Coweta County Commission
County to change public hearing notices
by Sarah Fay Campbell
When Coweta property owners live close to a proposed rezoning, they get a letter that tells them about the proposal and the upcoming public hearing on the issue.
The letter tells those property owners that, if they wish to speak at the public hearing on the issue, they must complete a form and submit it to the county at least five days prior to the hearing.
The official public notice of public hearings says the same thing.
The truth, however, is quite different.
People who have been to public hearings before the Coweta County Board of Commissioners and/or the Coweta Board of Zoning Appeals know that there is no such five-day requirement.
Anyone who shows up at a public hearing before the commissioners can speak, as long as they fill out the public comment form. Most people fill them out before they speak, but the commissioners have been known to simply ask speakers to fill out the form before they leave.
Coweta County officials will be changing the wording on the letters and public notices to reflect reality — that, for the vast majority of Cowetans who wish to speak at public hearings, there is no requirement that they sign up in advance.
There is a five-day disclosure requirement in state law — but it only applies to those opposing a zoning action who have made significant campaign contributions to local officials. State law requires the disclosure of anyone who has contributed a total amount $250 or more, over the past two years, to "a local government official of the local government which will consider the application."
"That is really where our policy and our notice comes into play," said County Administrator Michael Fouts. "We are going to… amend that to make sure that is only applicable to someone who has made a contribution."
It's possible that there have been Cowetans who spoke at public hearings and had contributed that much money, but didn't know about the requirement.
That's because there's nothing about the requirement on the public comment form that people fill out at the public hearings themselves.
"We are going to tweak our participation form to make sure we make that clear," Fouts said.
Zoning Administrator Angela White said she will have her documents changed "before the next mailing goes out."
Signs that sometimes accompany rezoning signs on property are more correct in terms of the requirement, though are likely still quite confusing to the general public.
A sign accompanying a rezoning sign on Chandler Road says that "certain individuals" wishing to speak against a rezoning must complete a disclosure form and directs readers to contact the county clerk, at 770-254-2601, for further information.