Cobb school board adopts online sign-in for public comment

·2 min read

Jun. 11—Cobb residents or property owners who want to address the Cobb County School District's governing board will, beginning July 1, have to register online rather than in-person.

The measure was adopted in a 4-3 vote during the board's afternoon work session Thursday. The board's Republicans voted in favor of the measure and its Democrats in opposition.

The seven-member Cobb Board of Education offers a 30-minute public comment period at the top of its afternoon work sessions and evening voting sessions, both of which are held on a Thursday of each month.

Before Thursday's vote, board policy required would-be speakers to complete a sign-in sheet available 30 minutes prior to the start of a meeting. It also offered speakers between two and five minutes to make their comments, "with the time for speaker being determined by the Chair, depending on the number of speakers, with a maximum of 15 speakers."

The board's new policy now gives speakers a maximum of two minutes to make their comments and requires completion of a digital sign-in sheet, available 7 p.m. the day before the meeting. Those who sign up will be required to show an ID proving Cobb residency when they come to speak at a meeting.

"I think it makes it a lot more convenient for the public," district Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said. "You don't have to come and get in line and that kind of thing."

But Leroy "Tre'" Hutchins, one of the board's three Democrats, said the change opened the potential for abuse.

"With people actually coming to the building, showing their ID and signing up, we actually have allowed for a process that is transparent and in the front — is front facing," he said. A digital signup process, he continued, is one "no one can see."

"I just want to make sure the intent is not to manipulate the topic addressed," Hutchins said. "So if 15 sign up (to speak about) Wheeler (High School) name change, like we've had to happen, but there's another parent that wanted to speak on special needs, is that an opportunity for us to push the special needs parent in because it would be a different topic versus the majority of topics that have come in?"

Ragsdale said the new process would not be used to manipulate the list of people who have signed up to speak and, in turn, stifle discussion.

"Basically you're insinuating that there's the potential for someone to be less than transparent and honest," Ragsdale said. "The way we're handling the signup is, the first 15 people who sign up are on the list to speak. Number 16 going forward is on the standby list, and they'll be notified of such. Regardless of topic, regardless of anything. It's just first-come, first-served."

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