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News Section: Local Government

BOCC Attempts to Rewrite Citizen Comment Rules

Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:07 am

BRADENTON -- Manatee BOCC Chairman Larry Bustle felt citizen comments were getting problematic, so he asked county attorney Micky Palmer to look into rewriting the rules governing what and when citizens could give the county commissioners a piece of their mind. He found out it wasn't that easy.


The only time citizens have a public opportunity to tell their board of county commissioners what they think on a particular item, or about what they think of their elected officials' performance, is at the dais, usually only around three to four times each month.


Even then, the time limit allotted to speak is only two minutes, and it usually takes most newcomers a minute or two to get over the nervousness before they can get the words out.


What seemed to be bothering Chairman Bustle were the remarks that were coming from those who spoke frequently and with knowledge about the subject matter on the agenda, especially when it came to "rubber-stamping" development. Bustle, whose most recent campaign was primarily funded by Medallion Homes' Carlos Beruff, has been known to be quite supportive to comp plan amendments involving development and other hot-button, pro-build issues, placing him square in the sights of many smart growth advocates who regularly attend the meetings.


But asking Palmer to rewrite the rules opened a can of worms that may have ultimately backfired. Tuesday's meeting may have been a lesson, more for the commissioners, than for the citizens who they were seemingly looking to marginalize.


Palmer presented a model that he said would simplify the process, but it was clear that the overriding emphasis of the attempt was to reduce the interaction between commissioners and those who pay their salaries, if not their campaign expenses.


For an hour, commissioners fondled the notion of expanding the comment allowance to three minutes, and knocking off a 10-minute over-all cap any speaker is allowed in one day.


The real argument was never about the two minute rule though. It was about commissioners' dislike with public inquiry anytime it disagreed with the prevailing notions of the majority of the board. Bustle complained because of his dislike for criticism citizens were increasingly throwing at him and other commissioners, mostly related to development.


Commissioners projected great concern for the citizen complaints presented at the meeting, but their shift to the minutes argument over the content objections provided wiggle room until the next meeting where a new document will be presented.


Commissioner DiSabatino made a motion to rewrite the rules, with consideration for allowing all meetings to provide three-minute citizen comments, and not include a ten minute cap on the total time any one person can speak at one meeting.


The motion passed unanimously, and the item will be presented at the next regular meeting in about two weeks.

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Many times it takes more than 2 or 3 minutes to make a point depending on the subject and it's complexity, and the audience's level (including commissioners) of understanding of the subject at hand. The only law I know of that restricts speech, is inciteful speech, i.e. namecalling, profanity, threats.... There should be no imposition at all , on free speech including how long it takes, hours, days, or weeks. Officials are elected and paid for that purpose.

Let's start another conversation about elections. Could there be a another reason certain officials are not concerned with citizen comments? Could it have something to do with the election machines? Could certain candidates not be worried about taking contributions from big development because the fix is in and pro quid pro they know they will be elected? Does your vote really count?

In a recent county election an opposing candidate lost by almost the same percentile in all (119) precints including his own precint. The percentage was 40% in each. I predicted it the morning of the election. BTW in 2000 at a GOP candidate forum at the BMA I heard a number of officials and candidates talking outside the front door as I was arriving to the event. "Don't worry, it's fixed." Either something broken was repaired or the election was fixed. Do some investigation into the history of the machines and the companies that sell them. I did. Very interesting....oh and how simple they are to hack. Are our county machines under secure guard at all times once they leave the election office to go to a precint? NOT. Maybe your voice does not matter because your vote does not matter.

BTW Seems strange that the asst. super of elections for Manatee used to be the assistant super for Kathy Dent in Sarasota. WUWT?
Posted by Barbara Elliott on April 10, 2014

Larry should remember the citizens pay his salary. He works for them. Democracy allows the people an opportunity to disagree with those in office. As long as it's done respectfully, the people should be given every opportunity to speak candidly with their elected officials.
Posted by Ed Giacomin on April 9, 2014

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