FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners made several changes to their rules and procedures, but one representative’s push for a ban on personal cell phone use during meetings was not included in the updates. The board discussed the updates at its Jan. 7 meeting.
Several language updates to the code presented by County Attorney Ken Jarrard were approved with limited discussion. Two changes dealt with adding an agenda item for discussion during the same meeting. Jarrard said the changes more align with the state’s Open Meetings Law. Another alteration approved was that items approved as “time sensitive” are not considered passed on an emergency need, simply that the board wants them to take effect that day, Jarrard said. The county attorney said current language has presented challenges in litigation issues.
The board went back-and-forth on a fourth update that would strike a requirement that, in the event the commission moves to rescind a decision, the measure would be placed on two meeting agendas. The first would serve as a notification, and the second would allow for a formal vote. After talks on transparency and legal advertisement requirements, the board voted to approve the change with Levent opposed.
The proposed change to restrict commissioner’s use of personal electronic devices, including cell phones, during meetings was spurred by Commissioner Laura Semanson, who suggested the board elect to begin the new year with the restriction. Her proposal did not garner enough support to spur a vote.
Semanson argued that if someone is in front of the board during a public hearing and a commissioner is using his or her cell phone, they are not hearing the person or case to the full extent.
Levent countered that commissioners are part-time employees with other jobs and personal lives, and he would not feel comfortable not having his phone on his person if there was an emergency involving his kids or family. He also suggested commissioners can self-police.
“We’re adults,” Levent said.
Banter between Semanson and Levent was chippy at one point. Levent accused Semanson of being hypocritical, while Semanson challenged that the job of commissioner is voluntary, and the expectations and requirement are known before someone is voted into office.
Semanson also charged, without identifying a specific example, a commissioner with being active on Facebook during a public meeting.
“It is disheartening,” she said. “It does not reflect well on us as a board. It is easier on all of us to agree to be engaged on the business at hand.”
Commissioner Molly Cooper said board members have a code of behavior they owe the public, and the public should call representatives out when they are using personal phones during a meeting.