By: Sharon Aron Baron
I was the annoying student that sat in the front row of class and asked questions. In college, I was the queen of questions: it didn’t matter how large the classroom was, I was determined to find out the answer despite the sideways glances of my annoyed classmates.
Being an inquisitive person makes it difficult for me to accept the status quo. It’s also a good quality to being a writer.
Notice I wasn’t presumptuous enough to say “good writer.”
The other day, I was reading Broward Politics on Facebook and saw a photo posted by Anthony Man. It was just a podium set up at a Fort Lauderdale City Commission workshop.
Curious, I asked Man, “Are residents allowed to speak at their workshops there?”
Man wrote back, “Sharon, the public is given a chance to comment on the items that are on the workshop agenda.”
This made me wonder, why did the public get to speak at Fort Lauderdale City workshop meetings, but they couldn’t at Tamarac’s? If residents wanted to speak on an item in Tamarac, they had to wait until the city commission meeting. Speaking at a workshop would allow the public to comment while the item is being discussed which takes place two days before a vote.
While posting on Facebook during the interviews for the District Four commissioners, Margate Mayor Leesa Peerman wrote that I should ask the commission a question during public comments. First of all, I wasn’t at the meeting, instead, was watching it live-streaming, but even if I was at the meeting, I explained that Tamarac doesn’t allow public comments during workshops and special commission meetings.
“If the public is not allowed to talk, then the city is breaking the law and the public needs to do something about it,” said Peerman. “Publicly ask the city attorney if it is a law that the public is allowed to speak at all meetings.”
That afternoon I emailed Tamarac’s City Attorney, Sam Gorin about it. I heard back from both him and attorney Jacob Horowitz:Sam, After watching other city meetings and talking to other city officials, it seems as though others are finding it unusual that Tamarac is not allowing public comment in our workshops. Why don’t we allow this like other cities? Sharon: Every city is different. It would require a City Code and/or a change in State law. If you choose to do so, pls feel free to address your concerns directly to and with the City Commission. Samuel S. Goren
I wrote back:Can someone please direct me where in our city code where public input in a public meeting is forbidden? I really appreciate it. Sharon, Good evening. Public comment is provided for during regular meetings of the City Commission. See Section 2-29 of the City Code.
I hope that helps. Jacob G. Horowitz, Esq. Jacob, Thank you so much for pointing out Section 2-29. After I got home tonight I looked it up, and please forgive me for asking more questions here, but as you can see where I highlighted, workshop items are mentioned where members of the public can speak. So please let me know why our city is not adopting this and allowing members of the public speak during workshops as per this Section? Thanks again.
Sec. 2-29. Regular meetings.
(2) The mayor or presiding officer may limit the total time allotted to public discussion and the total number of speakers during discussion on any ordinance, resolution, motion, workshop item, or discussion item and may limit the time allotted to each speaker during discussion on any ordinance, resolution, motion, workshop item, or discussion item, or during the time designated on the city commission agenda for public discussion.
I didn’t hear back after that email on Tuesday, but when the special meeting commenced on Thursday, February 27, Mayor Dressler announced that we would go into a public comment session as required by state law and anyone who wished to speak could do so for three minutes.
As long as I’ve been attending workshops and special meetings in Tamarac, this had never been done, and although I didn’t have any pubic comment the time, I’m glad that the door is now open in the future for it now.