Deltona takes up right to speak in meetings

In the west Volusia County city of Deltona, it has been a longstanding policy to allow the public to speak on most items being considered by the City Commission — policy, not law, but that may be about to change.

The Deltona city commissioners will consider an ordinance at their regular meeting tonight that provides the public be allowed an opportunity to speak in all city matters that require a vote — and, yes, the public will be allowed to comment on the proposed ordinance at the meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 2345 Providence Boulevard.

In meetings before the St Augustine and St Johns County commissioners, as is currently the practice in Deltona, the public is allowed to speak on any subject at the start of commission meetings — or to specific issues during “public hearings” before certain votes are made.

Deltona resident Lonnie Groot, who works as a city attorney for neighboring Sanford and Lake Helen, has commented over the past two years that sometimes issues are brought up at the end of a meeting.

This happens in St Augustine, as well. Sometimes, items that are not on the agenda, come up in “commissioner comments” at the end of the meeting. They can be voted on before residents have a chance to comment. Although such actions are legal, Groot argues that elected officials should take the time to listen to their bosses — the public.

The Florida Legislature has been considering the same issue. In fact, last week the Senate approved a bill similar to the one Groot has proposed for Deltona that is now in the State Affairs Committee of the Florida House of Representatives.

Groot says the right of the public to speak during government meetings comes directly from the United States Constitution, which reads: “The people shall have the right peaceably to assemble, to instruct their representatives, and to petition for redress of grievances.”

Not everyone in Deltona, including Mayor John C. Masiarczyk, Sr., are “on-board” with Groot’s proposed ordinance — at least, not yet. The mayor says that he has always allowed the public to comment in meetings, so, he wants to know what happened to necessitate a new ordinance.

“I’m not saying I’m against it,” Masiarczyk told reporters. “I don’t generally have a real problem with it.” The mayor says he considers the way the ordinance is being brought before the commission, through the city attorney instead of through discussion in a commission meeting, “offensive”, even questionable.

Masiarczyk says he does not intend to suggest that the commissioners were in cahoots, but, at the same time, he says he is “surprised” that three commissioners approached Deltona City Attorney Becky Vose within days of each other. “It’s amazing to me how three individuals come up with the same idea at the same time. We need a discussion of how that is,” Masiarczyk said.

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