It is a bad idea, badly conceived and badly executed.
I am talking about the effort of Cobb County’s communications director, Ross Cavitt, to limit public comment at Cobb Board of Commissioner meetings. Currently, the public – that’s you and me – has 60 minutes at the beginning and end of board meetings to weigh in on our concerns with the people we elected – that’s the commissioners – about whatever is on our minds – that’s democracy.
Presently, 12 citizens are permitted to sign up for an opportunity to speak for five minutes at each meeting – six at the beginning and six at the end. Cavitt’s proposal would cut the number of speakers to 10, with three minutes to talk and only at the end of the meeting.
Cavitt says it would bring Cobb into line with other metro area jurisdictions, most of whom limit speaking time to three minutes and in some cases, two. Since when has it become important that Cobb County emulate other jurisdictions? These are our role models? Fulton County? DeKalb County? Malfunction Junction?
Here's a novel thought: Why not make Cobb County a leader in transparency and good government and become a role model for other jurisdictions to emulate?
Sadly, things seem to be going the other way in Cobb County these days with Cobb Chair Lisa Cupid and Cavitt. For years, from the days of Sam Olens through Tim Lee and Mike Boyce, commission chairs sat down monthly with editors and reporters at the MDJ to discuss issues affecting the county and its citizens. No more. Not only does Cupid not meet with the paper, she doesn’t release her calendar to let us know what she is up to, leaving you and me to guess.
This is a blatant attempt by Cupid and Cavitt to control the narrative; telling you what they want you to know when they want you to know it.
Cavitt, who I am sure in his time as a television reporter was an advocate for public access and transparency seems to have gone over to the dark side. I want to believe this attempt to tamp down public comment at commission meetings was not his idea and flies against everything he preached in the media. He is simply doing what he has been told to do by his thin-skinned boss who likes to hector-lecture the rest of us but has shown she doesn’t like being criticized in return.
At a recent commission meeting while trying to defend the county’s rent assistance program during the – ahem – public comment portion of the meeting, Cupid took issue with the “tone and tenor” and the “adversarial approach” of residents critical of the commission’s efforts and groused, “The board elected to do it to help residents. There has never been a thank-you for that.” Oh, please.
And then there was – and is – the incomprehensible decision by Cupid and Commissioners Jerica Richardson and Monique Sheffield to approve a request from a Sandy Springs developer for construction of 38 condominiums in the Dobbins “accident potential zone,” despite the unanimous recommendation of the planning commission that the request be denied. The decision to approve the project shocked Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike.
Cupid blames Dobbins and the Cobb Chamber for not telling her ahead of time that it was a dumb thing to do. Now, we read that U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is trying to extricate the commission from their screwup.
I don’t know much about the rationale for putting residential buildings in an area where airplanes can fall on you, but I do know a bit about external counsel. One part of the job is to represent your organization to the publics you serve, in this case the taxpayers of Cobb County. Equally important is to represent the public back to the organization. That means sometimes telling your bosses things they may not want to hear. For example, did Cavitt counsel them on the potential blowback from the Dobbins decision? I am guessing no.
A good communicator also understands that the media are a conduit between the organization and their constituents. You aren’t just talking to the media. You are talking through them to your audience. The most effective way to do that is to build relationships with the media. Ross Cavitt has either forgotten that or doesn’t care.
Although I have been opining on this pages for some time now, I have never met, seen or heard from Cobb County’s communications director in his almost-four years on the job with the exception of one snippy Letter to the Editor, criticizing my friends, Jack and Jill, and calling them “fictional mules.” That was a hurtful thing to say. They aren’t over the opprobrium yet.
Do give Cavitt credit for one thing: His effort to restrict citizen access to their elected officials at commission meetings has unified such disparate groups as the Cobb GOP and the Cobb chapter of the Southern Leadership Conference. Neither of them like it.
For the moment, this bad idea has been tabled “for further discussion.” That is a good idea. May it never see the light of day.