson:

Both campaigns hired Pirouette Companies, Bickers’ consulting company now owned by her partner, Keyla Jackson.

Franklin has said the board needs to keep meetings “in good order” and compared those who criticize board members during public comment with the January 6 mob that descended on the U.S. Capitol.

Tonight’s meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

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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