Proposed changes to the bylaws of Atlanta’s License Review Board (LRB) could silence citizen participation in the issuance of permits and licenses, such as liquor licenses.

Peggy Harper, the representative of the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board (APAB) to the LRB, warned APAB members at their June 21 meeting of the bylaw changes submitted by the city’s legal staff. Harper said new clauses would direct LRB members to disregard citizen comments about an application or about an applicant’s business behavior or personal character.

Although the proposed bylaws are still in draft form, Harper and others are convinced the changes will be pushed to a vote.

Richard Rauh, a Neighborhood Planning Unit-B (NPU-B) representative on the APAB, reported to the NPU-B board on the issue July 1. He said Harper and other APAB members “wondered if these changes were in fact deliberate disenfranchisement of the citizen participation system or merely clumsy legal work by lawyers who were honestly trying to fix some legal exposure that they think the city has.”

Three clauses that caught Harper’s attention are in the section addressing the order of proceedings in “due cause” cases. Those clauses state:

• “Public comment shall be strictly limited to the charges brought against the licensee in the due cause proceeding.”

• “Public comment shall not be considered by LRB members when deciding on their recommendation at the conclusion of the hearing.”

• “Public comment shall not be transcribed or included in the record of the proceeding.”

Harper “warned that the LRB seems poised to revert to the cloaked and inscrutable procedures that it followed in the past, darker days,” Rauh told the NPU board.

He said Wendy Scruggs Murray, the citizen participation coordinator in the city’s Planning Department, told the APAB that the proposed bylaw changes might be a response to the failure of some NPUs to be timely and rigorous in their handling of licensing cases.

The advisory board decided to form a work group to investigate what is happening and report back to the full APAB.

— John Schaffner