Hours were spent Monday evening deliberating over the three minutes taken by the public to air their support or grievances with a broad spectrum of activity conducted by the local government of about 6,500 St Johns County residents.
The highly controversial topic, public comments during commission meetings, is another aspect of constitutional freedom that some members of the community say Beach officials would like to see eliminated. Each commissioner who spoke, however, reiterated a position that their concerns are not intended to throttle public participation but rather to more efficiently manage time spent in meetings.
A proposal that was on the agenda as Item 4 drew heated comments from residents, out-of-town speakers from the City of St Augustine or other parts of St Johns County not part of the incorporated City of St Augustine Beach, as well as from the commissioners themselves.
The proposal Monday, originally discussed in March, would have limited public participation in commission meetings to one of two public comment periods plus an additional comment on items that were part of a public hearing.
Presently, public comments, up to three-minutes in length, can be expressed on virtually anything on the Beach commission’s agenda. The more restrictive proposal was met with strong-opposition as well as warnings from some audience members.
When no consensus was reached on the proposal, and no motion to vote for or against limiting public comment, St. Augustine Beach Mayor Rich O’Brien called for the city attorney, Jim Wilson, and city manager, Max Royle, to collaborate on how to reduce meeting times instead of reducing public comment. In a related issue, the city clerk was instructed to resume listing details of public speakers in the minutes of the commission meetings, rather than simply noting the name of each speaker.