Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Mayor RICH O'BRIEN's Attacks on First Amendment Rights Resisted at St. Augustine Beach City Commission

Thanks to residents, Vice Mayor Undine Pawlowski George and Commissioners Margaret England and Maggie Kostka.
We will preserve, protect and defend our First Amendment rights and rights to meaningful public participation.
Jim Wilson, St. Augustine Beach City Attorney and former St. Augustine City Attorney, should resist the implies to placate serial First Amendment violators like MAYOR RICHARD BURTT O'BRIEN, who filed bogus "stalking" injunction against watchdog Tom Reynolds. Enough flummery, dupery and nincompoopery.

Posted March 7, 2017 05:11 am - Updated March 7, 2017 05:33 am
By SHELDON GARDNER sheldon.gardner@staugustine.com
People push back on public comment resolution in St. Augustine Beach

St. Augustine Beach commissioners delayed a decision on changes to public comment policy, which would limit how often people can speak at meetings.

The resolution discussed Monday would limit public comment to three minutes per speaker during a public comment period, or on items that require a public hearing. The commission currently allows public comment on most, if not all, items that come up at meetings. Other provisions include rules of decorum and a number of other guidelines for public comment.

Commissioners delayed a decision at least until the April meeting, citing a need for a more careful approach and more detail on current policies. City Attorney Jim Wilson crafted the resolution. Commissioner Gary Snodgrass supported putting the changes in place to make the meetings more efficient, saying the current system stretches meetings too long and makes it hard for commissioners to have enough time to discuss things that are important to the public.

“The efficiency, the effectiveness of our meetings meetings have deteriorated in the past several months,” Snodgrass said.

Mayor Rich O’Brien also supported the changes.

Snodgrass said it’s not helpful when someone speaks on an issue who is not an expert or isn’t connected to an issue.

That meetings drag on because “the same half dozen people seem to want to speak on every single issue, and I think it should be changed to make things run [more] efficiently. I still want public comment. I value it. It’s been helpful over the years,” Snodgrass said.

Contentious public comments are a regular feature at St. Augustine Beach commission meetings, but beach officials said it wasn’t about content of the speech.

People in the crowd seemed to disagree.

“This is viewpoint discrimination,” said Ed Slavin, who said the move was retaliation against First Amendment-protected activity.

Beach resident Tom Reynolds told commissioners to “throw it right in the trash,” saying that the resolution was drafted because he uses the projector and has brought forward allegations of ethics violations.

“This came about because one commissioner is scared to death that I’m going to put something up here that he doesn’t like,” Reynolds said.

Beach resident Ann Palmquist voiced concern about the resolution.

“If it is going to be so controlled and so leashed and throttled, then why have the public? Just go ahead and meet on your own. Lock the doors. … You don’t really need any participation if you’re going to ask for only [those] issues that kind of work in your behalf,” she said.

Vice Mayor Undine George, Commissioner Margaret England and Commissioner Maggie Kostka supported gathering information on all the rules that are in place and taking a careful approach.

“People are entitled to speak and there’s a lot of … weight in public opinion on this type of a topic … and so I think we need to treat it gently, and with a great deal of respect,” George said.

In other business

Commissioners called for more transparency in reporting Beach Blast Off alcohol sales after people said cash was missing, and alcohol tickets (purchased to redeem alcohol) were destroyed but should have been kept as public records.

Reynolds complained that tickets for alcohol sales were destroyed but he’d calculated $12,000-$18,000 missing from alcohol sales.

Chief Financial Officer Melissa Burns said the sales were accurate except for $1. City Clerk Beverly Raddatz said she would have to investigate whether the tickets should have been kept.

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