Thursday's Conyers City Council meeting was the last that members of the public could casually stroll into as they've done for decades. In the wake of a controversial new gun law, they'll now have to pass a guard with a metal detector checking for firearms.
The "Safe Carry Protection Act" - nicknamed "Guns Everywhere" by opponents - allows gun owners with carry permits to bring the guns into any government building, unless there are signs and a checkpoint staffed by a peace officer. The law takes effect July 1.
"I would think that we would want the security," Mayor Randy Mills said in response to City Manager Tony Lucas's call for the upgrade. "The alternative is, they can come packing and sit right there?"
Lucas said that's exactly right. The security "will change the dynamic of how we enter the council chambers. It will be just like court," he said.
While anyone currently could be carrying a gun into council meetings, the concern is that the new law will encourage people to do so. Indeed, some council members said they are already seeing more people openly carrying guns around town.
"I was in Publix the other day and there was a guy with a gun," said Mills.
"I saw a guy [with a gun] in Wal-Mart," added Councilman Gerald Hinesley.
"It'll be a little different, Mayor," said Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson, explaining that all CPD officers have been trained in the new law. "As a culture...we've got to get used to seeing people going around armed maybe more than we have before."
It's unclear whether securing City Council meetings will cost anything extra. But city staff and CPD are still considering placing similar security on other government buildings, such as the probation office. Lucas previously told the News that surely would require spending more funds.
As Lucas explained how guns could be carried into other government offices lacking such security, Mills said, "That's crazy."
"It's going to present us with a lot of challenges," Lucas said, explaining a wide variety of potential impacts, from increased 911 calls from frightened people, to local businesses having to decide whether they will let guns onto their property.
Chief Wilson noted that some major chain stores are stuck between pro-open-carry and pro-gun-ban factions both threatening boycotts.
"It's a real contentious issue based around the Second Amendment," he said.
Lucas repeated his concern that the law also prohibits police officers from demanding to see a gun-carrier's permit. Some councilmen were astounded, with Chris Bowen saying it "makes no sense" that cops can demand to see a driver's license, but not a gun permit. Chief Wilson said that will complicate policing, but suggested it might be tweaked in the next Gold Dome session.
In other council business:
-Changes to the commercial sign ordinances were approved.
Temporary sign permits will now be valid for 30 consecutive days instead of the previous 60. There will be a 45-day waiting period to apply for another permit. Only one gas-filled sign is allowed per lot. Banner signs up to 32 square feet are now allowed for one main entrance.
Neon or LED signs up to 2 square feet are now permitted in first-story businesses within five feet of the main entrance.
-Obtaining an accident report at the desk of the Conyers Police Department will now cost $5, up from $3. The council approved the change, which matches pricing already charged for such reports online by the Georgia Electronic Accident Reporting System. Online reports actually cost $11 total, of which $5 goes to the local police. Chief Wilson said the increase covers administrative costs, especially from insurance company requests.
-The council denied a request from a prospective Dunkin' Donuts franchisee to change the zoning code to allow drive-through windows facing the street in the area around the Sigman Road and Ga. Hwy. 20 intersection.
A Church's Chicken with a drive-through is already going into the former Blockbuster Video building there at 425 Sigman Road NW. The other half of the building is planned as a Dunkin' Donuts, which wants a separate drive-through window. However, it would have to face the street to do so.
Mayor Mills and city planning director Marvin Flanigan said that would be dangerous at that location, and changing the entire zoning code would create legal problems all over town. City attorney Michael Waldrop said it is unclear why the business sought to change the entire zoning code rather than seeking a variance, and that no one from the business appeared at any meetings to support the request.
While the council denied the request, Mills said he would like the city to find a way to help Dunkin' Donuts establish itself in the area.
-A beer and wine retail sales license was approved for Gravity Craft and Homebrew Supply at 1136 Dogwood Drive, Suites A & B (applicant Gordon William Pledger).
-The council appointed Michael Franklin, general manager of the local Quality Inn hotel, to the Conyers Convention and Visitors Bureau. He will serve the term of Hampton Inn's Susan Crowell, who has relocated. The term runs through February 2016.
-A public hearing about the city's Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget was held, but no members of the public spoke about it. City Chief Financial Officer Isabel Rogers said a complete copy is available for viewing at City Hall. The budget vote will come at the next council meeting.
-The council congratulated Marvin Flanigan, the director of planning and inspection services, for being named the "Building Official of the Year" by the Building Officials Association of Georgia. The group's First Vice President, Mark Rice, presented Flanigan with a plaque and a ring known as the "ring of honor."
"It is quite an honor to have this prestigious award," said Flanigan.
-Mills issued a proclamation declaring June 18 Conyers Police Reserve Unit Day in honor of those reservists, who attended the meeting.
-After the meeting, the council entered executive session to discuss "potential litigation."