Rules Committee Special Meeting Minutes

 January 18, 2017

Immediately following 1:00 p.m. Rules Committee meeting


Topic: Public participation in City Council and committee meetings


Location: City Council Chamber, 1st floor, City Hall – St. James Building, 117 West Duval Street


In attendance: Council Members John Crescimbeni (Vice Chair), Greg Anderson, Danny Becton, Tommy Hazouri, Jim Love, Scott Wilson

Excused: Council Member Garrett Dennis (Chair)


Also: Heather Reber – Council Auditor’s Office; Peggy Sidman – Office of General Counsel; Jeff Clements and Colleen Hampsey – Council Research Division; Crystal Shemwell and Samantha Lane – Legislative Services Division; Ali Korman Shelton – Mayor’s Office


Meeting Convened: 2:04 p.m.


Deputy General Counsel Peggy Sidman described the findings of two General Counsel legal memos on the subject of public participation in meetings of public bodies under the provisions of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, and particularly given the recent change in state law regarding the right of the public to participate in the legislative process at the local government level. She noted that the Jacksonville City Council has allowed general public comment on any issue (outside of legally required public hearings on specific legislation) since at least 1972, far in excess of what many other jurisdictions have allowed. There was no absolute right for the public to participate in public meetings until an amendment to the Sunshine Law in 2013, and that law does not necessarily mandate that the public has a right to speak at the meeting at which a final vote is taken on legislation if sufficient opportunities for participation have been made available at other points in the legislative process.


In response to a question about whether the Council’s standing committees must allow public comment opportunities at their meetings, the OGC’s first memo said that the law does not mandate that. Florida Statutes state that the ability for the public to comment need not be at the same meeting where the final decision is being made. The public’s existing right to comment on all ordinances at their normal second reading public hearing and ability to comment on pending resolutions in the Council’s public comment period are sufficient to meet the statutory participation opportunity requirements; any opportunity for public comment at committee meetings is optional.


Council Member Hazouri recommended that a mechanism be developed to display the number and title of each bill being heard by the Council on the television and streaming internet feeds so that viewers outside of City Hall who don’t have ready access to the printed agendas in the Council Chamber can more easily understand what item is being debated and voted on. Council Member Love suggested that a list of all the bills on a meeting’s agenda be shown in chronological order on the television and internet feeds so that the audience can follow the body’s progress through the agenda and can pinpoint bills of interest.


The second OGC memo under discussion concerned the City Council’s ability to require the name and address of speakers on the speaker request card. Florida Statutes Sec. 286.011(4) allows for the governing body to prescribe the speaker request form, which may include the name and address of the speaker. Council Rule 3.604 requires the name and address of speakers in each category – public hearing, public comment and public participation.


In response to a question about whether the Council can require speakers to give their address audibly on the record as a condition of speaking during public comment or a public hearing, the second OGC opinion said that provision of an address can be made a condition of speaking during public comment since that opportunity is completely optional and the Council may impose whatever rules it deems appropriate. For public hearings and public participation the address may be submitted in writing (i.e. on the speaker request card) and need not be announced audibly.


Ms. Sidman recommended that the Council add a new Council Rule to deal with the new Public Participation process for substantive resolutions (not simple “honoring and commending” resolutions, which are exempt from the public participation requirements).  


City Ethics Officer Carla Miller urged the committee to err on the side of more, not less, opportunity for public input. She said that citizens who take the time and effort to come to a public meeting and are not afforded the opportunity to speak if they wish are likely to become discourage and not come back to future meetings. She urged that the opportunity to speak also be afforded in committee meetings as well as full Council meetings. She disagreed with requiring citizens to give their exact street address for safety reasons, suggesting instead that speakers give a street name and their neighborhood or council district to give the council members an idea of their location and the relevance of their testimony, but without potentially compromising their safety.


Council Member Becton suggested that the speaker cards with home addresses could be shown on the council members’ computers only, not on the television/internet broadcast. In response to a question from Council Member Anderson about whether the Council could schedule a fixed public comment period to give the public certainty about when they would be allowed the opportunity to speak, Ms. Sidman indicated it could. In response to a question from Council Member Crescimbeni, she also stated that the Floor Leader could read the speaker’s card name and address into the record. She indicated that state law allows local governments to provide for guidelines on the amount of time an individual has to address the  board or commission.


Motion (Wilson): the committee authorizes Deputy General Counsel Peggy Sidman to draft an amendment to the Council Rules to authorize and create procedures for Public Participation in meetings, for the committee to consider at a future meeting – approved 6-0.


Public Comment

Wade Mask said that he appreciates the opportunity to see what citizens have to say during the Public Comment portion of the City Council meeting both on television and via the online video stream. He has received threats as a result of his participation in the HRO debate and supports not requiring speakers to audibly give their addresses as a condition of speaking. He thanked the City Council for allowing as much public comment as it currently does.


Conrad Markle disagreed with some of the General Counsel’s Office’s interpretation of the state law change and its impact on public participation opportunities. He believes the public ought to be allowed to speak at the meetings at which final votes are taken on legislation.


John Nooney believed that the public should be allowed the opportunity to speak at all committee meetings; that right should not be at the discretion of the committee chair.



Meeting Adjourned: 2:08 p.m.


Minutes: Jeff Clements, Council Research

            1.20.17   Posted 4:15 p.m.

Tapes:  Rules special committee meeting– LSD