Changes are being made to how people are supposed to address commissioners at Gainesville City Commission meetings.
Tensions were high on Thursday night at Gainesville City Hall. A number of people in attendance were concerned about new policies being implemented to tighten public comment periods.
The resolution for these changes passed 6-1, with Commissioner David Arreola the only one dissenting. He said he understands the public’s concern.
“Reducing the number of opportunities to have general public comment — I didn’t think that was a change that I wanted to see,” Arreola said.
The resolution includes many changes, such as requiring those who want to speak to register before the meetings.
The new rules also establish an “early citizen comment section” where people can speak for three minutes about agenda items. Lizzie Lunior spoke up at the meeting about how public comment should be less formulaic.
“For someone to ask us to register ahead of time to speak on things, to me, it creates disjunction in an organic process of expressing one’s self as a person, as a citizen [and] as a human,” Lunior said.
Mayor Lauren Poe explained at the meeting that the resolution would give people the opportunity to comment online, via email or through a letter. Still, most in attendance still felt like the commission was putting up barriers to the voicing of opinions.
Gary Gordon, a former Gainesville Commissioner, thinks the decision will hurt the feeling of democracy.
“What they’ve done tonight I think will contribute to less interest, less momentum [and] less confidence in people coming out and believing they will be heard,” Gordon said.