Catoosa County residents are continuing to speak out against the newly imposed Catoosa County Board of Commissioners' public comment form which requires speakers to sign in and adhere to several rules before being allowed to speak.

Commissioners initially proposed the rule in late August 2019, giving it a six-month trial period. Several residents at the board's Feb. 4 meeting noted that the formal implementation was voted on a month before the trial period was set to end.

The vote to enact the rule passed 4-1 Jan. 21, with Commissioner Charlie Stephens voting against it. At the Feb. 4 meeting, residents also expressed their "disappointment" with the commissioners' decision.

Tunnel Hill resident Nick Ware created an online petition on Jan. 17 calling for commissioners to vote against the ordinance. Before the vote Jan. 21, he submitted the petition with over 200 residents' signatures, and nine citizens spoke against the proposal.

The public comment request form may be signed by presenters up until the meetings begin at 6 p.m. There is also an online form which residents can use to submit their comment or topic up until noon the day before the meeting.

Those looking to speak must acknowledge that they are limited to a five-minute time limit; that they may not use obscene or profane language or have any "personal threats, attacks, or personally abusive comments" toward citizens, county employees or non-elected officials; and that the board will not hear or address comments against county employees unless it falls under the county's personnel policies, like hiring, terminations and training, as mandated by state law.

While the residents who spoke out agree that public meetings are not the forum to launch personal attacks or curse, many said they want to retain their right to speak about county employee spending. In the past, residents have spoken out about county employees purchasing new furniture and cars.

Commission Chairman Steve Henry said the form was instated to give commissioners time to look into issues residents have. He also noted that residents will not be turned away, as they will still be able to sign in prior to the meeting.

Ringgold resident K. George Battersby has been dubbed a regular by commissioners. He likened the form to being in high school and vowed to keep speaking out at meetings against it.

Catoosa County isn't the first local government agency to enforce rules. Commissioners have cited Fort Oglethorpe, where residents who would like to address the council must contact the city clerk no later than 4:30 p.m. the Thursday before the Monday meeting at which they wish to speak. Residents are required to give their name and the topic of discussion, which the city manager reviews.

"I'm tired of hearing about what Fort Oglethorpe does," Battersby said. "I'm here. These are the meetings I care about."

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