By Dawn Krebs
FORT PIERCE - There are a lot of people who feel strongly about the city of Fort Pierce. So much so that they wish to speak to the city commission at its scheduled meetings.
But there have been questions regarding the procedure that allows the public to address the commission at these meetings.
At the Oct. 16 meeting, the Fort Pierce City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance change that clearly defines how members of the public can speak at meetings.
"The intent of the original (ordinance) was to allow the city manager to review requests by individuals to be placed on the agenda in order to determine whether the item is city business and to determine if a majority of the commission wished the item to be placed on the agenda," said Sandy Steele, city clerk, in a memo to the commission.
"If so, the city manager would then have the opportunity to direct staff to be prepared to answer any questions the commission might have."
But the language in the first ordinance was confusing, and some members of the public thought it meant they could directly address the commission at meetings without the request first going through the city manager's office.
The new ordinance states that any member of the public can speak for a reasonable length of time on an item that is on the agenda at a public hearing.
If the subject the person wishes to speak on is not on the agenda, the person can make a written request to the city manager by noon the Monday before the scheduled meeting, stating the subject and providing any background materials.
With that information, the city manager can then determine if the item can be handled through staff before the meeting, or if it is city business.
The time limitation to speak on an item, if it is placed on the agenda, is five minutes, although the mayor can allow additional time if needed.
But the ordinance doesn't completely change the public's ability to be heard at a commission meeting. If a member of the public wishes to speak but has not requested permission, they can still be heard during the "comments from the public" portion of the meeting. These comments are limited to three minutes, reduced from five minutes in the original ordinance.
"We needed this clarification," said City Commissioner Reggie Sessions. "If something is important to the public, it's important to us. Now, the city manager will be able to take the request."