Commentary: Vote AFTER the People Have Spoken

By Mike Lednovich

Twice in eight days the Fernandina Beach City Commission told residents your opinions don’t matter on three of the most important decisions in the city.

First was the commission budget meeting Sept. 5. The commission voted to approve the proposed millage rate — the amount property owners would be taxed next year. That was followed by the commission voting to approve the 2023-24 budget of how the city would spend those tax dollars.

Next on that agenda: public comment. After those votes had already been cast.

“You just took a vote on the budget before you got any public comment,” said Richard Deem of Fernandina Beach, after the vote was taken. “I think optically that sends a very odd message to your constituents.”

Then came last Tuesday’s special commission meeting to select a new city manager, another crucial decision for citizens. After interviewing the four finalists, the commission voted Ty Ross to be the next city manager.

What came next? You got it, public comment. Of course no one stepped forward to speak. The decision had already been made.

Compare that with the Flagler Beach City Council and the Manatee County Commission, which also held special meetings recently to hire their top executive.

After the interviews, both boards welcomed public comment on the candidates.

Then they voted.

There’s another special meeting this Tuesday, and the commission will vote again on the tax rate and budget. The agenda lists no public comment segment.

This Fernandina Beach City Commission should allow public comments before voting on such key issues. The two recent special commission meetings means that the public’s input had no possible bearing on the outcome of their vote. This was a disservice to the people of Fernandina Beach and undermined the democratic process.

Public comment can help to educate city commissioners about a specific issue. When the public speaks, they can share their knowledge and experiences, which can help the commission to make a more informed decision. This is especially important for complex issues like taxes, budgets and hiring executives that the commission may not have a lot of experience with.

Public comment also builds trust between the commission and the community. When citizens feel that they have a voice in the decision-making process, they are more likely to trust the commission’s decisions. When the public is able to speak up before a vote, it can give the commission a sense of how the community feels about the issue. This is important for maintaining a healthy democracy.

The city commission should change its policy in these special meetings and allow public comment before voting. This would be a step in the right direction for promoting transparency and accountability in government.

10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

oldtimehockey
Noble Member
oldtimehockey(@oldtimehockey)
9 months ago

This is not a democracy. It’s a representative republic. We elect these people to run the government….not micro manage them. If we don’t like the results….vote for someone else.

Betsie Huben
Famed Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
9 months ago

By moving citizen’s comments for non-agenda items to the back of the bus – errrr, agenda – 4 of the current city commissioners made it very clear awhile ago; theirs are the only opinions that matter. This was again reinforced most recently when Commissioner Ross was shut down when his comments did not match the direction the commission wanted to go in. Folks, elections have consequences. And the silencing of differing opinions can be one of them. Please remember all of this when it is time vote again!

Tammi Kosack
Trusted Member
Tammi Kosack(@tammi-kosack)
9 months ago

In a bizarre twist, the current City Commission should take notes from the Current Port Authority Commission. OHPA has recently been very amenable to hearing from, responding to, and working with the community. The proof will be in the pudding on imminent decisions, but mutual respect is being fostered and there are healthy discussions.

The erosion of trust and respect between citizens and our current City Commission is very disheartening.

srcocchi
srcocchi(@srcocchi)
9 months ago

This is all, very much, by design. Why, on flat earth, would they want input that might persuade others that their position is incorrect? What’s the point of public comment at all if it comes AFTER the decision has been made.

Why not have the item open for discussion by Commissioners, then public input and then a decision?

Now, it’s public comment on an item, then discussion, then vote. Very often the Commissioner’s position is outrageous with no chance to challenge the thinking.

RoyBoy
Trusted Member
RoyBoy(@royboy)
9 months ago

My wife and I are fairly new residents of Fernandina Beach. We’re shocked at the actions which kick residents in the face. No citizen input? Really, really absurd. We’re losing faith in our government!

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
9 months ago
Reply to  RoyBoy

This current situation is NOT the way it used to be in Fernandina and certainly NOT the way it SHOULD be. As Ben Franklin said when asked after the Constitutional Congress in Philadelphia what kind of government the newly formed nation had he answered..”a Republic …IF you can KEEP it”… Seems like the same thing is applying to Fernandina..citizens must do all they can to KEEP their Republic..remember this the next time you vote.

karen
Active Member
karen(@karen)
9 months ago

Of course, we all presume they actually care about what we think.

Douglas M
Famed Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
9 months ago

I think we’ll see 3 new Commissioners elected at the 2024 General Election……the next mayor will be a bit isolated. Everything changes. I just hope they keep the “shiny side up” until then and we don’t dig too large of a crater.

ThatGuy
Active Member
ThatGuy(@thatguy)
9 months ago

Your “commentary” is disingenuous. Constituents can request to speak on any item on the agenda. Item #11 on the last Agenda is for PUBLIC COMMENT ON ITEMS NOT ON THE AGENDA, which is pretty clear, at least to me. I have attended several meetings and folks have addressed the commission on agenda items to be voted on by submitting their request to speak. The consent agenda is pretty clear and usually are action items which have been previously discussed or “housekeeping” items. There were several budget workshops and meetings for public input and the public addressed the commission on the Rollback Rate, absurdly asking for a tax increase, which though mid-boggling is a topic for another day. I would expect this type of commentary from an uniformed individual, but a from former commissioner and mayor, it is just willful ignorance or wanton disregard for accuracy.

Linda
Member
Linda(@linda)
9 months ago

I would presume they think they know it all!! Who do they represent themselves?? No public input before vote seems to mean they think our opinions do not matter only theirs.