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City commission votes to move meeting start time to 10 a.m., add “ad hominem” attacks to prohibited speech

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their December 2 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission voted to move the start time for regular commission meetings to 10 a.m. They also voted to add “ad hominem attacks” to the section on disruptive behavior, and they voted to ask staff to come back with a future resolution to collect speaker cards from people who show up in person to speak.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos made the motion to adopt the rule changes put forward by staff plus the two changes above. Commissioner Harvey Ward seconded the motion. 

City Clerk Omichele Gainey asked whether speaker cards would be “the only option” for people to be able to speak, and Hayes-Santos said, “My intent is that people sign up to speak… while people are speaking, they can still put cards in… So yes.”

Commissioner David Arreola said the presiding officer should be able to open the floor for additional comments, even if the people don’t have speaker cards. Hayes-Santos said he “definitely agree[d]” that the presiding officer should have discretion. 

Interim City Attorney Dan Nee was hesitant to add “ad hominem attacks” because it could be interpreted differently by different people. He suggested “something along the lines of ad hominem comments on other individuals’ character, irrelevant to the issue at hand,” then admitted that sounded “somewhat strained.” He added that the First Amendment “isn’t designed to protect you from unpopular comments.” 

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Mayor Lauren Poe suggested, “the comment is disparaging and has no relation to the subject matter at hand.” Arreola pointed to language that’s already in the rules for debate for commissioners: “confine remarks to the question under debate, avoiding all personalities and indecorous language.” Nee proposed, “indecorous language directed at personalities, irrelevant to the issue at hand.” That language was added to the motion. 

There was a brief discussion about allowing for a lunch break, given the new 10 a.m. start time, but they decided not to add a formal lunch break because the presiding officer can always call a recess. Poe pointed out that the county commission doesn’t have a lunch break in their morning meetings, but he did not note that the county commission starts at 11:30 a.m., not 10:00 a.m.

During public comment on the motion, Nathan Skop said, “The problem is not the citizens; there is no need for new rules to impose draconian restrictions on citizens to limit public participation. The county commission doesn’t do that; the county commission doesn’t have the problems the city commission does because they treat people with respect, they listen to people, they don’t lecture people… they don’t require sign-in cards.”

Tana Silva said, “Obviously the same commissioners who voted for these rules last time are going to pass them, no matter what anyone says… Time and energy would be much better applied to work resolving real challenges through seeking and incorporating collective input from various perspectives… The worst idea is requiring speaker cards… and now the presiding officer could potentially decide who may speak if they don’t sign a card.” She pointed out that it makes no sense to ask speakers for an address or city district when people who don’t live in the city are allowed to speak. She also pointed out that commissioners were previously so worried about protecting that sort of private information that they removed their emails from the public portal

The motion passed 5-1 with Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker in dissent. Commissioner Reina Saco voted from Zoom because she had cold symptoms.

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