Saturday, January 16, 2010

Disagreement, Dissent, Discourse, Disruption

Lately our city has been hijacked by a small, loud and disruptive group of citizens who like all bullies have learned that these tactics work against decent people, at least for a while.

In November, the commission meeting degenerated into screaming chaos over a police internal affairs issue.

In December, a special meeting of the commission on police matters was consistently interrupted by residents merely shouting out insults.

On January 12 at the City Commission meeting, one resident and former North Bay Village commissioner, Connie Leon-Kreps, kept interrupting the proceedings calling out “Now we're in Cuba” whenever she disagreed with the proceedings. (I won't even begin to address the inherent racism of that remark.)

Civic gadfly Fane Lozman took a break from fighting with the Riviera Beach Commission to gratuitously insult the NBV city manager, insinuating that a routine contract matter was tainted by corruption without offering any evidence. For what it's worth, the details of the city manager's recommendation and reasoning are publicly available.

Hubert Humphrey once said, “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” and we are facing serious issues in North Bay Village. Everyone needs to be heard, all of us have a need to understand, and tolerance for unlawful behavior has alienated citizens who otherwise want to be involved. As citizens we need to stand against this.

There are rules and decorum and these include prohibitions on personal attacks, disrupting other speakers, physical altercations and outbursts. The City Commission, the chair, usually the mayor, and the Sergeant at Arms (usually the police chief) have the authority to stop this mob behavior and they have to step up and put a stop to it.

My suggestion: The Sergeant At Arms as a public safety officer should use discretion at the first sign of an outburst – a warning to a particular individual or a general warning to the assembly could be the right course of action, but at the second instance, start removing the disrupters. Those of us who came to participate have a right to an orderly meeting and that right is violated when the proceedings are shouted down.

If the Sergeant At Arms does not act, citizens have the right to raise “A Point of Order” with the commission chair, asking that the proceedings be suspended until order and decorum are restored. This is done by the citizen rising and addressing the chair, requesting permission to raise the point of order.

And if the chair ignores this request, we have the right under Florida law to ask that all matters decided during the meeting be set aside and decisions made be annulled. It's a little known right, seldom enforced, but it exists.

I for one intend to start taking this approach if the city meetings are not brought under control.

Kevin Vericker
7520 Hispanola Avenue.

Coming up next: Yes, your congressional representative knows where North Bay Village is.

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