PUBLIC COMMENT DURING COUNTY COMMISSION MEETINGS - Mitch Perry

05/19/04

Today the Hillsborough County Commission heard from an Attorney who suggested that the County strongly revise it's policy on what citizens can say at the Public Hearing portion of their bi-weekly meetings.

The County asked for a review of the policy after a regular speaker at their meetings - Mark Klutho, made a racially tinged remark at Interim County Attorney Don Odom last month.....Odom is Black.

His comment inspired the Commission to vote to seek a legal opinion on whether they could ban Klutho from subsequent meetings without abridging constitutional rights and state Sunshine laws.

Chip Rice from the law firm of Holland & Knight was hired by the County Attorney's Office to investigate the matter.... (roll tape#1 o.q."of Hillsborough County")

The man who led the Commission to contemplating suppressing the Free Speech of public citizens, Mark Klutho, has been a regular for years at the Commission, as well as

At Tampa Bay Water Meetings, and in his hometown of Largo....

Klutho who frequently criticizes WMNF's new building design, today took his 3 minutes to lash out the St. Petersburg Times, who wrote about him personally last month

(roll tape#2 o.q. "about ignorance")

Attorney Rice recommended how he believes the Commission should deal with public speakers who make offensive comments (roll tape#3 o.q."from these chambers") and he said that if such speaker made repeated offenses of bad behavior (roll tape#4 o.q.'

Citizen expression again")

Commissioners agreed that such warnings should be highlighted when speakers sign up to speak...

More detailed sign-in sheet, which obligates person to refrain from offensive remarks...

We need to adopt a rule, that speakers who make offensive comments will be asked to leave, and barred if they continue again.

Commissioner Kathy Castor appreciated much of Attorney Rice's recommendations, but thought some went a bit too far in clamping down on free expression (roll tape#5 o.q."too limiting") The Commission said they will review the report and on individual recommendations in it at their next meeting.

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