COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meetings have not been without their fair share of lengthy debate and discussion surrounding everything from youth facility locations to who should receive federal COVID relief funds.
But this Tuesday’s BOC meeting could likely determine the frequency of such meetings going forward.
One of the agenda items discussed during the Feb. 21 meeting was whether the traditional bimonthly meetings should be reduced to a single monthly meeting.
March was the original target month for the change, but after discussion it was decided to table discussion and a decision until the March 7 meeting.
Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes said this this was a topic commissioners had discussed “amongst ourselves” for sometime, and during the public discourse regarding the change during the Feb. 21 meeting, there seemed to be mixed feelings.
“The feedback I’ve received has not been favorable, although I’ve (said) I’d support going to a single meeting,” said District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards. “My request is that you never go into any action planning to fail, but that we can’t be afraid to retreat from this if we find this isn’t proper.”
District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders expressed a concern of getting meeting information in “an ample amount of time” in the once-a-month meeting setup.
“The only way I’d agree to this is if we have something put in place that constituents and commissioners get the information at least a week before the meeting,” Sanders said.”
Banes suggested that the once-a-month meeting schedule would allow meetings to be more streamlined for matters that interest the public because the often-lengthy zoning cases would be set aside for special called meetings instead of being a part of the general meeting agendas.
In that vein, County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter offered up a solution that he said he’s seen work for other governmental entities.
“You may find it beneficial, regardless of how many meetings you have, to separate your agenda into such that you have one meeting that covers routine business items, and a second meeting devoted to more ‘public-facing’ matters,” he said.
He defined “public-facing matters” as those that may be more time-consuming because of the potential for generating a lot of lengthy debate or are controversial and create a lot of public comment, compared to such issues as routine bid awards.
“That would be a little more work on the agenda creation side, and advanced planning, but that seems to work for many governments,” he said. “You separate out the drudgery work that people aren’t interested in.”
While it appears that the aim of the change would be to provide shortened meetings for commissioners and constituents, District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he feared that the change could actually make already long BOC meetings longer.
“Sometimes we have meetings that go almost all night long,” Henderson said. “If we have just one meeting, well, I guess it’d last into the next morning.”
He added that a decision on meeting frequency should be more about residents’ needs and availability to attend than the commissioners’ convenience.
“If it’s not broke, stop trying to fix something when it’s not broke,” Henderson said. “And it’s not broke. We know it’s not broke. It may be easier on us, but is it easier on our constituents? There should be a work session to discuss this where we invite our constituents in to see what they want. It’s about the people, not us.”
Sanders eventually made a motion to table the discussion until the Tuesday, March 7, BOC meeting so that “our staff can write down the options that we have” in going to one meeting.
“We could then have constituents look at it and possibly put out a poll to see what they think of it,” Sanders said.
The motion was seconded by Henderson and passed 5-0 to pick the discussion back up in the Tuesday meeting. Because the Board did not take final action on the plan, the regular series of March BOC meetings will continue as scheduled.