Public comment – does it work?

Citizens want clarification on right

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Last month The City of Jacksonville Ethics Commission sent a formal request to Attorney General Pam Bondi for a legal opinion to clarify the new “right to public comment” law (Section 286.0114 Florida Statutes, effective date Oct. 1, 2013.)  This new law requires all local government Boards and Commissions in the state to allow the public to comment at public hearings.

According to Carla Miller, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, her office had some complaints from residents about difficulties they were having in offering public comments at certain points in the process.

The request seeks to close loopholes in the statute that may otherwise deny the public the ability to effectively influence the outcome of government proposals and legislation. The Ethics Commission asks for clarity on the public’s right to comment at each hearing or on each vote in local government decision-making.

The letter to AG Bondi read, in part: “The Commission seeks an opinion interpreting Florida Statute 286.0114 to clarify what triggers the public comment provision. Section (2) provides the public an opportunity to be heard on a “proposition.” Further, this opportunity to be heard is to be provided when a board or commission takes ‘official action.’ Taken together, is public comment required on each and every matter, and at each and every time, upon which a board or commission acts, aside from the exceptions to the law described in Section (3)?”

Avondale residents – and members of the Riverside Avondale Preservation and other neighborhood associations – are all too familiar with the process, having just spent the better part of the last two years “commenting” on bills for development projects such as Mellow Mushroom and St. Johns Village/Commander Apartments.

Now Riverside residents are voicing their opinions about the FDOT’s proposed expansion of the Fuller Warren Bridge and construction of a flyover from I-10 to Roosevelt Boulevard. FDOT has set aside calendar year 2014 to hold public meetings and garner comment on the project. Thus far voices were heard in several private meetings held between the Dec. 9, 2013 review of the Tentative Five-Year Work Program for Fiscal Years 2014-2019 and the project kickoff meeting on Feb. 10, which was open to the public.

“We had a lot of input back from the community, expressing a lot of concern about us widening any further, taking any addition real estate and affecting the community any further,” said James Bennett, Urban Transportation Development Manager for FDOT.

Based on what was heard from residents at that kickoff meeting, FDOT can be sure that they will continue to hear from the residents about the expansion project. The bigger issue is whether what’s been done with the plan at this point is already “cast in concrete” or if the public voice will be further heard and acted upon.

The public comment law is an important right in furtherance of Florida’s nationally recognized sunshine laws.  For additional information, contact Carla Miller, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, [email protected], (904) 630-1476 or Joe Jacquot, Ethics Commission Vice-Chair, (904) 402-0303.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

You must be logged in to post a comment Login