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City commission votes to move meetings to 10 a.m., require speakers to fill out cards

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the City of Gainesville General Policy Committee meeting on October 28, the city commissioners discussed a proposal by Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos to change various rules for conducting city commission meetings. Hayes-Santos’ proposal had 17 elements:

  1. Combine the adoption of the consent and regular agendas into one agenda item.
  2. Clarify that public comment only needs to be taken once per item, not on every motion during an item.
  3. Public comment does not need to be taken on administrative or procedural items.
  4. Public comment can’t be used to advocate for a candidate running for office; advocating for referenda and amendments would be allowed.
  5. The microphone automatically shuts off at the end of the time limit for public comment.
  6. Start meetings at 9:30 a.m.; have staff reports, policy discussions, and business discussion in the morning, have ordinances and resolutions in the afternoon.
  7. Set a period for general public comment at 1:00 p.m. and do not televise the general public comment.
  8. Items pulled from consent agenda would be heard right after the agenda is adopted.
  9. Public comment must be focused on the item being heard.
  10. If there is no quorum, the meeting may continue, but votes may not be taken.
  11. Limit public comment to 2 minutes; 3 minutes for quasi-judicial items or for the first time an individual speaks at the meetings; after the first time, speakers are limited to 2 minutes.
  12. No telephone comments for agenda items. Pre-recorded comments would continue to be taken and transcribed for the commission but not played during the meeting.
  13. Require speaker cards for all individuals wishing to provide public comment, with space for the speaker’s name, whether they are for or against the item, and their address. The clerk would give the cards to the mayor, who would call each speaker up. 
  14. Provide language translation services for people who register in advance.
  15. No general public comment at special meetings or workshops unless added at the adoption of the agenda.
  16. Add language on decorum like prohibiting vulgar language, vulgar gestures, and discourteous, disrespectful, or disparaging conduct.
  17. Clarify Ex Parte communications (communications on quasi-judicial items, which must be disclosed when the item is heard by the commission).

Hayes-Santos did not explain–and nobody else addressed–how the public would know whether they are for or against an item before a motion is made.

Commissioner David Arreola agreed with combining the agenda approval, prohibiting advocating for a candidate, cutting off the microphone, letting the meeting continue when a quorum isn’t present, speaker cards (“rather than allowing strangers and the public to negotiate amongst themselves turns for speaking”), and language translation services. 

He preferred deferring to the presiding officer for the amount of public comment periods per item and possibly also letting the presiding officer allow someone to finish their comment instead of cutting off the microphone. He recommended starting meetings at 10 a.m. instead of 9:30 to give people time to check for any last-minute changes to the agenda backup. Arreola didn’t favor a separate, untelevised time for general public comment, a separate time for items pulled from the consent agenda, or cutting the public comment time limit to 2 minutes. He also didn’t favor moving away from telephone comments or completely eliminating general public comment from all special meetings (“I would again defer that to the presiding officer”). 

“Language has been a huge issue for me… It is difficult, if you come in with an interpreter, to be told you still have three minutes… So I do want to see how we can modify the time if someone comes in with an interpreter” – Commissioner Reina Saco

Commissioner Reina Saco agreed with combining the agenda approval, prohibiting advocating for a candidate, allowing the meeting to continue when there’s not a quorum (“I’m all for allowing bathroom breaks and allowing the conversation to continue while one has to step out”), speaker cards (“I like the concept of name, pro or con, I’d rather have a district as opposed to an address”), language services (“Language has been a huge issue for me… It is difficult, if you come in with an interpreter, to be told you still have three minutes… So I do want to see how we can modify the time if someone comes in with an interpreter”), not taking general public comment at special meetings (“If we set a special meeting, it’s because we’re going to talk about x… That’s not a general opportunity to complain or comment on something else”). 

She suggested taking public comment before a motion is made instead of limiting public comment to one motion per item (“I think moving public comment perhaps to the front of an item might make neighbors feel more heard”). She said she would accept 10 a.m. as a starting time, “only because I have seen staff just sit here until 1:00 in the morning, and that’s not fair to them”). She didn’t like the separate periods for general public comment or items pulled from the consent agenda. 

