City Council members vote to (audibly) silence citizens

City Council members vote to (audibly) silence citizens

AMERICUS, GA (WALB) - The Americus, GA City Council has voted and approved a measure to draft an ordinance that would audibly stifle the public at council meetings.

City Council members voted 4 to 2 in favor of the ordinance, which would only allow residents to submit letters to express concerns.

The decision came after some council members said a few people harass them during meetings.

Citizens of Americus expressed outrage at the measure.

"There has to be intercourse between the citizens and leaders," said Americus resident Tim Lewis. "And if there's not, there's distrust. And this town already has enough distrust."

Lewis is one of many people in Americus concerned about the city council's vote to eliminate citizens' right to speak at meetings.

Americus Mayor Barry Blount shared the other side of the story.

"It's really not a way of shutting down citizen concerns and comments as far as input from citizens. But it's just a [way], rather than the verbal, [to] have it in writing," Barry said.

He said some members feel like a few citizens personally attack them.

"I think some members of the council are concerned about the tone of some of the people that have come to speak in recent months," Barry reasoned. "And [they] just feel like that maybe there's a better way of presentation as far as letter writing."

But residents like Lewis say cutting off communication is not fair for everyone else.

"Because of these couple of people, all the citizens have been deprived of their right to address their leaders, except in written form," said Lewis. "And we all know how well that's going to work. No one's going to be responded to, they'll say the letters weren't received. A staffer will read it and it will go in the trash."

He says it's part of the council's job to listen to the public.

"I think citizens have a right to be able to voice their concerns to their leaders and I think the leaders have an obligation to sit there and politely listen. They can doodle, they can hum songs in their head if they need to. But they have an obligation to at least give face to the voice of the citizens."

The city attorney is expected to draft an ordinance, which will be presented to the council on September 18th.

Council members Juanita Wilson and Nelson Brown voted against the ordinance change. Brown says their job as city officials is to hear from concerned citizens.

Lou Chase, Carla Cook, Walton Grant and Shirley Reese voted for it.

If approved, the council will take a final vote in October.

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