Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Palm Beach County Violating Sunshine Laws? Not enough public comment opportunities, litigants say

Palm Beach County is being sued for limiting comment on all consent agenda items to three minutes, no matter how much money is at issue on how many consent agenda items

Our Sunshine-violating City of St. Augustine is far worse than Palm Beach County:

Our Sunshine violating City of St. Augustine, run by cognitive misers, allows NO public comment on ANY items other than second ordinance readings. No comment on critical first readings. No comment on resolutions. No comment on staff and outside reports. No comment on commissioner comments. Everything else must be scrunched into three minutes at the beginning of the meeting. St. Augustine Beach, St. Johns County and our Mosquito Control District allow public comment on every single agenda item.

Repressive rude rebarbative City of St. Augustine rules limiting public comment date back to City Manager WILLIAM BARRY HARRIS, who retaliated against public comment as a result of our concerns about his dumping a landfill in a lake.

In the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., it is "revolting" to have "no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the time of Henry IV."

Lawsuit accuses Palm Beach County of violating open government laws
Skyler Swisher
Sun Sentinel

Two regular speakers at Palm Beach County Commission meetings have filed a lawsuit that accuses commissioners of violating the state's open government laws by limiting public comment.

Alex Larson and Fane Lozman, two residents who frequently comment at meetings, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

Items involving large expenditures are often placed on the consent agenda, and citizens are limited in speaking on those items, Larson said Monday.

The consent agenda is considered to be a collection of noncontroversial items requiring limited discussion that are approved in a single vote.

The public is given three minutes to speak on each agenda item. But the consent agenda is considered one item, and speakers can't address each item individually, Larson said. They are limited to three minutes total, even if they want to speak on multiple items.

"They don't want to hear from the public," Larson said. "It's frustrating to see that much money flying through our hands, and no one says a word."

In the lawsuit, Larson asks for consent agenda items to be placed on the regular agenda or for the rules to be changed to allow for comment for each item on the consent agenda.

County Attorney Denise Nieman said her office does not comment on pending litigation. Palm Beach County Mayor Mary Lou Berger could not be reached for comment Monday.

After being elected county mayor, Berger proposed eliminating public comment during board workshops and ending night meetings not required by law.

Berger said at the time few people attend night meetings, and the public has an opportunity to discuss workshop items at regular commission meetings.

Lozman, who joined Larson in the suit, won a case against the city of Riviera Beach in 2013 that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled that Lozman's floating home was not a boat that could be seized under maritime law as the city argued., 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher

Copyright © 2016, Sun Sentinel

Palm Beach County attorney advises commission to not limit public comment
Skyler Swisher
Sun Sentinel
Palm Beach County attorney advises commissioners not to limit public comment

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Palm Beach County's attorney is recommending commissioners not restrict public comment during meetings.

The commission is set to review Tuesday a proposal to end public comment during workshop meetings. These sessions are intended to be a forum for commissioners to learn about and discuss issues facing the county.

County Attorney Denise Nieman is recommending the commission not change the rules for public comments because it's possible votes could occur in a workshop. Speakers are given up to three minutes per agenda item to address the commission.

"There may be a time when a motion during a workshop is desirable, at which point public participation may be legally required," Nieman wrote in a memo to commissioners.

Commissioners are set to consider another proposal eliminating night meetings that are not required by state law.

County Mayor Mary Lou Berger introduced both of those proposals when she was named to the ceremonial county mayor post in November.

Berger said the public would still have a chance to speak on matters discussed in workshops at regular meetings. She wanted to end night meetings because they aren't well attended by the public, and many of her constituents are older and don't drive at night.

Last week, two regular public speakers — Alex Larson and Fane Lozman — sued the county and accused the commission of violating open government laws.

In the complaint, they argued the commission doesn't provide enough time for people to comment on items on the consent agenda.

The consent agenda is supposed to be a list of noncontroversial items but often large public expenditures are placed there, Larson said., 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher

Copyright © 2016, Sun Sentinel

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