By Bryan Boggiano
Residents unable to attend city commission meetings in person have another option to voice their concerns.
The city commission voted to bring back public comments on Zoom at their Sept. 6 meeting as part of a three-month pilot program.
Zoom speakers will be limited to three minutes, solely during the public comment section of city meetings.
Commissioner Antonio Arserio said he researched how other cities conduct public comment and whether they allow Zoom participation. He said he is open to the trial program only if residents do not abuse their rights or try to speak on every motion.
“We want to be accommodating…,” Arserio said. “We are so far above and beyond best practices.”
The commission expressed differing views on whether they should be able to see the person who is speaking. They brought up issues relating to technological capabilities, ranting, and speakers using false names.
Commissioner Arlene Schwartz said, “I want to see the person talking to me, so I don’t see Garfield One, Garfield Two, and Garfield Three.”
Commissioner Joanne Simone countered for two reasons. Her first was for people who call in on their phones and not Zoom, while she said other speakers often refuse to give their true names, even though they are required.
Vice Mayor Tommy Ruzzanno suggested calling in before the meeting. He also mentioned Margate’s elderly population, some of the most affected by COVID-19, would benefit from the pilot program.
He also expressed concern over people speaking only to heckle the meeting.
“We want to be efficient with our meetings; get stuff done that you guys want [and] we want,” he said.
In response, Mayor Anthony Caggiano warned he would cut people’s speaking time if they violated decorum, but he maintained support for the program.
Commission meeting attendees praised the decision and the work of staff, but they felt the commission could go further.
Elsa Sanchez said although she was happy with the changes, there could be issues if somebody wants to comment on an item at the end of late-night meetings. She also expressed concern about limiting comments solely to public comment items since several major issues are occurring in the city.
“If there’s something that is going on and it’s not public comment, and it’s something that is on the agenda for discussion…I won’t be able to comment on it,” she said.
Schwartz built on these comments, saying residents could not comment after hearing the commission’s discussion.
Resident Jonathan Kraljic expressed optimism but also asked the city to allow email and voicemail opportunities. Kraljic previously called for reform.
He said, “My suggestion is that Margate set the standard and raise the bar for being the beacon of public comment, engagement, and involvement of not only Broward County but beyond.”
Ultimately, Arserio motioned to allow residents to comment on any item they wanted during public comment, limited to three minutes as part of a three-month pilot program.
The Zoom comments would apply to any city meeting where public comments are permitted.
All commission members expressed support for the program, which ultimately passed.
- A University of Florida journalism graduate, Bryan plans to pursue geosciences at Florida International University for his master's. He has a strong interest in weather, entertainment, and journalism.
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