Residents will no longer have to wait hours to speak their mind at city commission meetings.
Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to move public comment from the end of meetings to near the beginning.
Commissioners said this change will likely allow public comment each week to begin sometime around 5:30 p.m., just after the Consent section of the agenda for usually quick, noncontroversial items. Meetings start at 5 p.m.
Residents can speak to the board for up to three minutes on any issue of their choosing during the comment period.
“I don’t really want to be here at 10 p.m. waiting for y’all to talk about trivial little stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with me,” resident Roger Gaskins said. “I’d like the freedom of speech and I’d also like to say things that you don’t want to hear.”
Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell, who advocated the change, said public comment was held at the start of meetings when she joined the commission 11 years ago. But former Mayor Lois Frankel encouraged commissioners to push comment back. Mitchell said that has had a “chilling effect” on public participation.
“If you had been here back in those years, you would have seen a lot of what we’re seeing tonight, actual members of the community here voicing their opinion, some of which we agree with and some of which we don’t,” Mitchell said.
Commissioner Keith James said he would agree to the move but asked the mayor to enforce the city’s civility code, which says residents can only address the commission as a whole and not address individuals on the dais and in the audience. It also prohibits displays of anger, rudeness, ridicule, impatience, lack of respect and personal attacks.
“We have a civility code outlined at the beginning of every agenda and frankly I don’t think anyone pays attention,” James said.
Mayor Jeri Muoio responded that “we definitely have a code and frequent times when it is breached” and she asked City Attorney Claudia McKenna what the city can do about it.
“You can ask that someone who breaches the code be removed from the chambers,” McKenna said.
That led to some anger from residents, including Lia Gaines, the president of the West Palm Beach branch of the NAACP, who asked if the mayor and commissioners can also be removed for violating the civility code.
“As commissioners and mayor, you should have thick skin,” Gaines said. “You are elected to hear the residents, the good and the bad. Even if there’s someone you never want to hear from, it’s your responsibility to hear that person and that position out.”
Muoio said she’s never ordered anyone removed from the chambers.
“Everybody has a right to say what they have to say,” Muoio said. “It would have to be incredibly egregious before I’d step in and do that. I hope those of you who come to speak before us use your good sense and good manners that your parents taught you and approach us with respect. We on the other hand will approach you with respect.”
The West Palm Beach city commission on Tuesday:
- Voted 4-1 to postpone awarding a $200,000 settlement to ex-firefighter captain Rick Curtis. Curtis, who was fired in 2011 following a DUI conviction that was later overturned, said he agreed to the settlement under pressure and said he should be given his pension back. City Attorney Claudia McKenna said Curtis gave up his pension voluntarily. Commissioners will reconsider at the next commission meeting.
- Voted unanimously to spend $94,000 a year for four years to implement a computerized time and attendance system for employees, which had been a long standing internal audit recommendation. City staff said the new system will result in cost savings for the city and allow for greater control in monitoring employees’ time at work. The commission previously voted to spend nearly $500,000 for the first year of the system, which included purchase of the clocks and software licenses.
- Voted unanimously to spend $13,120 to upgrade street lighting in the Coleman Park neighborhood as part of the city’s revitalization effort. The increase in wattage will cost the city $5,354 per year.