Tallahassee Reports has learned that the City Attorney’s office is scheduled to meet with Dr. Erwin Jackson about citizens being denied the right to speak at recent city commission meetings.
Dr. Jackson has made it clear to city officials that he intends to file a lawsuit under the Florida Sunshine Law if his concerns are not addressed.
At the end of the last city commission meeting, Dr. Jackson signed-up to speak on the controversial issue involving the city attorney vacancy. Due to the number of speakers, the city commission cut off public discussion after approximately 30 minutes and told those that did not get to speak that they could speak during the unagendaed speakers section of the meeting.
However, when Dr. Jackson rose to speak, during unagendaed speakers, the city commission refused to allow him to speak on the issue.
Dr. Jackson spent his three minutes arguing with officials about the violations of policy and then was told to sit down.
After Jackson’s time expired, City Commissioner Scott Maddox asked the city attorney to verify that the city’s process is consistent with state law.
See Dr. Jackson interact with city officials below:
This is the second time in a month that Dr. Jackson and other citizens have been denied the right to speak on an issue before the city commission.
Previously, Jackson tried to speak on the resignation of former City Manager Rick Fernandez.
Prior to that meeting, Dr. Jackson contacted Deputy City Manager Reese Goad and informed Mr. Goad that at least twenty citizens intended to speak at the meeting on the resignation of City Manager Rick Fernandez.
Due to the limitations of the City’s thirty minute rule, according to Dr. Jackson, he and Mr. Goad discussed an alternative. To avoid disrupting the flow of the meeting, Mr. Goad told Dr. Jackson that the City would allow public comment on the issue prior to the scheduled public hearing that was to follow the city commission meeting.
Dr. Jackson agreed so long as the city commission did not vote on the Fernandez matter before all the citizens were given the opportunity to speak. Jackson says that Mr. Goad assured him that would not happen.
Dr. Jackson reminded the city commission that several people were waiting to speak on the Fernandez issue and that the city commission should not vote on it until hearing from the concerned citizens.
However, the city commission – led by Mayor Gillum – voted on the matter anyway, without hearing the views of a number of citizens.
Since that meeting, Dr. Jackson has had his attorney send a letter to City Attorney Shelley highlighting state law and city policy on citizens speaking before governmental bodies.
Florida Statute section 286.0114(2) states “members of the public shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on a proposition before a board or commission.”
Similarly, City Policy 108.04 states that it is “the City Commission’s policy to provide meaningful opportunities for members of the public to participate in City meetings. Citizen participation in the program and policy development of the City of Tallahassee is recognized as an important element in providing quality public services to the Tallahassee community.
Also, City Policy 108.06 states that public comment on an agenda item “be provided at some time during the decision-making process prior to the point at which the Commission . . . takes official action.”
To ensure this type of situation will not happen again, Dr. Jackson is seeking a written statement from the City of Tallahassee to be read at a city commission meeting.
Jackson is asking that the statement include an admission that the Tallahassee City Commission erred, assures citizens that the Tallahassee City Commission will follow the requirements of the Florida Sunshine Law and City Commission policies, and apologize to the members of the public who were not given the opportunity to speak at previous meetings.
Tallahassee Reports will have an update after Tuesday’s meeting.