Brevard County Commission has put forth an agenda item to remove public comments
“We The People, elect leaders not to rule but to serve.” (First Inaugural Address of Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 1953) is as true today as it was 70 years ago.
Too often, those elected by “We The People” forget whom they were elected to serve and may need to be reminded.
Transparency and Accountability are tenets of good governance. Increasing costs for records requests, making records harder to get, reducing the number of meetings of advisory boards, and making it difficult to get information on the advisory board meetings are just a few of the recent decisions made by the Brevard Commission to impede transparency and accountability.
Now the commission is taking it a step further by impeding the public’s ability to watch Public Comments.
Our elected Brevard Commissioners will vote Tuesday, May 9, at 5 p.m. whether to hide Public Comments from the voters of Brevard by not broadcasting these Public concerns.
Brevard County Commission (BOCC) has put forth an agenda item Tuesday to remove the public comments from their TV/Media broadcast and video recording. This agenda item aims to mute the public and suggests that the voice of the people, who elected them, is not important to them. This will limit the public’s ability to hear the complaints of other residents. BOCC would be silencing the public comments. Did they not learn from how the public was outraged when the school board did this?
If approved Tuesday, those that watch the commission meetings on TV, or via Brevard County Government Facebook will no longer see the publics’ comment section. Additionally, on Meeting Legislar the video will also not be available.
While the right to redress our Brevard Commissioner is not being removed, it is disconcerting that our local government seeks to take away the transparency to make it so no one else can see that complaint without physically being present in the meeting. This prevents the public from seeing the concerns of Brevard County residents redressing our commission.
Additionally, the Commission proposes to move Public Comments to the end of Commission meetings. Many people come to speak and then leave. As meetings can last hours, to remain until the end of a meeting may be too much of a hardship for our elderly, disabled, mothers with children with them and to time constricted public – and will prevent them from participating in our democracy.
According to the agenda item, the District 1 Commissioner Rita Pritchett initiated the changes: “The proposed amendments to BCC-97, Board Meeting Rules and Procedures, were recommended by the Chair in order to streamline meetings and prioritize the broadcast of official business of the Board of County Commissioners as published on the agenda.”
This is in addition to Removing Second Public Comment Section in March
At the March 21, 2023, the Commission voted to remove the second public comment time, again at the direction of District 1 Commissioner Rita Pritchett. That said, all of the commissioners unanimously voted to approve under the Consent Agenda, including new commissioners D2 Goodson and D4 Feltner.
The relevancy is for those who have to work until 5 p.m., they can no longer make it to the meeting in time for Public Comment, and there is no second comment time. If there are shenanigans in the meeting, for example, and you want to speak in a second comment (as long as you didn’t speak in the first comment time), you cannot since this vote.
The Sneaky Votes Under Board Reports
Government accountability and transparency ensure that malfeasance is exposed—and that failed or harmful policies are swiftly corrected. The problem with voting under board reports is the item is often not known about because it is not on the agenda.
The Brevard County Commission is not supposed to vote under Board Reports unless it is an emergency. The Commission does this when they don’t want the issue on the agenda. And without it on the agenda, it is hard to search for this item to find it too.
The most controversial vote under Board Reports was removing Fluoride from drinking water in Mims controversy for District 1 Rita Pritchett. Recently, the number of sneaky votes under board reports has increased. For example, a controversial board report vote was the Upzoning Land Use Study for South Beaches on 11/15/22 by Commissioner Tobia which resulted in a huge outcry from the South Beaches residents.
More recently, on May 7, Commission Tobia motioned, and Commissioner Feltner seconded postponing the Budget Workshop. While it was stated intent to postpone – the actual intent was to permanently cancel the Budget Workshop, which provides transparency to the public on budgetary issues faced by Brevard County that may impact taxes. It became obvious when it was not rescheduled a month later. At that point, when Sandra Sullivan asked Feltner, he said he would benefit from the Budget workshop, so staff offered to give him a presentation one on one, so much for public transparency.
Is the cancellation of the Budget Workshop because we are getting the Property Tax Cap busted? This one has to wonder whether the intent to not broadcast Public Comment may be related to proactively suppressing increased dissatisfaction from increasing tax burden on the middle class for inflation while the developers have not had a CPI inflationary increase in 23 years. Taxpayers had a 4.41 percent increase for CPI inflation on Sewage last month but none for the developer impact fees.
Free speech and expression are the lifeblood of democracy, facilitating open debate and the proper consideration of diverse interests and perspectives for making good governmental decisions. People have a right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances – the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one’s government, without fear of punishment or reprisals. Anything done to suppress free speech or to hide those comments is not in the spirit of democracy. Eliminating the second public comment time – and pushing public comments to the end of the meeting with no broadcasting is not in the spirit of democracy. Democracy dies in darkness. This is not what we should expect from our elected leaders.
Accountability and Transparency help produce a government that is legitimate, effective, widely supported, and trusted by citizens, as well as a civil society that is strong, open, and capable of playing a positive role in politics and government.
If the Commission passes a vote to suppress broadcasting Public Comment, what can the public do?
While State Sunshine law says the County does not have to broadcast the meeting, the good news is the public can broadcast. In fact, state laws say a public board may not prohibit a citizen from videotaping a public meeting through the use of nondisruptive video recording devices. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sandra Sullivan has regularly attended Brevard County Commissioner meetings since 2018, often speaking on issues of concern. Recently, Sullivan spoke on the Public Comment agenda coming up Tuesday. She also ran for District 4 County Commissioner in the 2022 election cycle with a platform of accountability and transparency. She says with her commitment to Brevard, she has worked closely with D4 to help get the best decisions of Brevard.
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