Plaintiffs may proceed to trial with a suit over whether public meetings laws are usurped when the Palm Beach County Commission gives citizens a total of three minutes to comment on a laundry list of agenda items, a Palm Beach County judge ruled Friday.
Circuit Judge Lisa Small refused a county motion to toss the suit filed Feb. 17 by Alex Larson and Fane Lozman, two regulars at county commission meetings, who demanded the county either stop using a “consent agenda” or not limit speakers during that discussion. They say it violates Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.
Members of the public get three minutes to comment on a single regular agenda item. But they get three minutes total to comment on the “consent agenda,” a collection of items, mostly housekeeping in nature, that commissioners dispose of with a single vote, unless a commissioner pulls an item for further discussion.
“We’re going to win,” Larson, whose birthday was Friday, said after the hearing. County Attorney Denise Nieman, who did not argue the case but attended, said she was disappointed, “but we understand and we respect the judge’s order and we’ll move forward.”
A judge has tossed, for now, a suit by two regulars at Palm Beach County Commission meetings who claim the county’s limit on their comments
violates state public meetings laws.
In a Friday afternoon email to commissioners and staff, County Attorney Denise Nieman said that Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Lisa Small had earlier that day dismissed the complaint but had given the plaintiffs 15 days to submit an amended one.
The county has argued that the plaintiffs failed to show an injury that would occur if the court did not rule for them. The county’s March 28 motion to dismiss said it has the right to limit comment times and people are free to submit written materials and even items such as PowerPoint presentations in advance of the meeting.
The consent agenda is a list of items, most of them housekeeping, which commissioners dispense with in a single vote unless someone wants to pull one in advance for more discussion. Members of the public get three minutes to comment on a regular agenda item. But, the suit said, at the Dec. 15 meeting, when Larson rose to speak on nine items on the consent agenda, she was limited to three minutes total for all nine.
Two regulars at Palm Beach County Commission meetings have sued the county, saying limiting them during some public comment violates the state’s public meetings laws.
In a suit filed Wednesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Alex Larson and Fane Lozman demand the county either stop using a “consent agenda” or stop limiting speakers during consent agenda discussion.
The “consent agenda” is a list of items, most of them housekeeping, which the commissioners dispense with in a single vote unless one wants to pull one in advance for more discussion.
Larson said that at the commission’s Dec. 15, meeting, she rose to comment on nine of the several items on that day’s consent agenda. She said she was limited not to the usual three minutes per item, but three minutes in total. Lozman said he wanted to speak on two items and also got only three minutes total.