a new city law eliminating jail time for misdemeanor marijuana possession drew
all of the public comments, Statesboro City Council last week quietly enacted
rules for how future city laws will be created.
And in a meeting two weeks before that, the council also unanimously and quietly approved the ordinance that makes the Statesboro Commission on Diversity and Inclusion an official, advisory arm of the city government.
Statesboro Ordinance 2018-15, a city law governing the passage of other city laws, has been nicknamed the Transparency Ordinance.
“The most important thing is that it provides transparency when we’re writing legislation and gives our citizens the opportunity to give their input before we write the legislation, not after,” District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum said in an earlier interview.
That was at the close of the Nov. 20 council meeting, where the ordinance received a quiet formal first reading, along with the marijuana ordinance and an ordinance ratifying voters’ decision to let Statesboro restaurants serve alcoholic beverages 90 minutes earlier on Sundays.
Placed on the agenda for a second reading Dec. 4, all three ordinances were then approved 5-0 with all council members present.
Until the adoption of the Transparency Ordinance, the practice of holding first and second readings at separate meetings before amending an ordinance or approving a new one was only traditional. The council usually followed this procedure but occasionally didn’t.
The new ordinance requires separate first and second readings before most future ordinances or revisions are enacted. Even the first reading will follow an initial public vote to have the city attorney draft an ordinance or change.
Back on Nov. 6, Boyum suggested such a procedural ordinance with District 5 Councilman Derek Duke as his co-sponsor, and City Attorney Cain Smith then drafted the wording.
Another provision specifies that only the mayor, council members or city staff may propose ordinance changes. Citizens, boards or outside organizations will need to get their district council member or the mayor to sponsor a new ordinance or change.
Under the new rules, after the ordinance or amendment is drafted, the council is supposed to discuss any revisions before the formal first reading.
Only corrections of “scrivener’s errors” are allowed between a first and second reading. Any substantial changes would require a new first reading.
The proposal includes a final provision allowing the multiple readings and other formalities to be waived, but only by a unanimous council vote following a recommendation from staff.
“Sometimes we have almost emergency-type situations where something needs to change now,” Smith said, explaining the override clause in a process that otherwise requires “a fairly substantial amount of time devoted to revising any of our ordinances.”
Adoption of the new, formal procedure follows heated public disagreements between Boyum and Mayor Jonathan McCollar in the past six months over the handling of two unrelated ordinances.
But formalizing the process was something they agreed on, the mayor indicated in a phone conversation Monday.
“This just basically establishes protocol, because the way it was set up before it was more a practice than established policy, so I think it’s a good idea for us to establish the route that these things need to be introduced,” McCollar said.
Asked if the rules might spare everyone some disputes, he added, “That’s right, we don’t want selective use of procedure.”
Back in July, when a proposed amendment to the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance appeared on the agenda for a second reading, Boyum attempted to bring an alternative proposal to a vote. But McCollar angrily objected, saying he had not seen the substitute proposal before. With some changes, Boyum’s alcoholic beverages proposal was adopted by the council at a later meeting.
Then Boyum, in turn, objected during the Sept. 18 meeting when McCollar asked the council to adopt ordinances recognizing three advisory panels as official city commissions on a first reading without waiting for a second.
Bringing all three of those ordinances to a second reading Oct. 16, the council approved those authorizing the Statesboro Works! Commission, which is aimed at workforce development, and the Statesboro Youth Commission. But council members tabled action on the Statesboro Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, also known as One Boro, from Oct. 16 to Nov. 20.
District 2 Councilman Sam Lee Jones, currently the only African-American council member, had called for more representation of his district on the diversity panel, and Boyum had pointed to a heavy representation of Georgia Southern University faculty and staff.
Ironically, when the One Boro ordinance appeared on the agenda again Nov. 20, the council adopted it without further discussion and without naming any new panel members. The vote was 5-0 after Yawn made the motion and Duke seconded it.
Although the ordinance authorizes a diversity panel with eight voting members, McCollar had said that the advisory commissions are open to as many nonvoting members as wish to participate. During the Oct. 16 meeting, one member of the diversity commission informed Jones that she is a District 2 resident.
“What we wanted to do is make sure that each council member had the opportunity to express their concerns,” McCollar said Monday. “We knew that Councilman Jones had some concerns with regards to District 2, and so we were able to get those concerns addressed, and then as a result we were able to get that diversity commission approved by the council.”
Developed by volunteers working with McCollar after his November 2017 election as mayor, the commissions are authorized to issue reports and advise the mayor and council.
The eight voting members of the diversity commission are Saba Jallow, April Schueths, Shareen Clement, Julie Pickens, Suzanne Shurling, Stacy Smallwood, Jacek Lubecki and Janice Cawthorn.
“I am elated,” McCollar said of the authorization of the three commissions. “This is a tremendous step for the city of Statesboro because we are addressing three very needed areas to push our city forward.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.