FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — After some concern raised over transparency, the Forsyth County Commission has decided to continue permitting the use of cell phones during meetings.
Commissioner Laura Semanson brought up the topic last month, saying the board frequently engaged in sidebar conversations and texting during meetings. Semanson cast the lone dissent when the board voted to keep the current policy intact.
“We’ve allowed ourselves to become too distracted during meetings,” Semanson said. “We owe our complete attention to the business at hand.”
She suggested at the Dec. 4 meeting the board should add a note to its rules and procedures to prohibit use of cell phones during meetings by board members.
Chairman Todd Levent said he has no problem setting his phone aside during meetings, but rather would like to keep his device near him in case his college age children, wife or business needs him.
“We each have a different life and we have to live them differently,” Levent said. “If I do anything with my own phone, I don’t text my fellow commissioners so it’s transparent. If it wasn’t, open records requests could be used to check my phone.”
As a small business owner, Levent said he leaves his phone on vibrate in case of an emergency. Additionally, he said since board members aren’t full-time, paid employees, they have to also keep up with their outside lives.
An earlier proposal called for turning over personal cell phones to the county clerk, but Levent said she has enough to keep track of during meetings and may not be able to get to the phones quickly.
“We are mature adults,” he said. “I’m not playing on my phone during meetings. The phones are face down and turned on vibrate. That’s where they’ll stay. I don’t need someone to tell me I’m not allowed to do that.”
Semanson said while it’s important to distinguish between personal phones and county issued phones, neither should be used during meetings.
“We need to do everything we can to keep the trust of the public,” Semanson said. “When they see us on our phones, it colors the perception of if we’re being professional or not and whether we’re being engaged in the business at hand.”
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the board can come back at any time and modify the rules with a majority vote if they deem it necessary.