© 2024 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Santa Rosa County meeting procedures tweaked to rein in speakers

Santa Rosa County Commissioners Monday, Jan. 8 2024.
Screenshot by WUWF
Santa Rosa County
Santa Rosa County Commissioners Monday, Jan. 8 2024.

On a 3-1 vote Thursday, Santa Rosa County Commissioners adopted a new resolution amending its meeting procedures. The latest changes, aimed at helping the board chairman maintain control of meetings, primarily involve the amount of time allotted for residents to address the board.

Support Local Stories. Donate Here.

“We changed the public comment from four minutes to three minutes during public forum,” said County Administrator DeVann Cook, reminding board members of the proposed changes. “We (also) put in that during an agenda item, a member of the public could speak once during each item and there would be a limit of two minutes on their presentation.”

The time limits were put forth Monday by District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright, last year’s board chairman, who pointed out that rolling back speaking time for some is necessary to maintain order and efficiency.

“Once we went to four minutes, you still had some people that choose to come up to every meeting and speak at every public forum and say the same thing over and over again,” Wright said Monday. “Then (they) get up on numerous agenda items and speak and say the same thing and not stay on topic.”

RELATED: Sen. Broxson says it’s time for Santa Rosa County to ‘grow up’ with new utilities authority

Carmen Reynolds of Navarre, speaking Thursday, expressed her disappointment with the new time restrictions, particularly after lobbying for a public forum upgrade from three to four minutes, not long ago.

“I’m feeling that (reversal) it’s quite retaliatory, based on the bad actors. There are some of us who are not bad actors that come up here in good faith,” said Reynolds, adding that fear of public speaking makes it difficult for many people to stay on message and on time.

Sherry Chapman, who lives in Pea Ridge, also spoke against the time restrictions.

“If you have an issue in your backyard, there’re some people that talk fast and there’re some people that don’t," said Chapman. "So, you are determining everybody fits in the same shoe. Well, that’s not the case. You can’t get your point across in two minutes.”

In trying to bolster her argument, Chapman pointed to the time commissioners spend elaborating and telling stories. But board members who weighed in on that notion said they’ve earned the right to speak their minds and are expected to do so as elected representatives of the people.

RELATED: Creets Landing in Navarre is part of a growing conservation trend in Florida

Commissioners’ discussion of meeting procedures was less contentious at Thursday’s meeting than Monday’s more vigorous debate as they hashed out what changes to make.

District 3 Commissioner James Calkins again pointed out that opportunities for public comment are much more restricted during Santa Rosa County School Board meetings.

Commissioner Kerry Smith from District 2 asked for the clock to be stopped on speakers' time when commissioners interrupt or interject and he continued arguing in favor of keeping the expanded speaking time during public forum.

“What we’ve done in the past when we did expand it to four minutes, it was trying to get to a compromise and you know my argument, once we’ve been to four minutes, I’m not going to support going lower than four minutes, but I will go with the will of the board and I will leave it alone at that point," he said.

Ready to wrap up Thursday’s discussion, District 1 Commissioner and this year’s Board Chairman Sam Parker conceded there would never be 100% agreement.

“I told you all Monday that I wanted to force the board to have input on this item and that’s what we got. If you want to give three (minutes), I’ll say give four. You say give five,” Parker said. “And, I promise you, give me ten minutes and I’ll find somebody to walk in here and say give me six.”

With District 4 Commissioner Ray Eddington absent, the first vote for the resolution on meeting procedures failed 2-2, with Smith and Calkins voting no.

But, after several more minutes of discussion, Calkins made the motion to approve.

“I don’t like it, but I’m going to go with it so we can move on,” he said.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.