“I have noticed that maybe a handful of times now, there are folks who will give public comment in chamber, go outside, and call in with a different name, but we recognize the voices. That’s unfair. That’s cheating the system… And the other thing is we have had a couple of folks… well, this caller doesn’t want to give a name, they want to be anonymous. I don’t think that’s appropriate. If you show up here, we know who you are. You call in, you have to give a name. It’s not an anonymous post on Reddit.” – Saco

Saco said she had mixed feelings on telephone comments: “On the one hand, it does appear to be a genuinely wonderful access point for the community. On the other hand, by my guesstimate… I think maybe for every ten callers, we have one caller who doesn’t regularly come in chamber, anyway.” She said she’d like staff to look at the minutes for the past year or so “to see the diversity of callers on the phone… Is this someone in the meeting, anyway? Is this someone a frequent caller, anyway? How many new neighbors are actually getting to access local government through this tool as opposed to folks who could call one day, come in the other, and already do this routinely?” After asking about the estimate for the cost of the telephone service ($100,000 per year, based on the previous year’s usage), she said, “I have noticed that maybe a handful of times now, there are folks who will give public comment in chamber, go outside, and call in with a different name, but we recognize the voices. That’s unfair. That’s cheating the system… And the other thing is we have had a couple of folks… well, this caller doesn’t want to give a name, they want to be anonymous. I don’t think that’s appropriate. If you show up here, we know who you are. You call in, you have to give a name. It’s not an anonymous post on Reddit.”

Commissioner Harvey Ward agreed with combining the approval of the agendas; taking comments once per agenda item (“and I think that should be before we have deliberation… with the understanding that that’s it. At that point, it’s back to the commission”), although he said it shouldn’t be a “hard and fast rule”; having a morning session (“I don’t care what time we start… I would like to maintain some evening sessions so that people who can’t make it during the day can still be part of City business”); continuing the meeting without a quorum (“We don’t want to shut the meeting down because someone has to take an emergency call or it’s been three hours since we’ve taken a bathroom break”); limiting public comment to the agenda item (“hearing the same talking points over and over again that have nothing to do with the item that we’re working on is not fair to the public”); and speaker cards for items on the agenda (“If we introduce something new, people need an opportunity to speak on that”). 

He said he “wasn’t comfortable” with shutting the microphone off, he didn’t support a special period for general public comment, and he preferred keeping the public comment time limit at three minutes. Regarding decorum, he said, “If somebody wants to make personal attacks on us, I would rather they didn’t, but that’s part of the game. People who are not in public office, though, should not be called out from the lectern.” 

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she was “not interested in adopting anything that limits the community’s ability to access us or meetings in any way, or to make public comment.” She supported continuing the meeting when there’s not a quorum, keeping three minutes for public comment, and language translation services. She asked about translation for the deaf, and Saco said that was governed by ADA. Mayor Lauren Poe said that translation services are “part of the recommendations coming back to us as part of the grant… The next phase… is to bring recommendations back to us on how we can become more language inclusive as an organization, and I’m sure that will be one of the things they look at.” 

“I have a job aside from this one. And when I think about anyone else who may want to run for office, who may have a job… I want to be cognizant of that… The 1:00 meeting gives a person the opportunity to go to work for the first half of the day and perhaps take the rest of the day off.” – Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker on moving meetings to 10 a.m.

Duncan-Walker said she had a different perspective about morning meetings: “First of all, myself. I have a job aside from this one. And when I think about anyone else who may want to run for office, who may have a job… I want to be cognizant of that… The 1:00 meeting gives a person the opportunity to go to work for the first half of the day and perhaps take the rest of the day off.”

She didn’t want to have a portion of the meeting that is not televised (“I think every part of our meeting needs to be accessible via broadcast for our neighbors to be able to consume”).

“[County Commission Chair Ken Cornell is] going to bring to his board some pretty significant changes that, you know, we may want to hear about and sort of understand their approach.” – Mayor Lauren Poe

Poe said that he recently had a conversation with County Commission Chair Ken Cornell, and “he’s going to bring to his board some pretty significant changes that, you know, we may want to hear about and sort of understand their approach… So whatever we decide today… one thing I’d like to do is delay any implementation until the first of the year and then… maybe consider some different changes that might keep us in alignment with what the County does.”

And, you know, for a long time our meetings were ending at a reasonable hour. But as we take on harder and harder work and the conversations become more difficult, you know, I see us being challenged to address some of those major issues at an hour that is reasonable for everybody.” – Poe

Poe said he would rather not cut off the microphone at three minutes because “that can, I think, be seen as a little bit hostile.” Regarding the morning starting time, he said, “I very much take to heart the comments that Commissioner Duncan-Walker stated because I was that person until very recently. I taught in the morning and came and did my City business in the afternoon and evening.” But he said that “it would be a benefit to our community, to our staff, and to us to be able to take the time to fully discuss issues without feeling like we’re going to pay for it later in the meeting.” He said that asking people to stay late into the night “is so much more a disservice to the public process than trying to start earlier and end at a reasonable hour. And, you know, for a long time our meetings were ending at a reasonable hour. But as we take on harder and harder work and the conversations become more difficult, you know, I see us being challenged to address some of those major issues at an hour that is reasonable for everybody.”

