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Stone Mountain City Council removes limit on number of speakers during public comment

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Stone Mountain City Council removes limit on number of speakers during public comment

City of Stone Mountain Municipal Building. Photo by Dean Hesse.

By Jaedon Mason, contributor 

Stone Mountain, GA — In response to the city council’s Feb. 7 decision to limit public comments during meetings, the Stone Mountain City council passed a motion at its Feb. 22 meeting to eliminate the overall time limit for public comments.

Councilmember Theresa Crowe made the motion. 

Each speaker is still limited to 3 minutes, but there is no longer an overall time limit for the duration of public comments, under the council’s new policy.

In the Feb. 7 meeting, the council had agreed to shorten the public comment period to allow state Rep. Billy Mitchell, who was present, to speak. 

Mike Schaaphok, a former candidate for city council, became angry when the public comment period ended before he was allowed to speak. He delivered an ultimatum to the council, refusing to yield his time, and was eventually removed.

This week’s session was laden with unresolved tension from those events. The session began with a dispute about the minutes of the Feb. 7 meeting, resulting in a 4-2 vote to postpone those minutes until the next meeting. 

Crowe made the motion, arguing that the minutes didn’t accurately reflect the order of events in that meeting. 

City Clerk Shawntez Edmondson insisted that city staff had gone back through the recording of the previous meeting and that the current record was accurate.   

Schaaphok, the man removed from the last meeting, spoke during public comments at the Feb. 22 meeting. 

“Many people have come up to me since the last meeting to both congratulate and chastise me, and I have been in the enviable position of coming to the defense of city council,” he said. 

He presented the council with a framed “Words of Wisdom” placard, with a short prose poem seemingly and a handwritten note with Proverbs 12:15 on the back. 

That passage says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”

Later, when the mayor opened the floor for council remarks, Councilmember Crowe put forward a motion to remove the limit on the number of speakers, with a three-minute time limit per speaker.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be elected by the citizens of our town and I think we need to listen to their voices, and we have had meetings as late as 11:30-12:00,” Crowe said. “And if we can hold meetings that late, we can allow our citizens to voice their concerns… I don’t think we should have a time limit overall.” 

In discussion, Councilmember Gil Freeman said that people make their voices heard when they elect city councilmembers and councilmembers represent those voices.

“Public comment…is a privilege, not a right,” he said.

Mayor Beverly Jones clarified that the last meeting was more of an exception to the rule, citing the special guest, Rep. Billy Mitchel. 

“Sometimes we let it go a little longer, and sometimes we have to cut it a little short, but good, bad, or indifferent we always listen to the citizens comment,” Mayor Jones said. 

Crowe’s motion on public comments ended up passing 4-2

In other business, the city council:

– Passed a resolution to finalize the change they made to issue credit cards to the city council, police chief, and public works director. This new system was introduced in January and the goal is to eliminate the step of having to go through the process of reimbursing, by instead distributing credit cards that can only be used on budgeted items.

– City Manager Darnetta Tyus gave a report about the remaining $3.8 million in SPLOST funding for the city. The number comes from the $2.8 million that was left over from last year and the estimation that it will come in at about $100,000 a month for the rest of the year. 

The city plans to spend $2.6 million repairing eight streets, with the remainder allocated to a two-phase investment in parks. Phase 1 will be $566,000 toward improving the facilities – such as bathrooms – park properties. Phase 2 will be $540,000 for work on the sites themselves, including improving parking and trails.

– Jelani Linder, chair of the Stone Mountain Development Authority, gave a presentation on behalf of the Planning Commission and the DDA, reporting they had approved a request for a specific vacation rental, and enacted a policy forbidding entities from outside of DeKalb County from renting out vacation properties. 

He also reported that work on the 1054 Main Street mural has begun and that Granite Mountain Distillery will also open April 20 with a kick-off event at 6:30 p.m.

— Mark Marianos, a Stone Mountain resident with a background in History and Architecture, was also introduced to the council to be considered for appointment to the Historic Preservation Commission. 

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