City Commission meetings are usually peaceful affairs in which citizens sit in their seats and rarely make a sound.
But an unruly June 20 meeting has forced commissioners to discuss their safety during those gatherings.
On June 20, during a discussion about several homeless issues, Richard Martin, a former Sarasota mayor and current executive director of the Suncoast Partership to End Homelessness, made a display of civil disobedience by refusing to stop addressing commissioners when his time to speak had expired.
People in the audience began to yell at him to stop speaking. A homeless man then began yelling and threatening two of those people.
Others muttered curse words at speakers with opposing viewpoints.
But the incident that most worried Commissioner Willie Shaw was one that occurred earlier that evening.
Citizens were testifying about the need for a smoking ban in city parks. Downtown resident Jim Lampl brought with him a plastic bag full of cigarette butts that he said he had collected that day in Selby Five Points Park.
After his testimony, Lampl tossed the bag to City Manager Bob Bartolotta.
“That (bag) could have contained anything,” said Shaw.
In a June 28 meeting, Commissioner Shannon Snyder praised the police officer who guided Martin out of the commission chambers and got the threatening homeless man to calm down. Snyder suggested that one particular officer be assigned to meetings, instead of the current rotation of officers, because that officer will get to know the personalities of meeting attendees.
Commissioner Terry Turner proposed giving the mayor the power to move the discussion of a particular item to another meeting, if the crowd fails to obey orders.
From the beginning of the June 20 meeting, the crowd began applauding speakers who supported their cause.
Mayors usually gavel down applause, because it violates the rules of civility and might intimidate speakers in the minority.
But Mayor Suzanne Atwell did not stop the first couple of applause breaks, and when she did bang her gavel, she politely asked the crowd to stop.
The applause continued after the next speaker, and the crowed was never again asked to stop.
Atwell said afterward that she didn’t want to clear the room.
Turner suggested from now on that the mayor have the ability to stop all discussion of an item on the agenda if people remain unruly.
“That would have sent a strong powerful message, if we had cleared the first group,” he said.
Currently, the mayor has to ask the rest of the commission to vote to end discussion.
The rest of the commission, however, failed to support Turner’s proposal.
City staff will be asked to come up with new safety measures for the commission chambers.
Other City Commission actions June 28 included:
• Commissioner Terry Turner presented a list of actions that he believes the city should perform to make the city a better place to live and do business. They include: reducing taxes and fees, maintaining a high level of public safety, eliminating unnecessary regulation, maintaining and expanding public infrastructure, subsidizing downtown parking to eliminate paid parking and aggressively marketing Sarasota.
• A workshop was scheduled for 2 p.m. July 13, at City Hall, to discuss the possible elimination of homeless feedings in Selby Five Points Park. The workshop format was chosen, because it is a public hearing but does not allow public input.
“We can try to get a consensus, without all the emotion,” said Commissioner Shannon Snyder.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].