HAMPTON – The Hampton City Council approved perhaps the most liberal public comment policy in the county at its meeting Tuesday.
The new public comment policy will allow individual residents to provide comment for three minutes at a time for a total of up to 30 minutes at the start of the meeting, as well as three minutes for each agenda item, for a comment period not to exceed 12 minutes for each agenda item.
The policy is the only one in Henry County that allows residents to comment on each individual agenda item and is similar to one the city had in place until the summer of 2018, when the City Council approved policy that allowed for 15 minutes of public comment at the start of a meeting, to be extended to 30 minutes if the council decided to do so.
That move in 2018 was not popular with members of the Hampton public, who suggested the shortening of public comment might have discouraged residents from participating in local government. The argument then was that the change in policy would allow City Council meetings to end earlier than they had been.
Since then, members of the Hampton public have asked for the comment policy to revert to the one in place prior to 2018, and supporters of the amendment on the council suggested that it would be rare that meetings would be extended because of the new policy.
“We did this for 14 years, and you’ll find for most of the items, nobody’s going to go up and speak,” said Councilman Henry Byrd. “Maybe one or two items will be a hot topic, but people have the right to talk about it.”
The public comment rule might have changed in part due to a change in the makeup of the council. At the council’s meeting in November, Byrd made a move to change the public comment rules to the pre-2018 rule; the move was rejected by the council.
However, returning Councilmembers Marty Meeks and Mary Ann Mitcham, in their first City Council meeting since being sworn in to new terms, voted in favor of the rule change at the meeting Tuesday.
Public comment policies vary among the governing bodies in Henry County. In Stockbridge, commenters are required to register beforehand and are given three minutes to speak. McDonough calls for for commenters to register beforehand and provides an unscheduled public comment period. Locust Grove also requires residents to register beforehand and limits them to three minutes each and 10 minutes for the entire period.
The Henry County Board of Commissioners holds its public comment session near the end of its meetings and has no limit on how many speakers can speak, but commenters are limited to five minutes each.