Panama City News Herald by John Henderson
September 14, 2017
People who live outside the city limits will not be able to speak during the open comment period of Beach council meetings, but they also won’t be subject to going to jail or paying a fine if they lie about their residency.
The Panama City Beach City Council on Thursday, in a 4-1 vote with Councilwoman Josie Strange dissenting, endorsed a resolution that allows only city residents, business owners and city employees to speak during open comment periods at council meetings, supporting a move by Mayor Mike Thomas.
But the council voted 3-2 against an ordinance that would have made it a misdemeanor crime to lie about one’s residency before getting up to speak. Thomas and Councilman Hector Solis supported the ordinance.
Strange raised different scenarios in which she felt people who live outside of the city should have a right to comment.
“Say I’m a businessman who does a lot of business on the Beach, but I have an office in town and want to bring something to the council’s attention. You can’t talk?”
City attorney Amy Myers said in that case, the person would have to address the council by email or phone.
The resolution the council approved calls for a “delegations” period, at the council’s discretion, during which Beach residents, business owners or city employees could speak for up to three minutes on “any subject of general or public interest, for city employees to communicate to the council concerns about policies or conditions affecting their employment, or for water and sewer customers to advise the council of concerns related to the city’s provision of utilities.”
Anyone still can speak during the comment periods for agenda items, such as the adoption of a new ordinance.
The defeated ordinance stated it would be against the law to misrepresent one’s residency “to any city employee, official or law enforcement officer, or to use any false writing or document to obtain city benefits, services and privileges.” It said violators would be punished under Section 1-12 of the city code, which calls for a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to 60 days, probation with terms set by court, and a combination of all three due to the discretion of the court.
. . .
Before the meeting, Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, questioned how the city would enforce the proposed law making it a crime to lie about one’s residency.
“These people aren’t speaking under oath and to my knowledge there’s no general law that prohibits lying,” she wrote. “Again, absurd.” [READ MORE]