Commissioners Clarify Campaign Speak at Public Meetings

According to revised rules on political speak at Margate city commission meetings, issues like the Broward school bond passed by voters last year are no longer fair game for talk. “That means if it’s an issue on the ballot it’s not supposed to be discussed here,” said Margate City Attorney Eugene Steinfeld. ____________ Steinfeld responded to a question asked by Margate resident, Anthony Caggiano, with regards to a school board presentation at an October 2014 Margate city commission meeting. A school board official solicited support for an $800 million bond referendum at the meeting. “Does that mean that person is no longer able to come up here and speak about bond issues that are coming in front of the public?” Caggiano asked at a January city meeting.

The question came up when commissioners deliberated on whether to amend recently revised rules on public speak due to “some confusion regarding ‘Section g.’ of the Rules of Conduct of the Public, entitled Political Discussion,” stated the resolution.

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The source of confusion was not identified, but evident in an earlier discussion when commissioners allowed public speak on behalf of a Florida Senate bill proposed for 2015. Speakers from the public were allowed to promote the bill, along with political figureheads behind it. But because the bill had yet to appear on a ballot and elected officials backing it were not currently up for re-election, Steinfeld said it was okay. “It makes it pretty clear that it [the resolution] is for a person, or event that is a ballot issue. In other words; if we’re talking about advocating something to the legislature or to the congress, [it] would not be covered [under the ordinance], that’s why it was clarified. “If it’s not on the ballot; it certainly can be discussed,” he said. Language in a policy subsection was changed from “Political Discussion” to “Political Campaigning” and from “Speakers shall not make any political statements” to “Speakers shall not make any political campaign statements.” (Click for revision) Margate Commissioner, Lesa Peerman, said that for as long as she has been attending city commission meetings political campaigning was not allowed. She offered an explanation as to why the school board was allowed to campaign for their ballot initiative last year. “It was unclear what the term ‘campaigning’ meant and I think what this does is just clarify it a little bit more,” she said. Margate resident, Rich Popovic, objected to campaign speak rules. “This is a political place. Everything that goes on here is political. Everybody that comes in here is running for something or wants to run for something. You come to these places so that you can hear points of view from everybody. It’s why people come here,” he said. Popovic used former Margate Magistrate, Mitch Kraft, and former Broward County School Board member,Stephanie Kraft, as examples of the benefit of allowing political speak at meetings. Both were local officials charged with public corruption in recent years. Popovic suggested that if either attempts to work in a public capacity again - on the ballot or off - the public should be allowed to voice their opinion at a public meeting. “So you don’t want me to come up here and say ‘don’t vote for her?’” he asked.

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