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Commission tables changes to public comment following protest


Tuesday’s Board of Commission meeting was ‘must watch TV’ for the residents of Cobb County. With changes on the agenda that would limit the time the public speaks to Cobb government and when it could speak, members of the public came together to give the Cupid and the commissioners a piece of their 1st amendment mind. Reading about this does not give the moment justice as the citizens let the board know that ‘you work for us’ and not the other way around. As a result, Chair Lisa Cupid tabled the proposal to cut the public’s speaking time by half and move it to the end of the meetings. She may have pulled it, but many are aware that Cupid could place it on a future agenda.

Amid public opposition and protest, Black and White, Democrats and Republicans, male and female, came together. They joined voices and forces to challenge what many described as an attempt by Cupid and company to silence public comments on the decisions being made in Cobb. One protestor told SPOTLIGHT, “we have been commenting on government for years. Now Cupid gets into office and wants to silence us and erase our input in our own government. This is unacceptable.”

Prior to the meeting, people stood outside the government building waving signs reading, “Commissioners Not Comrades,” and, “Citizens Not Peasants.” Inside, speaker after speaker stepped to the microphone to demand that the board not change its policy on public speaking, which if passed would have shrunk the public speaking time from 60 to 30 minutes and moved the public comment portion of the meeting from the top of the meeting to near its end, after all votes had been taken. The proposal would have also reduced the number of public speakers from 12 to 10 and decreased their speaking time from five to three minutes.

Chair Cupid and Communications Manager Ross Cavitt are the masterminds behind this and are credited with devising this plan to change the policy that has been in place for over 30 years. Many were shocked by his actions as Cavitt came to the County from a reporting job in the media and knows the importance of public access to its government. As for Cupid, many point to the difference in leadership between her and Former Chair Mike Boyce, saying Boyce never attempted to limit public input. On numerous occasions he was known to extend the time for the public to speak, especially if there were hot button topics being discussed. He never sought to shut the public down. They say shame on Cupid for seeking to change the way the public speaks at meetings.

Having been in the position of Chair for only eight months, Cupid has grown tired and weary of hearing the public speak on issues and drew up her own plans to cut the public out and make decisions without their comments. The bee in Cupid’s bonnet stems from rental advocates and near homeless residents coming before the board to plead their case. They have demanded for months the release of funds that are earmarked for renters but have not been disbursed effectively by those tasked to do so. Known for a reputation of dressing down speakers that come before the board, Cupid took a recent occasion to tell these desperate folks that they were ungrateful, that they never say thank you, and that the County did not have to accept the funds from the federal government and could have refused the money instead. 

The first speaker of the meeting was Cobb GOP Chair Salleigh Grubbs who said, “It is unconscionable that this topic is even being discussed in our precious Cobb County, Georgia. How can you do this?”

South Cobb resident Sally Riddle told the board, “We’ve always stated that Cobb is exceptional. Well, let’s continue that.”

East Cobb resident, Christine Rozman, said, “We don’t trust you now and maybe that’s what you don’t want us talking about” as she called the proposed changes “a real assault on our freedom of speech”.

Pointing to the ills of the proposal, Ben Williams, head of the Cobb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the board that they should not seek to “weaponize their power to punish people or seek retribution against those who come before them.”

Cobb rental advocate Monica Delancy had the final retort, which was accompanied by a rousing round of applause fro those in attendance. Delancy told Cupid and the rest of the commissioners that a thank you for them comes in the form of a paycheck on the 1st and 15th of the month that they each receive. It was evident that Delancy’s comment was in response to a previous meeting where Cupid arrogantly told Delancey and other speakers, many on the verge of homelessness, that they had failed to thank her (Cupid).

When the agenda item came up, Cupid announced that the matter had been pulled to give commissioners more time to consider the policy. Any changes to the public comment procedures would have required a four-fifths vote to pass. Commissioner Keli Gambrill had aired concerns about the changes at a work session Monday and Commissioner JoAnn Birrell was absent which could have jeopardized the vote Cupid was leading.

Cavitt said previously that he wanted to bring Cobb in line with most other metro Atlanta jurisdictions and pointed to the use of emails and social media, which he says changes the need for the public speaking portion of the meetings. For speakers, his reasoning wasn’t good enough. Some pointed to the fact that many of the commissioners routinely fail in their duty to respond to emails sent to them, so that was not a method of communications members of the community could rely on when trying to get their points across on an issue.

Many members of the community we spoke with said that when the Cobb Board of Education proposed to change its public comment procedures in June, they were met with disdain and resistance from the public. The education board eventually voted along party lines to pass the proposed changes with Republicans for the change to public speaking and Democrats against. Fast forward to now and you have the Democratic chair Cupid leading the charge to silence citizens, and her supporters equally quiet on the issue.

Feigning concern for the public, Cupid said following the meeting that she was sympathetic to the concerns of the audience and pointed to conversations on the policy change being contemplated for the past eight months. We should point out that that is the same amount of time that Cupid has been in office and the person leading those conversations and demanding these changes is Cupid, not someone else. Some wonder why she ran for the position if she did not want to hear from the public. Great question. This is another notch on Cupid’s belt for screwing up Cobb County government.

SPOTLIGHT suspects that Cupid and Cavitt will attempt to bring the issue up again on the agenda. To change the public comment policy, four of the five commissioners would have to approve it.

South Cobb can count on us to be ready to sound the alarm and mobilize the citizens to fight for our rights to be heard before government. To view the recent BOC meeting and hear public pushback on Cupid’s proposal, click here.


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