Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

The Buzz: A call for manners at meetings, candidate vows return

Minding p's and q's

At almost every meeting of the Pinellas County Commission there's a public comment period and at almost every meeting the same three or four people show up and berate their elected officials. This has probably been going on for generations, and most of the commission is immune to it, but apparently Commissioner Janet Long has had enough.

"The same three people come up here," Long said at the end of Tuesday's meeting. "One of them is always talking about a School Board issue."

Long then became angry: "I worked really hard to be a county commissioner. … I didn't sign up for insults and name-calling. Some of it recently has been somewhat threatening."

She said she wanted to see some improvement. "It is time to be grownups. Can we please have a discussion about what has gone on for far too long?"

County Attorney Jim Bennett told her the staff was already working on that.

What the commissioners currently have is a traditional public forum, he said, and that means "anything goes." He said the staff is working on a draft proposal to instead have a "limited public forum" at which the public can only speak about "what is in your jurisdiction."

But he cautioned the commissioners to tread lightly: "The bottom line is, we're dealing with First Amendment rights."

Even changing the nature of the forum, though, "will not address a civility issue," he added. "The chair is fully in charge of controlling any disruption to the proceedings."

Commissioner Karen Seel, who was chairing the meeting, said she thought one speaker that morning "almost went over the line."

She'll be back

"Yeah, I lost," were the first words out of Lorraine Margeson's mouth to a reporter who called on the night of the election. Followed by: "I ain't going away."

It has been only a few days since Margeson, an environmental activist, lost her race for the District 2 seat held by Jim Kennedy, but she's already hinting at another run and reflecting on what she could have done better. Getting into the race earlier would have helped, she said, as would have a more organized campaign.

"But I've made priceless connections through this experience and I will definitely be a player going forward," she said.

That's likely to mean a front-and-center role on public debate over what to do about the city's aging Pier. "Exactamundo," she said.

Green light what?

Tampa entrepreneur Tom Hall has a few thoughts on how to improve his city and he rattled them off at a recent conference. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Hall really likes the idea of building a monorail to connect Tampa with Beach Drive in St. Petersburg. His vision includes extending the line to Tropicana Field.

Cool idea. Except that Tucker Hall, the public relations company that Tom Hall founded, has been paid $400,000 at this point by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to educate the public about light rail, not monorail.

Pinellas' plan doesn't include a rail link to Tampa because Hillsborough defeated a transit referendum in 2010. But it does include plans to build a station near Tropicana Field.

But if we're dreaming here, why limit ourselves? Monorail. Light rail. Let's have it all.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @annamphillips on Twitter. Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @markpuente on Twitter.

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