Judge won’t toss suit over Palm Beach County comment times

Larson
Larson

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.

County Attorney Denise Nieman (center) speaks with County Commissioner Hal Valeche during a meeting of the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday, January 27, 2015. Commissioners voted unanimously to ask Uber to stop operating in the county unless the company follows the current county law regulating taxis and limousines. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)
Nieman

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.”

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Palm Beach County Attorney: Don’t ban comment at workshops

Nieman
Nieman
Berger
Berger

Don’t ban public comments at Palm Beach County Commission workshops, County Attorney Denise Nieman has recommended.

 

Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger had made the suggestion on Nov. 17, right after being selected and sworn in for the mostly ceremonial mayor’s post. She also had suggested eliminating the two regular commission meetings a year that are held at night.

Both ideas drew opposition and on Dec. 15, commissioners put things on hold while they asked Nieman to research the ideas.

Nieman wrote commissioners late Thursday to say she’d planned to bring both to next Tuesday’s commission meeting for debate and possible action.

But, she said, on the comment part, “as I attempted to wordsmith an amendment to ensure that the (commission’s) desire for public participation and efficient and effective meetings were both addressed, it became obvious that there are too many scenarios that may be difficult to reconcile with absolutes defining Workshop days. For example, there may be a time when a motion during a Workshop is desirable, at which point public participation may be legally required.”

She added, “my recommendation is to leave the Rules as they are as it pertains to public comment.”

Nieman said the commission can drop the night meetings with a simple vote Tuesday; and “should this or future Boards want to resume evening meetings, a motion is all it would take to make it happen.”

Regulars sue Palm Beach County over “comment” limits

Lozman
Lozman
Larson
Larson

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.

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