Monroe County Commissioners postponed on Tuesday, Aug. 6 a vote to adopt new guidelines on how county meetings are run and how long members of the public would have to speak.
Monroe County attorney Ben Vaughn said he wrote the ordinance amendment primarily using meeting rules established by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). Commissioners discussed the amendment for an hour in their first pre-meeting work session but tabled it after revisions were suggested. The amendment was presented 19 days after District 1 commissioner Larry Evans and District 3 commissioner John Ambrose engaged in a public feud during a July 18 meeting that ended with Ambrose accusing Evans of violating the county’s new ethics policy by revealing publicly a discussion that occurred in closed session.
Perhaps the most notable section of the new document is Section 7 titled, “Decorum.” The Decorum section would make personal arguments like the one between Ambrose and Evans violations of the code of ethics. Section 7 reads: “The Chair shall enforce the rules of decorum. The purpose of meetings of the Board of Commissioners is to conduct the County’s business. Meetings shall be conducted in an orderly fashion. They are not a forum to belittle, ridicule or embarrass county commissioners, other county officials, county employees, or others in attendance at the meeting. Violation of the rules of decorum in this ordinance by a member of the Board of Commissioners, a county employee or county official shall be a violation of the Monroe County Code of Ethics.”
Commissioners objected to details of the ordinance. Ambrose said he opposes a rule that would only allow the four district commissioners to direct their comments to the commission chairman, Greg Tapley, instead of each other or to members of the public. Vaughn said the county’s customary parliamentary procedure under “Robert’s Rules of Order” is organized in such a way that commissioners should only address comments to the chairman.
Ambrose said he also disagrees with a rule that would bar commissioners from publicly opposing an approved board action.
Ambrose asked, “You mean if there’s a vote taken on this board and it’s not to my liking and I vote against it, I can’t say a word publicly or anything about it? Then I disagree with that.”
Vaughn replied that commissioners are already prohibited by state law from speaking out against actions taken by the board.
Vaughn said, “You can oppose an action before an action is taken, but once the board votes and takes an action, you’re not supposed to publicly oppose the action taken by the board.”
A significant procedural change outlined in the proposed ordinance would require county commissioners, the county attorney and county department heads to submit items to be included on an upcoming meeting agenda by noon on Thursday prior to the next Tuesday’s regular meeting. County commissioners and employees used to have until the end of the business day on Friday. Vaughn initially proposed moving the time required to submit items for the agenda to one week before the scheduled meeting, but county manager Jim Hedges said the Friday before the Tuesday meeting was sufficient. Commissioners then settled on the Thursday before the Tuesday meeting as a compromise between Hedges and Vaughn.
District 4 commissioner George Emami said he thinks the requirements for agenda item information included in the proposed ordinance are too onerous. The ordinance instructs commissioners to provide such specifics as the amount of money required to implement an agenda item and a statement of why the agenda request is needed and how it would affect the county.
Emami, who requested an item for discussion on the Aug. 6 regular meeting agenda about making an amendment to the county’s building code, said, “I would not have wanted to have had to go and prepare a financial analysis for bringing this up tonight. And that would have irritated me to have to do that when I just want to get a poll and see what y’all think.”
Vaughn replied that general brainstorming ideas like Emami’s should be discussed in future work sessions and said items to be included on a regular meeting agenda should have more details.
Another major procedural change would require members of the public wishing to be on the agenda also to provide notification to the county manager by noon on Thursday. Members of the public wishing to give public comments at meetings without prior notification will still be allowed to do so under the new ordinance but will be restricted to a time limit of three minutes per person.
A hearing led by an independent arbiter to determine whether Evans violated the county’s ethics policy is slated for Tuesday, Aug. 27. Evans revealed during the July 18 meeting that Ambrose had previously been accused by a county employee of soliciting her for sex last year, an item only discussed previously in closed session. Ambrose has staunchly denied the accusation and no known investigation into the matter ever took place.