SAFETY HARBOR — When the debate gets heated, Safety Harbor residents have been known to get unruly at commission meetings, booing and clapping like they're at a hotly contested sports match.
But "heckling and audible outbursts" may be banned as a result of new rules under consideration by the commission. Personal attacks and other disorderly conduct would also warrant removal from City Hall.
"Quite frankly this is just respectable behavior, asking people not to clap and heckle from the audience when we're trying to conduct city business," Mayor Joe Ayoub said Monday.
The proposed rules are an extension of a new state law that requires local governments to allow residents to speak on every agenda item. The commissioners are resolving to comply with the law at the same time they're adding their own guidelines for resident behavior.
A code of conduct is appropriate, Ayoub said, given recent cases in which residents have ignored his requests for calm and delayed meetings by continuously clapping and hollering.
In one instance, after Ayoub cast the tie-breaking vote to approve a luxury apartment complex on McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 580, residents shouted things like "This is going to be a one-term mayor!" and "Vote him out!"
Commissioners also faced audience backlash when they voted to save money by changing the city's election date to piggyback on county elections — a move that added eight months to the terms for Ayoub and Commissioner Nina Bandoni.
Only Commissioner Nancy Besore — herself one of the more emphatic commissioners — had major critiques of the proposed "rules of decorum," saying people need to be able to express themselves and she doesn't want to legislate clapping.
"There are times I've been unsure about the pulse of the community, and the community has let me know," she said, adding that deputies have always promptly dealt with threatening behavior. "The clapping and the noise and the rustling in the room, they help me."
Bandoni replied the audience isn't necessarily a good measure of resident views since often the only people who attend meetings are those who strongly support or oppose an issue.
Only a few people attended Monday's discussion, and resident Michael Dommer was the only to speak.
The fact that commissioners have to make these rules, he said, "is disappointing at its own level."
The next hearing on the issue is scheduled for Oct. 21.
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