September 12, 2016 – The News-Press
by Frank Bumb
Cape Coral City Council won’t add more rules for residents addressing the body, but after Monday’s contentious meeting, several council members vowed to more strictly enforce existing rules on public comment.
“I think the mayor will read the statement she read tonight or something very similar before each public comment period,” Councilwoman Marilyn Stout said. “And, I think, you will see more points of order called by members of council.”
…Before Monday’s public comment period, Mayor Marni Retzer read out a statement similar to the one proposed by Stout that read:
“Council provides an opportunity at this point in the meeting to address the Council regarding any matter on this meeting’s agenda or any other matter relevant to the operation of the City. The Mayor will give you an opportunity in a moment to express that desire. The Council does not respond during public comment time to remarks made by speakers. At the conclusion of the public comment time, the Mayor or Council may address concerns raised by speakers or may assign responsibility to the City Manager to do so. Speakers are expected to act in a respectful manner. Those who fail to do so, will be removed from the meeting if, after being warned, their misconduct continues. Disruptive attacks on individuals are prohibited.”
Stout said that even with that language, it is incumbent on the members of council to call for points of order if they feel a speaker is breaking city rules. According to Cosden, City Council Rule Q1C requires all comments to be addressed to city council as a whole instead of individual council members, city staff, or personnel. That would also require the city to clamp down on any named praise as well.
“I just want us to be consistent,” Cosden said.
Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, said that time, place and manner restrictions are acceptable for a public body but consistency when it comes to both positive and negative content of speech is key.
“You can’t make threats, no biting, no shouting, no shoving, that sort of thing,” Petersen said. “But restrictions can’t be content based. You can’t allow all the named praise you like but cutoff named criticism. I don’t know how that’ll pass constitutional muster.” [READ MORE]