County board revises rule following resident complaints over limited talk time

A rule put in place last week limiting a form of resident talk time at public county meetings was partially reversed Monday night following public complaints.

The rule, adopted by county commissioners Jan. 7, reduced how long a resident could donate speaking time to another resident from three minutes to one.

“Donating time” is a common practice at government meetings. It gives people who may be uncomfortable speaking in front of others a chance to gift their time to a group leader or representative who can make their comments for them.

At the Jan. 7 meeting, Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb said she decided to reduce donated time after staff reviewed policies in place at other local boards.

Residents such as Karina Veaudry spoke out against the new measure last week.

She claimed that although three minutes is usually long enough to make a point, complicated issues occasionally arise that require more time to explain to local officials and residents.

Veaudry added that developers often meet with commissioners and staff for months to discuss project details, though residents sometimes only learn about it when action appears on the agenda.

So, on Monday, Grieb rescinded her decision, though she held firm on a new rule limiting a single resident’s total talk time to 15 minutes.

“I think it was more of a perception that people felt like we were trying to keep people from speaking, and that was not it at all,” Grieb said Monday night. “Some counties don’t even allow folks to donate time.”

Grieb said that when people keep donating time to a single person, it might take the focus away from others who wish to speak on a different item.

“It was to allow more people to speak and not allow one person to capitalize on a large period of time,” she said.

Public agencies in Florida can adopt “reasonable rules and regulations” at public meetings that limit the time an individual can speak, according to Joseph Pavalon of the Florida First Amendment Foundation.

Pavalon said such rules can be adopted – if they are reasonable - without holding a public meeting to discuss them first.

But, Pavalon noted, “there are no court decisions saying what is and is not reasonable.”