Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Brewing Another First Amendment Violation?

Rejecting language that would have regulated their own conduct, while demanding a possibly unconstitutional resolution (on its face or as applied), the Gang of Four showed an appalling lack of self-insight.
"Disruption" at meetings has historically been the mode of conduct of past mayors, current and past commissioners and current and past board members (and city staff).
Interrupting, threatening, arguing, insulting and overbearing behavior is what citizens have put up with for years.
Commissioners with logs in their eyes are concerned about a speck of dust in others' eyes, or so it seems.
Perhaps City Hall denizens just enjoy being sued in federal court, where they usually lose in First Amendment cases.

St. Augustine Commissioners considering resolution on 'disruptive behavior'
Posted: October 12, 2015 - 10:29pm | Updated: October 12, 2015 - 11:32pm
St. Augustine commissioners agreed Monday to move forward with pursuing a resolution that would address disruptive behavior at public meetings.
The resolution, which will come back to the board for a vote, would outline rules for handling disruptive behavior and a few definitions for what that could mean.
The move came after members of other city boards asked for guidance after difficult meetings, City Attorney Isabelle Lopez said. The idea was to create a resolution that would provide guidance to all boards on what is acceptable behavior for officials and the public, and when a board chair can “gavel” someone or request someone to be removed.
Lopez drafted a more extensive resolution that included sections on “member congeniality” and rules for public meetings and hearings.
However, commissioners supported making just one section of that draft a formal resolution.
The section draft as proposed reads, “Any person violating the rules of decorum as described in this section or otherwise displaying disruptive behavior, such as, shouting, noisemaking, issuing threats, harassing or intimidating members of the public, interfering with the duties of elected or appointed officials and City staff during a public meeting, or otherwise interrupting or disrupting the proceedings may be removed from the public assembly pursuant to law.”
The draft also says speakers have to comply with several other rules, such as only approaching the dais after being called.
Mayor Nancy Shaver raised concerns about First Amendment issues with restricting behavior at a public meeting and said the section is already handled by the chair at a meeting.
“My concern ... is that we’re putting all of this in legal language ... ,” Shaver said.
Lopez said the commission would be following rules that are mostly widely accepted, and the resolution would put the city at very low risk. Also, it’s a good practice to enact rules, she said.
“If you have an enacted rule and you fairly and evenly enforce it, that is the better course of action,” she said.
Lopez said the point is to outline rules so, “Everyone understands we want your feedback we‘re not trying to stifle content discussion, but it’s simply the manner in which you present it has to follow these rules,” she said.
Others said they wanted to move forward, and Commissioner Todd Neville supported moving forward with just Section 3.
He noted that the other sections are already mostly covered in an existing ordinance on commission procedures.
Commissioner Leanna Freeman supported finding a way to keep part of another section of the draft in the resolution — in order to prevent action items from coming up during commissioner comments.
Shaver questioned the suggestion and asked for clarity.
“For example ... if you call for an audit during commissioner comments,” Freeman said.
“What I called for was discussion [and] I was grossly misinterpreted,” Shaver said, referring to her request for discussion on 450th contract audits several months ago. “I’m not sure we need a resolution to revisit something like that.”
Commissioners did not support putting that section in a resolution, but Freeman asked for the issue to be considered in the future.
In other business
■ City Manager John Regan announced that Thursday’s meeting of the Historical Architectural Review Board will be moved to Oct. 29. The move came after one HARB member Joseph Cronk announced his resignation, so a quorum would not be reached if the group met. Two HARB meetings were scheduled and will be moved to that date.
■ Commissioners voiced support for an effort sponsored by Freeman that would conserve undeveloped city-owned land in the Lighthouse Park neighborhood. Officials and neighborhood members gave the commission a presentation on the issue, which is expected to go before the Planning and Zoning Board in December.
The proposal is to add an “Undeveloped Conservation Park Lands” definition to city code and give three city-owned properties that designation. One property needs to have a rezoning and Future Land Use change.
■ Assistant City Manager Tim Burchfield outlined progress Flagler College and city officials have made after a final report was filed by the Flagler College Town and Gown Task Force, including making clearer where people should make complaints about student neighbor behavior.
He also described some plans for the future, including adding “good neighbor” training for new students and creating a “state of the college” report.
The college plans to assemble another committee soon to address ongoing concerns. More information is in commission meeting backup materials on the city’s website, staugustinegovernment.com.

