Commissioners Prohibit Political Speak and Foul Language at City Meetings

No personal verbal attacks. No loud foul language or disorderly threatening behavior. No profane remarks. These are a few of the new guidelines laid out in the city’s revised Rules of Conduct for public meetings. _____________ Passed alongside new public meeting procedures in December,new rules of conduct for city meetings are designed to streamline meetings and instill order and respect, said Margate Mayor, Joanne Simone. “Please conduct yourself in a respectful, professional manner both in tone of voice, choice of words, as well as using the person’s appropriate title,” she said. “Please keep your comment on track for clarity so that your statement can be understood.” Simone said that behavior that goes beyond fair criticism and constitutes insults is unacceptable. “Please remember you can catch more flies with honey,” she said.

One section of the rules entitled Political Discussion prohibits speakers from making political statements when addressing city commissioners. “Speakers shall not make any political statements, solicit for politically funded events or campaign related issues at any public meetings, nor make political statements for or against any candidate or any issue on the ballot,”states revised rules.

Similar to the prior rule, the caveat essentially bars any political figure from speaking to the city commission about running for office; political matters accomplished while in office, bills pending in Tallahassee, bills that passed or failed in Tallahassee, or initiatives that elected officials or those running for city, county or state office are pursuing on behalf of their constituents or the city - as all can be construed as political discussion. It also prohibits lobbyists from addressing the city commission regarding political activities in Tallahassee and elsewhere. Margate resident, Tony Spavento, said the rule is “ridiculous and un-American and should be voted down or have some major revisions to it,” he told commissioners.

Similar to the prior rule, the caveat essentially bars any political figure from speaking to the city commission about running for office; political matters accomplished while in office, bills pending in Tallahassee, bills that passed or failed in Tallahassee, or initiatives that elected officials or those running for city, county or state office are pursuing on behalf of their constituents or the city - as all can be construed as political discussion. It also prohibits lobbyists from addressing the city commission regarding political activities in Tallahassee and elsewhere. Margate resident, Tony Spavento, said the rule is “ridiculous and un-American and should be voted down or have some major revisions to it,” he told commissioners.

Another rule that defines Decorum requires speakers to refrain from verbally offending elected officials or city staff, and regulates the content of speak. “To maintain decorum and order, no person shall use loud, offensive, disorderly, threatening, insulting, abusive, or foul language, or behave in an offensive, disorderly, threatening, abusive, or insulting manner, or make personal, impertinent, slanderous, or profane remarks as determined by the presiding officer to be intended as a disruption of the meeting,” states the rule. Margate resident, Anthony Caggiano, suggested the rule may be unconstitutional and circumvent first amendment rights. “Because you’re not happy with what someone says you make a rule and use it on everybody else. I don’t think that’s right,” he said. “The supreme court hasn’t even decided what is foul language.” In response to passing revised rules for public meeting procedures and conduct, Margate

resident, Rich Popovic told commissioners he believed they were doing it out of insecurity. “I think the reason why you want to control people is out of fear. Not because you want to get along with everybody. If you’re not afraid you should be more than willing to sit around and listen to descending points of view. You may absolutely learn something,” he said. He then told commissioners that new public meeting rules will ultimately discourage people from addressing elected officials at public meetings. “If you were making any of these things [rules] to accommodate people, you wouldn’t have me coming up here and saying these things. None of these things are accommodating contrary to what you just said. You’re making it more difficult to get up and say something and by you limiting people’s time and what they’re saying is really out of control,” he said. Cultural differences in the way diverse populations are raised and taught to speak, along with speakers addressing commissioners in languages other than English, may be problematic for a commission void of bilingual officials and with limited knowledge of dialects common to immigrant populations. In defense, Simone said revised rules are not designed to quiet the public, but rather to bring deference to meetings. “We’re not trying to limit you on speak, we’re just trying to run things more respectfully in commission chambers,” she said.

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