Wednesday, January 08, 2020

STEVE COTTRELL | No reason for speakers to disclose home address

Good column by Steven Cotrell in this morning's St. Augustine Record.  I endorse this message.

We moved to St. Augustine 20 years ago, in 1999.

Since I first attended a local government meeting in 2005,  I have always given my Post Office Box, never a street address.

"Privacy is a fundamental right," as Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), then Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, lectured Judge Robert Bork at his 1997 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

I first spoke out against developer-demanded annexations by the City of St. Augustine,  resulting in Fifteenth Amendment voting rights violations on April 11, 2005.  These annexations diluted minority voting strength and violated the Voting Rights Act and Fifteenth Amendment. In response, an enraged City Manager WILLIAM BARRY HARRISS threatened me after the meeting, stating, "I could have you arrested for disorderly conduct."  I told him I could write an article about him. But it wasn't just one.  We, the People ran off the rebarbative retromingent reprobate,

Odd, though, that Mr. Cottrell quotes an obscure "UCLA Law Review article (actually a student case note) as "authority," abusing an unnamed law student's dicta to backhand and besmirch people he has never met for speaking in meetings, questioning authority, speaking out against injustice, waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, flummery, dupery, nincompoopery, clearcutting, wetland filling, no-bid contracts and other symptoms of corrupt one-party rule here in the place Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called America's "most lawless."

"Enraged?"  "Gadflies?"  Harrumph.  Is Mr. Cottrell a "double minded man, unstable in all his ways?"  (James 1:8).

While the St. Augustine Record once praised citizen activists, the GANNETT-owned St. Augustine Record no longer quotes citizens speaking in meetings, and now its columnist insults us.
Does Mr. Cottrell bear animus that We, the People defeated his unctuous ukases and fatwas, inter alia calling for abolition of voting rights to elect St. Augustine's Mayor, 2015-2017?

Along his misguided way, Mr. Cottrell took another gratuitous veiled swipe at me.

I wear his scorn as a badge of honor.

Mr. Cottrell does not attend government meetings in person.


But as a former California small town elected official, he try to do a good job, mostly, in holding accountable some of the Grand Poohbahs of St. Augustine and St. Johns County.

Keep up the good work.  Give me a call.

From The St. Augustine Record:

STEVE COTTRELL | No reason for speakers to disclose home address
By Steve Cottrell, Columnist
Posted Jan 7, 2020 at 5:01 PM
It is time for local government boards and commissions to stop insisting that citizens wishing to comment at public meetings be required to disclose their home address before speaking.

It is time for local government boards and commissions to stop insisting that citizens wishing to comment at public meetings be required to disclose their home address before speaking. It may not have been a big deal a few decades ago, but requiring citizens in this day and age to publicly announce their residency on live television before commenting at the lectern, is unnecessary and can lead to bad things happening to good people.

Is announcing your home address before speaking at public meetings dictated by state law? No. It’s apparently a policy decision made by each board or commission.

The 2019 edition of the Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual, issued by Florida State Attorney General Ashley Moody, provides guidelines for local government when it comes to public comments, advising officeholders to, “Prescribe procedures or forms for an individual to use in order to inform the board or commission of a desire to be heard,” so the citizen can “indicate his or her support, opposition, or neutrality on a proposition.”

There is no mention in AG Moody’s advisory that citizens be required to openly disclose their home address at public meetings.

In some Florida jurisdictions, the only requirement is that citizens submit a comment request card, then go to the microphone when their name is called. In other jurisdictions, citizens simply approach the lectern, wait to be recognized by the chair or mayor, and offer their comments. No speaker’s request card is required. No home address is asked for.

Florida law guarantees, “Members of the public shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on a proposition before a board or commission,” but it does not mandate that a speaker’s home address be announced publicly.

Unfortunately, boards and commissions in St. Johns County tend to require that residency be announced — but the policy is not uniformly enforced. A couple regular commenters at city and county meetings, for example, merely give a post office box number, blog site address, or general neighborhood of residency. And that’s fine, provided other speakers are afforded the same level of privacy.

Believe it or not, some Florida government bodies will only allow residents and taxpayers of the city or county to speak at meetings. That seems like a huge overreach to me, but apparently legal. According to a 1992 U. S. Supreme Court ruling, “It is reasonable for a city to restrict the individuals who may speak at meetings to those individuals who have a direct stake in the business of the city — e.g., citizens of the city.”

Fortunately, that’s not the policy of any board or commission in St. Johns County.

Justification for limiting who can speak is mentioned in an April 2010 UCLA Law Review article, explaining that regular, frequent speakers at public meetings, “tend not to be ordinary citizens engaged in a particular issue but city hall fixtures enraged about every issue,” adding, “The city hall gadfly has become a familiar archetype.”

I find it curious that some public-comment regulars at local commission meetings speak without announcing their home address, nor do the respective chairs or mayors bother to ask for it. For some reason, they seem exempt from publicly disclosing what others are required to disclose. I support their right to privacy, but why the inconsistency?

Boards and commissions have only three residency categories to be concerned with, and none include a public announcement of the speaker’s home address: Is the speaker a resident, a non-resident business owner, or a non-resident who owns property within the city or county? Those are the only stakeholders to whom public officials need answer. Revealing additional residency information is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

Our local boards and commissions need to recognize the times we live in and adopt 21st century policies that may not have seemed necessary in the past. If you agree, let your elected city and county representatives know. You’re their boss and they need to hear from you.

Steve can be contacted at

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