COMMENTS (is the very first one from ROGER KLINE, NANCY-SIKES KLINE's husband?
Just Asking Y 10/13/15 - 10:01 am 21Mayor not misinterpreted
Mayor Shaver stated she was “grossly misinterpreted” when she called for an audit as soon as she became mayor. However, if you saw the meeting her statement was not misinterpreted; it's exactly what she wanted. It was during this comment that she made a HUGE deal about 3 contracts that she was going to go over with a fine-tooth comb to show the fraud and corruption in city hall. Remember that? She then refused to tell anyone, even the other commissioners, which ones they were – can you say ‘transparency’? Although she did examine the contracts, she never bought the item back to the public. Do you know why? Because she found NOTHING and doesn’t have the integrity to admit she was wrong. A person of high moral standards would have come forward and admitted how very wrong she was. Instead, the city manager made a comment saying no fraud or malfeasance was found.
Mll211 10/13/15 - 11:05 am 21Just Asking
Whatever your memory of the events is, is not the point. The people wanted an audit and did not get one. Why?
Morris1 10/13/15 - 12:26 pm 30"Decorum" ordinances are pathetic...
... and will not withstand 1st Amendment legal challenges, so get ready, taxpayers of St Augustine. You'll be footing that bill sooner than later.
A speaker is allocated time. Within that time, they may say absolutely whatever they please (within the bounds of the 1st Amendment, so sans threats of violence). They may insult the commission, they may call into question their character or integrity, they may curse them, they may shout, wave their arms and holler, if they are so inclined. They may break uncomfortable taboos that makes everyone cringe, they may prattle on about bizarre theories that makes everyone scratch their head and roll their eyes. Allowing the oddballs and cranks room to do all that ensures that the same pretext you might use to eliminate their speech isn't likewise used to eliminate similarly uncomfortable- but pointed and true- speech.
When their time is up but they refuse to leave, THEN you have recourse against them- as far as creating a disturbance- but the point of these public meetings is not to reinforce the self-worth of thin skinned political egoists (who are woefully incapable of doing that job if language and expression is something they're emotionally unequipped to handle).
Consider that on this same elected body, we have someone who seriously considered suing (with city funds, no less) a local blogger for posting something he considered 'unflattering'. Yet another example of 'government' where all I can do is shake my head and wonder how we, as a people, seem to be incapable of electing competent grown-ups to political office at any level.
As proposed, if I went to a commission meeting and read out loud everything I just typed here, there's a good chance I'd be in violation of their "disruptive behavior' rules, so if that's the climate of governance you want, that's the government you deserve.

emmylight 10/13/15 - 01:46 pm 30The commissioners should read
The commissioners should read the First Amendment and while they are it it, read the whole Constitution that they are sworn to uphold.

Just Asking Y 10/13/15 - 02:11 pm 14MII211
The people vote for the commission member who will best represent them. It is the job of the commission to vote what they feel is best for the majority of people not the loudest. It takes a strong person to sit there and be verbally abused by the mob mentality that sometimes prevails at these meetings. The majority of the commission voted for the majority of the people and kudos to them for not kowtowing to a bunch of bullies.

Mll211 10/13/15 - 04:04 pm 30just asking
I understand how representation works. Do you have numbers showing the majority did not want the audit? If so, please share.
As for verbal abuse and bulllies, grow up. Life is tough! If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. The hostility people feel is from the job the commissioners are doing on water, roads, parties and the never ending zoning issues. In response, they are issuing a course in civility? Bullies are our problem? I don't think so. The next voting cycle will show what the majority wants. I will be surprised if any of the sitting commissioners are reelected. The next round needs to justify the city attorneys salary--she obviously has too much time on her hands.

Morris1 10/13/15 - 04:51 pm 20@ Just Asking
This specific rule was not put to any popular referendum. I'd bet if it were, overwhelming support would come down in favor of freedom of speech at public meetings and not feelings-preservation protocols by hypersensitive politicians.
Life is not your own personal hugbox, politics for damn sure isn't. If anything, I think we need citizen involvement to be MORE raucous, MORE pointed and MORE direct towards these people. The fact we have a politician seriously threatening to sue a blogger- and the others not rising to oppose it- is evidence of a deeply perverted mentality, indicating they should all be voted out on their ear.

Firstcoaster 10/13/15 - 05:35 pm 20A resolution
is not law. This is wishful thinking on the part of the commissioners, and maybe the city attorney.

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