Dawsonville city council member Mark French and Mayor Mike Eason are spearheading an effort to create a dedicated time during meetings for citizens to address the council and other city boards and authorities.
Currently citizens are not provided the opportunity to speak in front of the council during meetings except for during public hearings in which anyone can speak on the specific agenda item being addressed.
French said he drew from other city and county public comment policies, resources from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia and his own personal experience of more than 20 years in local government to draft his proposed policy.
“If approved, it will provide the residents of Dawsonville an opportunity to be heard," he said. "Speaking on behalf of myself as a public servant, I see it as my duty to ensure that the residents of Dawsonville have a city government that not only values but welcomes their input.”
The policy is similar to one already in place by the Dawson County Board of Commissioners, which allows public comment at two designated times during voting sessions.
His proposal outlines that 20 minutes would be reserved at the during the council’s regular meetings prior to the council taking action upon items. Comments at that time must be specific to the agenda, and citizens may not speak longer than five minutes unless permitted additional time to speak by the mayor.
Twenty minutes would also be reserved prior to adjournment of any meeting of the council for public comment. Comments would not have to be specific to the agenda.
French’s proposal would also extend the same rules to other boards in the city including the Historic Preservation Commission, the planning commission and Downtown Development Authority.
Mayor Mike Eason also drafted his own procedures and they were added to the agenda at the start of the July 23 meeting.
Under his proposal, public comment would take place during work sessions as opposed to at regular meetings and citizens wishing to speak during public comment would have to complete a public comment request for and submit it to the city clerk no later than two business days prior to each work session.
If a citizen misses the deadline they can petition any council member to be allowed to speak at a meeting, and then must be approved by vote of the council.
Thirty minutes would be allotted for the public to speak at the end of the work session agenda with five minutes for each speaker. The proposal does not address other meetings within the city.
“It can’t be involving our personnel or staff or anything that has to do with pending litigation but we do need to hear from the public in an open forum and I’m very supportive of doing that,” Eason said.
French took issue with citizens needing to sign up so far in advance in order to speak at the meetings, and stated that agendas are frequently amended once meetings have been called to order, giving citizens no time to respond.
He stated that limiting public comment to work sessions would deny citizens the time to research items before speaking.
Eason said he did not want to impose public comment on the Historical Preservation Commission, the planning commission or the Downtown Development Authority, as proposed in French’s policy.
“They are all groups of professional people with smart folks on those commissions and authorities and if they want public comment they can put that in but I don’t feel that we should mandate they have all this public comment without them having input into it, I don’t want to force that on people that have volunteered their time to help serve the city,” he said.
The city is also wrangling how to deal with congested roadways in city subdivisions, which are often too crowded by cars parking in the road.
Public Works Operations Manager Trampas Hansard brought up his concerns about on-street parking within subdivisions during the council’s June 4 meeting, and stated that emergency services and law enforcement were having a hard time navigating the streets due to cars parked on both sides of the roadways.
He presented several recommendations that he wished the council to consider imposing on all subdivisions in the city, including no overnight parking, only parking on one side of the street, parking permitted for a maximum of five hours and no parking within 150 from an intersection, among others.
The council voted to have City Attorney draw up an ordinance addressing the concerns. The ordinance would not apply to private streets.
On July 23 the council discussed the issue again, with particular emphasis on the street widths within city subdivisions. Most are around 24 feet wide, with a few that are wider. With two feet subtracted on each side for the curb, that leaves only 20 feet for cars to park and other cars to navigate around them.
Hansard said that the average width of a car is five feet, and if cars are parked on both sides of the street, that leaves only ten feet for neighborhood residents and emergency services vehicles to travel.
Of the 12 subdivisions in the city, nine have homeowners associations while three do not.
“Most of the HOAs have mechanisms for dealing with this, but the problem is several don’t have HOAs and we have to deal with those individually,” Eason said.
The ordinance drafted by Miles outlines fines that can be issued to those who violate the parking rules.
Eason said the city needs to be careful about how it develops streets in the future.
“Twenty-four foot streets aren’t practical,” he said. “Some of the concerns not just public safety are people negotiating around curves, people backing out of their driveway but can’t get out of their driveway because someone is parked across from them, it causes a lot of discomfort. Some of these subdivisions don’t have a lot of parking and they don’t use their garages.”
Eason also referenced a 4th of July fire that occured in the Burt’s Crossing subdivision, destroying three homes and damaging many others at the front of the subdivision.
“If those fires had been at the back of that subdivision, it would have been very difficult for the fire trucks to get back there,” Eason said.
The council has yet to schedule public hearings for the proposed ordinance.