Thursday, April 06, 2017

ANOTHER VICTORY: Retaliatory St. Augustine Beach public comment restrictions DEFEATED

Tyrants lost Monday night, and the Record ran a perceptive story the next day. Here it is:

Posted April 4, 2017 05:08 am - Updated April 4, 2017 06:01 am
St. Augustine Beach commissioners step back on public comment issue

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St. Augustine Beach commissioners pulled back a proposal to limit public comment at meetings after getting further opposition from the public.

They decided Monday night to have city officials work on some other options for rearranging meetings, including the possibility of having the once-per-month meeting, typically held on Monday, spill over into Tuesday if the commission can’t address all of the issues in one session.

In March, commissioners discussed a proposal that would have limited the number of times that people can speak at meetings, which got opposition from the public.

St. Augustine Beach officials plan to find another way to cut down on the length of their meetings, after getting more opposition on a proposal to cut down on public comment.

Commissioners on Monday discussed a revised proposal to limit public comments – the first was introduced in March.

The proposal would limit public comment to two public comment periods and comment on public hearings. The current policy allows public comment on virtually anything on the agenda.

The proposal was met with strong ­opposition Monday, and some warnings, from people in the crowd.

“For the past six months or so, the city of St. Augustine Beach has been on an assault of the First Amendment. It’s been relentless,” said Lance Thate, St. Augustine Tea Party chairman, wearing a shirt that said “Tyranny Response Team” on the back.

The latest proposal also drew warning of potential legal action.

“You will be taken to court and I’m talking federal court,” said Bob Kahler, a St. Augustine Beach resident. “No messing around.”

Patricia Gill, a St. Augustine Beach resident, said allowing people to speak on every item is important so that people can speak on items as the commission is discussing them, instead of trying to guess what commissioners will say on an item.

“I think that we should stick to three minutes for both the comments section of agenda as well as each one of the items,” she said.

She also suggested the commission could make public comments more efficient by having people line up two at a time to speak, to eliminate the amount of time people take to approach the lectern.

As in March, commissioners weren’t entirely in agreement.

Commissioner Maggie Kostka suggested having two meetings a month instead of one, as is current practice, to get all of the business done.

She said she opposed “more limitations on the very people we’re supposed to be representing.”

Vice Mayor Undine George supported Kostka’s position.

Commissioner Gary Snodgrass initially supported the revised public comment measure as well as some tweaks to how presentations are handled.

He said he is opposed to excess regulation, but “on the other hand we have business to conduct for 6,500 residents.”

In the end, however, commissioners supported getting more options from the city attorney and city manager on how to trim meetings instead of trimming public comment.

In other business

Commissioners unanimously approved a settlement agreement of a lawsuit against the city, which claimed constitutional violations related to sign regulations and denial of curb cut requests. The settlement will cost the city $29,500, paid by the insurer.

Also, commissioners supported including public comments in commission meeting minutes. The city recently stopped adding public comment details in meeting minutes and switched to just listing the names of people who spoke.

“I think it would be advantageous for us to keep a record of who’s speaking on what topics,” Kostka said.

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