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Who Has A Right To Speak At Public Meetings?
Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011
In what appears to be a growing problem, another city council has silenced a critic, using an excuse that only city residents may address the council.
Kevin Hamm, a former city computer specialist for Port Ritchey, Florida, was suppressed by the mayor as he got up to speak at this week’s meeting. Mayor Richard Rober said he would be “strictly adhering to the charter that says anyone addressing the city council must be a city resident or a party to an issue on the agenda.”
While it’s true that Hamm lives outside the city limits, he has been a regular attendee at the weekly meetings, often criticizing the Port Ritchey leaders for issues ranging from his public record requests toquestions about the city July 4 fireworks show.
Most recently Hamm filed an ethics complaint with the state over how the fireworks were funded, upsetting some in the community who enjoyed the holiday show.
The mayor insists he did not enact the little-known part of the charter in order to punish the frequent critic. “No,” he said, “this is going to affect a lot of people, including Mr. Hamm, who are used to talking to us.”
“It’s amazing,” says Hamm. “For as long as I can remember, citizens have been able to speak to the council about their concerns – until you say something they don’t like.”
Share your reactions in our comment section. Do you believe the city charter violates free speech? Is there another way for the council to handle individuals who speak frequently, or who are critical of their elected officials?
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