The Palm Coast City Council meets weekly, but members of the public can only comment at half of those meetings — the council business meetings. City Councilman Bill McGuire would like the city to change that, and let the public comment at council workshops, too.
"I think there's something to be said for letting the public participate in a workshop, provided they only talk about what's on the agenda," McGuire said at a council workshop Feb. 9. "The public that's here and interested should be, in my view, allowed to put in a word or two."
Council members don't actually vote at council workshops. That happens only at council business meetings. But the council often uses workshops to discuss policy issues before those issues are scheduled for a vote at a business meeting, so letting members of the public speak at workshops would give them a chance to be heard on those issues earlier, and give council members more time to consider their comments before voting.
"If you have something that you think you can contribute to our workshop discussion that will add to the decision-making that we're going to have to do the following week, I'd like to hear from you," McGuire said.
Councilman Steve Nobile said he agreed with McGuire.
City Manager Jim Landon noted that as things are, members of the public who want to speak to council members sometimes come to a workshop and then pull individual council members aside afterward.
"And therein lies the problem, Mr. Landon," McGuire replied. "Because if one of them grabs (City Councilman Jason DeLorenzo) on one item and they also want to have a conversation with me, we can't have it in the same conversation," because if council members speak with each other privately about council business, that becomes a meeting "outside of the sunshine," violating state open government laws.
McGuire's proposal, restricting speakers to items on the workshop agenda, would differ from the public comment period at City Council business meetings, when members of the public can speak on any topic as long as they keep their comments under three minutes.
The ban on public comment during council workshops is part of city policy, so the council will need to hold a vote in order to change it.
The issue has been placed on the agenda for the 9 a.m. Feb. 16 council business meeting, and the proposal would add the following line to the city's Meeting Policies and Procedures:
"Public Input at Workshops. Public input at City Council workshops shall be limited to the items on that workshop agenda. Such public input at City Council workshops shall be conducted after the Council’s consideration of its agenda items and before reports."