NORTH FULTON, Ga. — Alpharetta resident Scott Berling made special arrangements to attend his first town hall meeting on Feb. 18 at Alpharetta City Hall. It was to be hosted by District 56 Sen. John Albers and District 21 Sen. Brandon Beach. He was concerned about a proposed bill in the Georgia Senate and wanted to hear the representatives’ take.
Berling arrived to a nearly empty parking lot and a note posted on a window — the town hall had been cancelled.
He now thinks the town hall was cancelled due to the growing trend of protests at such meetings across the country.
“Why would they cancel unless it was for their own political gain?” Berling wondered.
But Albers disputes that interpretation.
Four days before the scheduled town hall, Albers released a statement saying the event would be cancelled and a Facebook live town hall would take its place.
Albers stated that the cancelled town hall was not in response to potential protests but rather a scheduling conflict. The Fulton County GOP had scheduled a breakfast for the same time as the town hall.
“Unfortunately we got our signals crossed with the Fulton County GOP,” Albers said. “At that time they were doing their legislative update breakfast which had already been going for some time and had a lot of coordination. In an effort to make sure we got to all of our constituents we did it [via Facebook].”
Beach said Albers contacted him, and he dropped the town hall also.
Beach, who held a town hall in Cherokee County Feb. 27, said he and Albers are working to schedule another face-to-face town hall, but a date is not set.
While insisting the scheduling conflict shelved the town hall, Albers did weigh in on the growing number of protests at such venues. He said those who have chosen to protest at town hall meetings should voice their concerns in a constructive way.
“Just protesting for protesting’s sake accomplishes nothing,” he said. “I think we need to get back to people thinking about how they serve and make a difference and really focus on getting something done. In general, people in society these days often times are quick to constantly be negative and criticize. They want to talk about problems but not actually be creative in solutions.”
Albers said some members of the community who were upset about the cancelation contacted him, and that his office attempted to make amends.
“A few people were disappointed that the face-to-face meeting was cancelled. My office immediately responded to them and offered to set up meetings to talk about what our issues are. I found that most of the people who complained about it being cancelled didn’t live in my district and the handful that did had been offered times to meet. Some took me up on the offer and some did not.”
He said no matter how a person chooses to contact him, he wants them to “reach out in the spirit of working together.”
While some expressed frustration by his holding a town hall via Facebook live, Albers said many were pleased with the digital format.
“We had a lot of very positive feedback from folks and a few people commented on how great it was to [conduct the town hall] that way. One person had traveled to Florida and was still able to participate. One person was at home with their kids so they wouldn’t have been able to make it otherwise, so it worked out great.”
Not everyone was pleased.
Berling, who did not know how to access the Facebook town hall, was agitated that the meeting was not face-to-face.
“I’m 57 and I don’t do a lot on Facebook. I don’t see that as a viable alternative,” he said.