Oct. 12—MARIETTA — Chairwoman Lisa Cupid and a small contingent of residents were once again at odds Tuesday over what constitutes acceptable conduct during the county's public meetings.
The trouble started at the end of Cobb Health Director Dr. Janet Memark's COVID-19 update at the top of the meeting. One audience member called out that he had questions for Memark about the adverse reactions to vaccines; Cupid asked him to stop, but he continued speaking.
At Cupid's direction, he was promptly escorted out of the meeting room by Cobb Police Chief Tim Cox, shouting all the while.
Cupid called for a five minute recess to lower the temperature in the room, which held for a time — until public comment.
Hill Wright was among several residents who came to Tuesday's meeting to call attention to ongoing issues stemming from the Sept. 7 storms which flooded swaths of Marietta and east Cobb. Wright was still reading from his prepared remarks when his allotted five minutes expired, but continued to talk.
"This is the second time this meeting we've asked speakers not to speak out of turn, and it sounds like a slight thing, but it really undermines the decorum of this meeting," Cupid said.
A few speakers later came Christine Rozman, who at the Sept. 28 commission meeting had compared a proposed unified development code unfavorably to both Atlanta and DeKalb County, as well as the authoritarianism of the Chinese government.
Rozman has on several occasions equated Cobb policies she finds objectionable to Chinese rule, and in a prior meeting, her husband Leroy Emkin compared mask mandates, unfavorably, to traditional Islamic clothing.
The couple were also among many residents who condemned a proposed policy which would have reduced the speaking time allotted to the public at board meetings, among other changes. Commissioners pulled that proposal in August under public pressure from across the political spectrum.
Though she didn't single out Rozman, Cupid at the Sept. 28 meeting called out what she said were offensive comments made by some speakers.
Last week, Rozman wrote to Cupid arguing the chair's remarks were an infringement on her First Amendment right to free speech, and requested an apology.
"If there is any apology to be made," Cupid replied via email, "it is in not making our policies on decorum crystal clear and also in not making it clear to the audience that speaker comments are not necessarily reflective of the views of the Board of Commissioners. This will be addressed upfront in future meetings."
True to her word, Tuesday's public comment segment included a novel disclaimer on the screen: "Statements made during the Public Comment portion do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Board or the Administration of Cobb County Government."
After reading her email to Cupid aloud, Rozman was followed by Emkin. Emkin echoed Rozman in arguing that, according to New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court free speech ruling, as well as comments from an attorney friend, Cupid's comments were intended to suppress freedom of expression.
"This is simply not acceptable," Emkin said, adding that he was "disgusted" by the earlier removal of the resident. "This is completely inconsistent with the Supreme Court's ruling, and certainly the comments made by our attorney friend."
Cupid would later read from the board's rules of procedure which charge the chair with maintaining decorum during meetings, and note that individuals undermining decorum may be removed.
"Some of you who come to our meetings know what it's like to be professionals. We are a highly-educated, professional county. You know what you would have tolerated in your meetings, in your classrooms, in your board rooms," Cupid said. "So I don't know why when people step in this room, they have amnesia."
"When I'm speaking of offensive comments ... it pertains to the citizens in this room. I had people here from Cobb 101, a very diverse class, and I was embarrassed. Some of them I know who are of different nationalities, and there were statements made — and my God, my heart hurt for these young people in this room," she added.
Cupid said after the meeting her position isn't about protecting the feelings of board members.
"We're up here," she said. "We can take this. But I'm very concerned about people's behaviors that can be offensive to our citizens, who are here also expecting the opportunity to learn and participate."