The decision provides guidelines for commenting and addressing officials during all commission, board and committee meetings.
On September 24, the Safety Harbor City Commission received a memo regarding new state legislation relating to public meetings.
The new law, which went into effect on October 1st, states that “members of the public be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on all action items prior to action being taken.”
The bill, (1)SB 50/2013-227 also calls for a board to adopt rules governing the conduct and decorum at public meetings, including City Commission, board and committee meetings.
On October 21st, the Safety Harbor City Commission passed a resolution outlining specific rules for the city’s meetings, a decision some have decried for its apparent attempt to stifle residents’ freedom of expression.
“As I understand, (resolution) 2013-18 is a ban on applause,” resident Steve Steinberg said at the meeting. “I believe it is a total disservice to the community.’
“I believe decorum can still be reinforced without having the public sit on their hands and bite their tongue.”
The animosity over the resolution stems from the original wording that was put in regarding public comment. Section 3 stated, “Clapping, applauding, heckling or verbal outbursts in support or opposition of a speaker or his or her remarks shall be prohibited.”
The perceived stifling of applause rankled at least one commissioner.
“The only part I still don’t like is the ‘clapping and applauding, heckling and verbal outbursts’,” Commissioner Nancy Besore said during the October 7th commission meeting.
Vice Mayor Nina Bandoni said it was unfair to judge the opinions of the community about an issue based on those who show up and clap at the commission meetings.
But Besore remained steadfast in her belief that the feedback can be helpful in making decisions.
“The pulse of the room helps me. And I don’t want the clapping to be silenced.”
After much debate, the resolution was amended to remove the ‘applause’ clause when it came up for the final vote on October 24th.
The resolution passed by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Besore expressing the sole ‘nay’ vote.