By Agrippina Fadel
Tamarac city commission meetings are generally not for the faint-hearted, and the latest one was no exception.
What started as a debate about whether residents who misbehave during public comments should be removed from the commission turned into a discussion on Sunshine Law and cellphone use on September 14.
When Woodlands resident William Goffinet spoke during public participation, he directly addressed Mayor Gomez.
“Michelle, you and I have a little disagreement on how this commission should run,” said Goffinet, who later said publicly he “took one year of law.”
Believing he was cross-examining a witness, Goffinet demanded some real answers about what happened between her and the 13th Floor and questioned commission members on whether they had any conflicts of interest when voting on the developer’s items.
Developer 13th Floor Homes is currently in litigation with the city of Tamarac over a land use change designation for two 18-hole golf courses at the Woodlands Country Club from “recreational” to “residential” to build 335 homes.
City Attorney John Herin reminded Goffinet that public comments should be directed at the commission as a whole and residents should refrain from disparaging or negative personal remarks, addressing Goffinet several times to no avail.
Commissioner Elvin Villalobos requested the commission vote to remove Goffinet from the chambers.
Gomez asked for consensus and started with Commissioner Marlon Bolton, who appeared distracted with his cellphone. After a pause, he leaned into his microphone and, looking genuinely confused, asked, “What do you want, mayor?” prompting laughter from the audience.
Villalobos then made a motion to remove Bolton from the chambers as well, saying his conduct was inappropriate.
Amid the chaos, Gomez asked for a recess. When everyone returned, Villalobos again asked to vote on removing Goffinet.
Bolton voted no and said he was “doing his job” earlier, looking up a case of a nearby city resident who sued the municipality for being removed from the commission chambers and won. The case was Fane Lozeman vs. the City of Riviera Beach. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the city had no right to seize and destroy his 60-foot floating home using centuries-old maritime laws. Not the same situation.
Based on this, Bolton suggested his colleagues should “proceed with caution” about the vote.
Villalobos then asked what was the point of explaining public participation rules if no one followed them. “You are telling me we will get sued by someone who doesn’t abide by our rules?”
Commissioner Debra Placko said she is “not going to see the headlines in tomorrow’s papers saying we have removed a resident” and asked Goffinet if he would behave for the remaining minute and a half of his public comment. He agreed and finished his speech without further issues.
Villalobos then attempted to remove Bolton from the chamber for “being on the phone, texting Gelin, and not paying attention” but found no support.
City Attorney Herin said that the appropriate thing to do is to make public records request for Vice Mayor Mike Gelin and Bolton’s text messages and see if they relate to city business.
“I have informed all of you that such communications are a violation of the Sunshine Law. If there is proof of such communication, Commissioner Villalobos can immediately take it to the State Attorney’s office and file a formal complaint,” said Herin, to Gelin’s protests that he was not texting with his colleague.
Gomez then asked how the commission could control phone use. Herin replied that city staff would present a memo to the next workshop to help the commission update its rules and procedures. “Many municipalities have the rule to turn off the phones for the duration of the meeting,” he said.
Gomez then asked all commissioners to put their cellphones on top of the dais “so everyone knows you are paying attention.”
Tamarac Talk has requested the public records of the text messages between Bolton and Gelin at the time of the meeting. We reached out for comment from both but did not receive a reply as of press time.
UPDATE: Vice Mayor Mike Gelin responded to Tamarac Talk’s question about whether he was texting with commissioner Bolton, stating, “All I can say is that I was not and do not communicate with any elected official on the dais about public matters during commission meetings or outside commission meetings as that would be a sunshine violation.”
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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