GEORGETOWN — Georgetown City Council has launched a new public consultation procedure for its meetings that has angered some community leaders who feel their views will not be considered.
The ordinance passed this month added a second public comment period to council meetings, immediately before adjournment and after council members meet in closed session.
The second public comment period is reserved for people who wish to comment “on municipal services, business or other matters of the city that are not on the agenda”.
Previously, a single public comment period near the start of the meeting allowed for public comments, whether or not they related to items on the meeting’s agenda.
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Marvin Neal, president of the NAACP’s Georgetown branch, said the board moving many comments to the end of meetings suggests “they’re telling us, as black people, that we don’t want to hear from you, to hell with you. with you, and I don’t care.”
The order also allows law enforcement to remove speakers exhibiting “disruptive behavior”.
Mayor Carol Jayroe told the Georgetown Times the order was only to expedite monthly council meetings.
“We have to understand that it benefits our meetings to run smoothly and to get a meeting done efficiently,” Gyroe said. “That’s what it’s about.”
Opponents of the order say it infringes on free speech.
Jacqueline Williams, political and community liaison for the AFL-CIO in South Carolina, said placing the second public comment period after the executive session – which she said could stretch for hours – shows that the city doesn’t want to hear from its constituents.
At the Jan. 20 board meeting, Williams spoke on behalf of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, Georgetown NAACP and United Steelworkers as the future of the downtown Liberty Steel plant subject of debate. She discussed efforts by United Steelworkers Local 7898 President James Sanderson to arrange a meeting with the board, which saw two new members elected in 2021.
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Williams also said she would submit a request for a meeting with Sanderson, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and the churches involved in the AFL-CIO’s Faith and Labor project.
When Williams reached the five-minute time limit, Gyroe informed Williams that his time was up. Williams went on to say at a Feb. 17 press conference that she was “just trying to finish a sentence.”
“I looked at the footage from that meeting to see how long I was actually over the time limit, which no one gave us any guidelines on, and it was about 13 seconds,” Williams said.
Williams said there was no physical indicator, like a clock, of how much time she had left, and no guidelines given for public comment at the start of the meeting.
She said she was worried about being forcibly removed by police for going over her speaking time under new comment rules.
The city’s code previously stated that in the event of continued disruptive behavior, which includes failure to meet public comment deadlines, “the mayor shall direct the person to be removed from the meeting.”
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Jayroe said the board welcomes public comment, “but people will talk at the end of the meeting if it’s not on an agenda item, period.”
No one registered for either public comment period at the March 17 meeting.