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New Public Meeting Rules Meet with Public Criticism

Margate’s revised procedures for public meetings received scant support from Margate residents last month. “You people are turning into real Nazis, let me tell you,” Margate resident, Rich Popovic, told elected officials at a December city meeting. “Treating everybody like we’re in first grade and you’re the teacher is how the meeting is going to run? That really doesn’t work with adults,” he said to the Mayor. __________ Changes in the way meetings are conducted is the brainchild of Margate Mayor, Joanne Simone. Rule revision is designed to improve professionalism on the dais and instill order at public meetings, she said. As presiding officer over meetings, the mayor reserves the right to establish ground rules as he/she sees fit. Revisions proposed by Simone were reviewed by others in government, she said, and some are modeled after those used by other cities and the county.

“People don’t come to our commission meetings because it’s a playground and as mayor I am trying to stop that,” she said. New procedures supersede Robert’s Rules of Order and appoint the city attorney as parliamentarian. Topics for public speak are more thoroughly defined in rules and decorum is demanded on behalf of the public and commissioners alike. Click for new procedures. “All members of the City Commission shall accord the utmost courtesy to each other, to City staff, and to public members appearing before the City Commission, and shall refrain at all times from rude and derogatory remarks, reflections as to integrity, abusive comments, and statements as to motives and personalities,” states the revised document. Controversial was the return of the comment card - a written form members of the public must now fill out prior to being recognized by the commission during public speak. Commissioners ended (3-2) use of the cards in 2011 when then Commissioner Pam Donovan was appointed to the Mayor's seat. If cards are not submitted by the start time of meetings, commenters arriving late will forfeit the opportunity to address the commission on topics that pertain to Margate. Vice Mayor, Tommy Ruzzano, thought penalizing people for being late to a meeting was overly restrictive, as some may be coming directly from work. If a person shows up late but public speak is still going on, the public should be allowed to participate. “This is local government. To tell people they can’t speak because they didn’t fill out the card is a little ridiculous,” he said. Commissioner, Lesa Peerman, saw it differently. If elected officials can show up on time for a meeting so can the people. “If they come late, I’m sorry, we’re here. We’re here on time. We have traffic, we have all that other stuff too,” she said. Suggesting to put the comment form online, Commissioner Frank Talerico, said with cards available on the City’s website 24/7 the public has ample time to submit comment cards before a meeting. This way, if people are late they can still speak, provided they arrive before the public speak portion of the meeting is closed. Talerico voted against ending the cards in 2011. Margate resident, Anthony Caggiano, said cards were unfair. Being late to a meeting shouldn’t stop the public from being heard. He also felt ditching Robert’s Rules was capricious. Popovic agreed. “If somebody comes in a little late and didn’t fill out a card and they hear something going on in the city they should be permitted to get up and say something during public discussion and not have their voices shut down. This is a total travesty what’s going on here. We’re stepping backwards,” he said. “You keep telling me you’re moving forward. Well, I really haven’t seen that. You don’t want to follow Robert’s Rules, and instead make them [rules] up as you go along.” Peerman said people who want to speak at meetings need to be accountable for showing up on time. “At what point do the people have to accept responsibility for what they need to do to speak at the meeting,” she said. “This is our meeting and we are the people that make the rules for our meeting.” Margate resident, Tony Spavento, took exception to the commissioner’s comment. “It isn’t your meeting, it is our meeting,” he told Peerman. Peerman directed the city attorney to correct Spavento. “This is not a town hall meeting. The meeting is the board of commissioners of the city and under the law it must be done in the public. This is not a meeting of the City of Margate,” said Margate City Attorney Eugene Steinfeld. “Members in the audience are not members of this meeting. They are spectators.” Ruzzano confirmed with Simone that no matter who is late to public speak; if they don’t have a card they can’t speak. He said he has seen exceptions made in the past. “No matter who it is; the rule will be the rule,” she said. Another benefit to the cards, said the Mayor, was that if people are clear on the card about their topic or problem, city staff can research it and get back to them if they leave their phone number or email on the card.

At first Commissioner, Joyce Bryan, objected to the revised system, then flipped when it came time to approve the new rules, which commissioners passed 4-1; Ruzzano in dissent. “I’m not happy with the cards so I have to vote no,” he said. Though in 2011 Peerman, a freshman commissioner at the time, voted to end use of the cards as means of generating more impromptu discussion among the public, she threw her support behind Simone. “I’m not a fan of the cards I never was a fan of the cards, however, this is what the mayor wants and when you’re the mayor you get to pick these rules,” she said. Comment cards will be available outside commissioner chambers prior to meetings and must be turned into the City Clerk (far end of the dais) by meeting start, which is 7 pm. They can also be submitted online at Margate Comment Form. Cards can be submitted in advance for any of the meetings listed at the bottom of the online form, City Clerk, Joe Kavanagh told People wishing to speak on agenda items do not need to complete the cards. Comment cards apply to the public speak portion of the meeting, which is typically the third item on the agenda.

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