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Lengthy citizens’ comments spark debate in Dunedin
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John Tornga
DUNEDIN – Some Dunedin city commissioners are at odds with each other over whether citizens are given too much time to speak at their meetings.

Dozens of residents at the last two City Commission meetings spoke out against a plan to develop property adjacent to the 90-acre Hammock Park. Some sharply criticized commissioners.

At the end of the commission meeting June 16, Commissioner John Tornga said he believes the commission needs to have a set time frame for citizen input, such as 30 minutes.

“Ten people maybe at three-minutes a shot,” he said.

If more conversation is needed, he said, the speakers should be allowed to speak at the end of the meeting. Under current city policies, the citizens’ input segment begins shortly after the start of the commission’s meeting.

“This is wholly embarrassing as far as I’m concerned to the professionals that we dealt with today,” Tornga said. “We can’t keep getting our agenda stolen away from us.”

He said he had 12 issues he needed consensus from the commission to put on the agenda that night or on the next commission agenda.

Also discussed was whether citizens’ comments should be recorded verbatim in the minutes.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said having lengthy public comment sessions happens infrequently at commission meetings.

“How many times is that going to happen? I think this (Hammock Park discussion) is a unique situation. This has been one subject, two different meetings, and now we are going to change policies and procedures,” she said. “ … That is what citizen input is for.

She said it is commissioners’ job to listen to the public.

“They are not hijacking anything. They are using their God-given right to talk to the people who represent them,” Ward Bujalski said.

Tornga replied that commissioners are still going to listen to people.

“But we have a whole agenda here. I was embarrassed tonight,” Tornga said.

Ward Bujalski said she tried to shorten the agenda, but staff said nothing could be moved.

“I just don’t think we should change a policy for one subject,” she said.

Commissioner Bruce Livingston said a lot of citizen input was repetitive and that it could be shortened.

“I agree with Commissioner Tornga if there is new information that could be provided and then it should be provided. But if it’s going to be 20 people saying the same thing, I think we can acquiesce to that and say ‘OK, we understand. If there is any new material that needs to be presented, we’re certainly willing to hear that,’” Livingston said.

Torgna reiterated that he’d be willing to listen to comments at the end of the meeting, but commissioners were still meeting at 2 a.m. that night “because there are things we have to do.” He said if a group of citizens have an important topic they should select an individual to speak for them.

Ward Bujalski said commissioners were not going to resolve the matter that night, and if any of them wanted to add it to a future agenda, he or she should do that.
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9911 Seminole Blvd.,
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Phone: (727) 397-5563
Fax: (727) 397-5900
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