Public comment trimmed in St. Augustine Beach

Beginning at their next meeting, St. Augustine Beach commissioners will reduce public comment from three minutes to two minutes per person on agenda items.


It’s part of an effort commissioners took up to make meetings more efficient, though not all agree it’s the correct move.

People will still have three minutes to speak during general public comment. Still, the vote brought pleas from the crowd to reconsider and protests in the form of silence at the lectern.

“I love silence,” Commissioner Rich O’Brien said in response to Merrill Roland, who used about a minute of his time to stand silently before the commission.

Vice Mayor Margaret England and Commissioners Donald Samora and Rich O’Brien voted to trim down public comment.

“I don’t see the harm in trying it,” Samora said.

But Mayor Undine George and Commissioner Maggie Kostka opposed the move.

“I don’t see any reason at all to change that,” Koskta said. “We are here to work for the people. How do we know what is on their mind unless we give them the opportunity to speak their mind?”

Commissioners supported the resolution, which includes other changes to meeting protocol.

Among other things, meetings will be on the first Monday of each month beginning at 6 p.m. and will last until 9:30 p.m. at the latest unless commissioners vote for a 30-minute extension. Meetings will be continued to the next business day if needed.

Also, agenda materials have to be provided to commissioners at least seven days before a regular meeting.

In other business:

• New beach Building Official Brian Law outlined proposed changes to flood regulations, development-related fees, the building code and the land development regulations. All will come back to the commission for further consideration.

• At the request of Police Chief Robert Hardwick, commissioners plan to talk in March about whether to move Beach Blast Off or stop hosting it.

“I think we’ve outgrown the venue,” Hardwick said.

He said he and others are “amazed” the pier is still standing after two hurricanes and a fire at the New Year’s Eve event, which features fireworks from the pier.

• Commissioners put off a vote on new harassment policies — they asked for the resolution to be cleaned up and for City Attorney Jim Wilson to bring back details for how complaints against a city manager or police chief would be handled.

• Commissioners have several special meetings or workshops coming up: A joint workshop with the Comprehensive Planning and Zoning Board at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22., a meeting at 1 p.m. on Feb. 2 to discuss the future of Pier Park and a meeting to discuss a beach parking plan at 6 p.m. on March 19.

• February’s regular commission meeting was rescheduled to Feb. 12.