“Language inclusiveness is a must. We have got to do that… That’s not a ‘should we’ or ‘is it a good idea?’ It’s an absolute necessity to make sure that all of our neighbors, regardless of their English proficiency, are able to fully participate.” – Poe

Poe said the current public comment schedule is fine, that there was no need to have a special section of the agenda for items pulled from the consent agenda, and that he favored keeping public comment at three minutes, with the presiding officer having the ability to reduce the time if a large number of people show up on a single agenda item. He supported telephone comments and speaker cards (“We were getting ready to do that and then COVID hit”). He said, “Language inclusiveness is a must. We have got to do that… That’s not a ‘should we’ or ‘is it a good idea?’ It’s an absolute necessity to make sure that all of our neighbors, regardless of their English proficiency, are able to fully participate.”).

Poe agreed that general public comment isn’t necessary at special meetings and workshops. Regarding decorum, he said, “Unfortunately, usually by the time somebody has been disrespectful, it’s already happened. I am not a precog and can’t anticipate it happening.”

Poe asked Interim City Attorney Daniel Nee which items need to be heard after 6:00 p.m., and Nee said he’d be more comfortable if he could report back on that. He also said he would look into standard language that commissioners could use in responding to Ex Parte communications, letting people know that the discussions have to be reported.

Poe also suggested adding an additional item to the list—making board appointments at General Policy Committee (GPC) meetings instead of city commission meetings. And then he added a proposal to have a meeting once a quarter where each commissioner has 30 minutes to “present whatever they want to the rest of the board, just so we know what you’re thinking about… because we don’t get to do that, right? We don’t get to sit around a dinner table and break bread and just talk about what’s top of mind to us… In addition to that, I would like to create a safe space for [staff-driven ideas and initiatives to be presented] without any action by the board… So once a quarter, we set aside a GPC time for a city commission workshop… We could also take some of the things on our strategic plan that are labeled ‘on the horizon’… what’s going on with that, where are we headed, what needs to be done to elevate those once we get some other major priorities addressed.”

Hayes-Santos made a motion to move forward on numbers 1, 2 “but with an addition that the presiding officer of the commission may amend that,” 3 “but the presiding officer may amend that as well,” 4, 6 with a start time of 10 a.m., 9 but presiding officer may amend, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, and have staff come back for a discussion on Ex Parte communications. He said he didn’t think moving board appointments to GPC needed to be part of the rules; he added giving direction to staff to research what had to be heard in the evening and removing items from the printed agenda if they were removed from the agenda prior to the meeting (currently the agenda item is still shown, with a note saying the item was removed).

Saco asked whether they could post the rules for public comment “in layman’s terms–the general rules would be helpful to the community, and having them in a couple of other languages as well. If it were up to me, we would post it really big at those two sides so you would see it when you come in.”

Poe said that’s “not really a rule thing” and asked the City Clerk to work on it. Hayes-Santos asked that the rules also be printed in the agenda packets.

After public comment, Saco asked to add to the motion a request for staff to analyze the data of the phone commenters “to see how many callers we have… seems like last year we had all of these new people. Want a preliminary analysis of general trends of calling in and numbers who call in, if possible.” Hayes-Santos agreed to add that to the motion. 

The motion passed 5-1, with Duncan-Walker in dissent.

The rule changes will need to be brought back in the form of a resolution before becoming official.

Recess schedule

They also set their recess schedule for the next year-plus:

  • Winter recess: December 14, 2021 – January 2, 2022
  • Spring recess: March 21, 2022 – March 25, 2022
  • Summer recess: June 21, 2022 – July 10, 2022
  • Election recess: August 13, 2022 – August 28, 2022
  • Runoff election recess: October 29, 2022 – November 13, 2022
  • Winter recess: December 17, 2022 – January 1, 2023
  • Hayes-Santos is afraid of people calling out his various schemes and criminal enterprises in the general public comments. What a piece of work he is.

  • It will actually take longer to fill out your card then the time allowed to speak. What country am I living in?

  • Looks to me like the ruling class want to identify the dissenting opinions for reprisal. Don’t be fooled by their lies and the curtains they hide behind.

    Poe and his cronies are looking to silence the people who are fed up with his authoritarian rule and will use the proposals as a means of persecution against those voices.

    The lemmings on the other hand, will continue to believe…

    • These commie Marxist don’t want citizens to be able to
      Participate in local government….—they should be
      Encouraging citizen participation & diversity of
      Thought…What are they doing to stop panhandling
      Again in GNV? Reconfiguring 13th & University so panhandlers can set up in the middle safely??
      —I didn’t see they required a Covid passport to speak,
      Do you still have to cover your face as an act of submission to speak before the CC too?

      • Don’t forget…They arrested RW for lowering his mask to breathe.. they wanted to silence him.
        Tyrants!!!

  • It seems the only one with any sense is Desmon Duncan-Walker. This tyrannical BS needs to stop.
    Hayes Santos is a liar and Poe is just plain stupid but he his ducklings must be voted out!

  • What about people who don’t read and/or write, for whatever reason? Is it necessary to publicly shame them for not filling out their cards? Might it be racially insensitive, or insensitive to the homeless and other marginalized groups?

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