Avondale Estates City Commission more discusses changes to legislative process
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By Zoe Seiler, contributor
Avondale Estates, GA – The Avondale Estates City Commission met on Wednesday, Jan. 13, using the new meeting format of having a regular meeting followed by a work session.
Commissioners had their regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. and held a work session when that adjourned.
Commissioners further discussed another change to their legislative process.
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The board altered their meeting format at the end of 2020 with the hope of making their work more efficient. The board will meet twice a month on the second and fourth Wednesdays.
The first meeting will be the regular meeting where the City Commission votes on agenda items. Once that meeting adjourns, they will begin the work session to discuss upcoming items in depth. There will now be two weeks in between a work session and a regular meeting rather than a few days.
Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher, at the Dec. 9, 2020, work session, pointed out that the work session legally has to follow the regular meeting so there will not be a situation where the board discusses legislation at a work session and then votes on it immediately.
Additionally, the city is in the process of amending the ordinance reading process, hoping to add more efficiency.
Currently, an ordinance has to go through three readings before it can be voted on.
The City Commission wants to change its charter to reduce the required readings to two, and in some cases to one, if the commissioners unanimously agree to only one reading. However, consent to a vote will not imply a vote for the ordinance, Decaturish previously reported.
Commissioners and residents have concerns about this change and making sure there is time for the public to provide input.
Commissioner Dee Merriam said she feels like this is being done for efficiency and that the city has made progress with that by changing the regular meeting format.
“I’m not real[ly] clear as to what the efficiency we’re achieving out of this charter change,” Merriam said. “As I’ve stated before, I have concerns because I do feel like when we’re changing ordinances and the way the city operates based on those ordinances, they can have implications that we don’t necessarily see at first, and that sometimes it takes a little time to digest them.”
Mayor Jonathan Elmore added that the board can stretch out the process if they need. The commission can defer an agenda item.
“Under present circumstances, now we can’t shorten it so if we’ve got something mundane and just needs to be read and done and everybody agrees with it, it’s done,” Elmore said. “If we don’t agree someone can make a motion to defer and with three votes it’s deferred. So it just gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Resident Jan Hover shared concerns that a vote could happen in two weeks under the new meeting format. She also said that this process would stand for future iterations of the City Commission and there is no guarantee they would honor the two meeting requirement.
“Two weeks is not enough time for residents to process ordinance changes since the board is already cutting the time in which decisions are made by more than half,” Hover said. “A vote taking three months would now with two votes go down to one.”
City Manager Patrick Bryant added that an ordinance will always divert to a second reading unless there is unanimous support for one reading.
Commissioner Lisa Shortell clarified that the process is not going from three months down to one month or two weeks. It’s going from about two months to one month and “it would never be just two weeks for residents to hear about something and then give input,” Shortell said.
The process would always take at least one month, Shortell added. An ordinance would be discussed at a work session, the first reading would happen two weeks later, and the second reading would occur four weeks after the work session.
Hover added that if the board votes unanimously then the process would take two weeks and said that could apply to virtually all ordinances.
“That’s accurate in the case of the unanimous vote to proceed immediately,” City Attorney Stephen Quinn said.
The City Commission used its work session to address any concerns and emphasize that the goal of these changes is not to stifle public comment.
Fisher said he has never been involved in a situation with the city where anyone expressed an intent to not inform the public about city business.
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“I do hope that what we’re doing doesn’t do that,” Fisher said. “I do think that we will continue to make sure that our residents know and understand and are involved in what’s happening before we ever got to the point of taking it to a vote, or something like that. What I did agree to do was to listen and hear more.”
Commissioner Lionel Laratte agreed, saying that “the intent is not to solicit less input from residents.” The intent is to move some things along faster, especially topics that don’t need much discussion and would get done anyway, he said.
The process to change the city charter is different than passing other ordinances or amendments. After the third reading, the board will have to vote to approve the amendment at two consecutive regular meetings.
The City Commission will meet next on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 5:30 p.m. through Zoom.
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