Butts County Board of Commissioners Procedure for Public Hearings (2010)

Public Hearings are occasionally required to be held before the Board of Commissioners for things such as zoning matters, millage & budget matters, certain ordinance changes and amendments to the County Code. The Board may also choose to hold a public hearing on certain matters that they deem to be of greater than usual public interest to get input and feedback from the public. A public hearing should not be confused with a public meeting, which is a meeting that is open to the public to observe but not directly participate in. In a public hearing, there is direct participation by the members of the public, intended to allow the public to be educated on a particular matter that will be voted on by the Board of Commissioners and to speak publicly of their general agreement or disagreement with that matter or to offer input and suggestions on how a matter may be handled differently. This policy and procedure shall address how public hearings before the Board of Commissioners are handled and are not applicable to public hearings held by lower level government bodies who operate under different rules and procedures.

When a public hearing is scheduled to be held by the County, either separately or as part of a regular meeting, the topic of the public hearing shall be clearly stated on the docket and shall also be reflected in any required advertising and posting of the public hearing. For the purposes of this policy, the example of a hearing for zoning purposes will be used.

The Chair shall call the item from the docket as a Public Hearing and state the matter that the public hearing is to cover. He or she shall then either conduct the public hearing or turn it over to staff to conduct the hearing as Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer shall then explain in general terms what the public hearing is about and the rules governing the conduct of a public hearing. If a presentation is to be part of the public hearing, the person or persons (usually the applicant) making the presentation will then be afforded the opportunity to present for twenty (20) minutes, exclusive of any time staff may use to present planning commission recommendations, and to allow questions from members of the Board. Following any presentations by staff or other presenters, the public portion of the hearing will then begin.

Those wishing to speak and be heard during a public hearing shall be divided into two classes: those in favor of the matter under consideration and those not in favor it. Each side, those in favor of and those not in favor of, will be given a total of ten (10) minutes to present their arguments or information to the Board. Those wishing to speak in favor of the matter will be allowed to speak first and may speak for an aggregate total of ten minutes. At the conclusion of ten minutes, those wishing to speak against the matter will be allowed an aggregate total of ten minutes. Those speaking shall be required to state for the record their name and home address.

Because of the time limitations on presenters for either side, it is recommended that speech be limited and brief to allow all who wish to speak the opportunity. If only one person wishes to speak, the full ten minutes will be allotted to that speaker; if two wishes to speak, time will be divided by two; if ten wishes to speak, each person would get one minute and so forth. In situations where multiple persons wish to speak for or against a matter, it is strongly recommended that they elect a spokesperson or a few spokespersons to allow speakers more time. Upon expiration of time, the Chairman will stop all public comment and the public hearing will be closed. At this point, the Board has the following options:

-To question any presenter or speaker, in order to gain clarity or additional insight.
-To vote in favor of the matter, if it is within their purview to do so.
-To vote against a matter, if it is within their purview to do so and if it is done so for reasons that are legal, 
consistent with applicable rules, laws and zoning regulations, if applicable.
-To vote in favor of the matter while imposing certain conditions that must be met.
-To table a decision, if they feel they need more time to study the information that has been provided to them 
through the public hearing process or to meet with presenters to get clarity of information or to have time to verify the facts of information presented to them.

At no time during a public hearing shall members of the public speak from the floor or while others are speaking. Those who are recognized by the Chair to speak during the public hearing must come to the podium, state their name and resident address for the record and then state their case within the time allotted to them. Anyone speaking out of turn or from the floor shall be ruled out of order and subject to removal from the meeting. 
Once the board has voted on the matter, up or down, the matter is then concluded.