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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sneads Adopts Public Participation Policy

By Bo McMullian

To prevent the state Legislature from meddling with city council meetings, Sneads City Manager Ed Kilpatrick and Council President Mike Weeks--at the suggestion of the Florida League of Cities—managed to get a “Public Participation Policy” adopted at the February meeting.

“During the 2009 Legislative session,” Kilpatrick told the TIMES on Tuesday, “Rep. Dorothy Hukill (D-Port Orange) tried again to get her ‘vox populi’ bill passed which would allow citizens to direct the agenda items and procedures at meetings, making the proceedings too cumbersome and less orderly.

“The League of Cities recommended that all the towns in Florida enact policies to stop the state from adopting policies for them,” Kilpatrick said. “The vox populi bill died in committee but it could come up again this year.”

The Hukill measure would allow a citizen in the audience at a council meeting to object to a consent agenda item and have the item, or issue, pulled or tabled. Those and similar regulations would be effective for all governmental bodies in the state--except the Legislature.

The Sneads city council recently gained some valuable experience at conducting large meetings concerning controversial subjects--like the noise ordinance. Council members conducted the meetings sternly, requiring speakers to sign up in advance and limiting input to three minutes per speaker. These stringent rules helped the meetings to be conducted in an orderly manner, Kilpatrick said, and it was that example which was incorporated in the new policy. The rules insured that more than a dozen voices could be heard on both sides of the issue. Those speaking out against loud music in a neighborhood convinced the council to take a hard line against the offending nightclub owners. The owners later decided, on their own, they couldn’t keep the volume down and moved the bar to Chattahoochee, making Sneads a much quieter town in several ways.

If the upcoming election is any indicator, the public is generally supportive of the way the council handled the noise ordinance. Only one of two seats up for election was contested as of the qualifying deadline Friday at high noon. Tim Arnold will challenge long-time councilman Ricky Whittington in the April 13 election. Councilman Donovan Weeks was unopposed.

The new Public Participation Policy provides, in part, that:

● Those addressing the council in a formal meeting must speak from the podium provided so their comments can be heard and recorded well. No profanity.

● Routine complaints that can be handled by the manager, clerk or police chief should be handled by them, not the council. If the citizen is not satisfied with the resolution, he or she can request--a week in advance--to be placed on the next meeting agenda list.

● Topics already placed on an agenda may be commented upon but the speaker must fill out an “agenda card” before the start of the meeting. Those cards include name and address.

● Petitions on any topic can be submitted to the council before the start of the meeting and will be heard but any discussion will be placed on the agenda at the following meeting.

● Agenda cards are also required from speakers before the start of meetings for legal public hearings.

If the new policy seems restrictive to the public, Kilpatrick argues that the rules can also keep errant council members from using or enacting even more restrictive measures.

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