BRADENTON -- Manatee BOCC Chairman Larry Bustle felt citizen comments were getting problematic, so he asked county attorney Micky Palmer to look into rewriting the rules governing what and when citizens could give the county commissioners a piece of their mind. He found out it wasn't that easy.
The only time citizens have a public opportunity to tell their board of county commissioners what they think on a particular item, or about what they think of their elected officials' performance, is at the dais, usually only around three to four times each month.
Even then, the time limit allotted to speak is only two minutes, and it usually takes most newcomers a minute or two to get over the nervousness before they can get the words out.
What seemed to be bothering Chairman Bustle were the remarks that were coming from those who spoke frequently and with knowledge about the subject matter on the agenda, especially when it came to "rubber-stamping" development. Bustle, whose most recent campaign was primarily funded by Medallion Homes' Carlos Beruff, has been known to be quite supportive to comp plan amendments involving development and other hot-button, pro-build issues, placing him square in the sights of many smart growth advocates who regularly attend the meetings.
But asking Palmer to rewrite the rules opened a can of worms that may have ultimately backfired. Tuesday's meeting may have been a lesson, more for the commissioners, than for the citizens who they were seemingly looking to marginalize.
Palmer presented a model that he said would simplify the process, but it was clear that the overriding emphasis of the attempt was to reduce the interaction between commissioners and those who pay their salaries, if not their campaign expenses.
For an hour, commissioners fondled the notion of expanding the comment allowance to three minutes, and knocking off a 10-minute over-all cap any speaker is allowed in one day.
The real argument was never about the two minute rule though. It was about commissioners' dislike with public inquiry anytime it disagreed with the prevailing notions of the majority of the board. Bustle complained because of his dislike for criticism citizens were increasingly throwing at him and other commissioners, mostly related to development.
Commissioners projected great concern for the citizen complaints presented at the meeting, but their shift to the minutes argument over the content objections provided wiggle room until the next meeting where a new document will be presented.
Commissioner DiSabatino made a motion to rewrite the rules, with consideration for allowing all meetings to provide three-minute citizen comments, and not include a ten minute cap on the total time any one person can speak at one meeting.
The motion passed unanimously, and the item will be presented at the next regular meeting in about two weeks.
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