By Mike Lednovich
Mayor Bradley Bean last Tuesday night silenced a sitting city commissioner who had a differing opinion.
At issue was an agenda item that asked commissioners to consider taking legal action against AT&T and Florida Public Utilities for having placed a utility pole and communications line on airport property that blocked the driveway access of the city’s $5 million new fire station.
Bean was armed with a wooden gavel – which he pounded three times to silence Commissioner Chip Ross, who was in mid-sentence. Ross was armed only with facts and a well-researched argument.
“You know, I won’t hear any more comment on this,” Bean pronounced.
Bean not only shut down Ross, but he circumvented a question that Commissioner James Antun had just asked Ross to explain.
Bean was exercising his mayoral discretion by removing the proposed resolution from the agenda.
“I’m going to completely remove it from the agenda unless there are two commissioners who want to put it on (the agenda),” Bean said.
Antun asked Ross why he wanted to keep the resolution on the agenda, indicating that if Ross’ answer was in line with his thinking, he might consider joining Ross in keeping the proposed resolution alive.
“Why? Because these people (AT&T) are taking money from us they shouldn’t be taking,” Ross said.
Before Ross could continue his answer, Bean slammed his gavel.
“I find it disappointing that we are having to have a discussion about two different groups that have been great community partners for a great long time and we don’t need to do that,” Bean ruled.
So Antun never got a full explanation from Ross because Mayor Bean didn’t want to hear it.
AT&T’s communications line would be discussed later when the commission eventually voted 4-1 to pay the company $30,000 to relocate the line.
Why should any of this matter to you?
Because Commissioner Ross is an elected official representing the citizens of Fernandina Beach. He has the right to speak when recognized for as long as he wants to make his point as long as he stays on topic.
Mayor Bean’s gavel is more a symbol of order than authority. Mayors past and present have used it to keep commission meetings on track and to ensure that commissioners and the public have a chance to be heard. However, when a mayor uses the gavel to silence an opposing viewpoint, that is an abuse of the office.
By strong-arming Commissioner Ross, Bean undermined the democratic process. In our democracy, everyone has the right to express an opinion, even if it is different from the majority. When Mayor Bean silences an opposing view, he is essentially saying that his opinion is more important than the opinion of the other four commissioners. What some citizens don’t understand — but the mayor surely does — is that the city’s mayor is not the city’s boss. The mayor is just one of five commissioners, but also has the honor of keeping commission meetings moving along smoothly.
This silencing of opposing views creates a climate of intimidation. When Bean’s gavel struck, Antun did not re-engage with Ross about the resolution.
The city’s charter does not give the mayor the authority to silence another commissioners’ speech. Quashing another commissioner’s freedom to speak broke a bond not just with the commission — but with the city.