If You Loved It As A “Civility Ordinance,” You’re Gonna Love It As A “Censure Ordinance.”

Commissioner Curt Smith (left) and Brevard County Attorney Scott Knox (right.)

We wrote about the ordinance being proposed by Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith the other day. Initially, on November 21, 2017 in response to another spat with Commissioner Tobia, Smith announced that he was going to propose a “Civility Ordinance” which would deal with the speech and behavior of not only Commission members, but of the general public.

As Robert’s Rules of Order give the Chair of any meeting lots of leeway in dealing with the behavior of people, for citizens that part of the ordinance is superfluous. As for the speech of citizens, as we detailed, that part of the ordinance is unConstitutional under the US and Florida Constitutions. (Nice to know that Smith and County Attorney Scott Knox are not devoted and against those documents, eh?)

By statute, such an ordinance would have to be advertised 10 days before a public hearing:

Florida Statute 166.041(3)(a) Except as provided in paragraph (c), a proposed ordinance may be read by title, or in full, on at least 2 separate days and shall, at least 10 days prior to adoption, be noticed once in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality. The notice of proposed enactment shall state the date, time, and place of the meeting; the title or titles of proposed ordinances; and the place or places within the municipality where such proposed ordinances may be inspected by the public. The notice shall also advise that interested parties may appear at the meeting and be heard with respect to the proposed ordinance.

Smith announced his intentions on Novemeber 21, and as there are 13 days beteen November 22 and December 5, which is the date of the next Commission meeting. There was time to fit the notices into the legal requirements.

Yet as we watched and searched for the “Civility Ordinance” to be put on the agenda, nothing happened.

Smith’s big cause and attempt to censor people was not happening. We were rather stunned. After all, Smith had made such a big deal about the whole thing one would thing that he wwould be interested in following through.

Yet he did not.

However, this past Friday, a revised agenda for the December 5th meeting appeared on the Brevard County website.

Under Agenda Item VI(F)(2) (which is under “New Business / Miscellaneous) there is this:

Request for Advertising of a Public Hearing, Re: Censure Ordinance Governing Board of County Commissioners Meetings (District 4)

We have never seen such a request. It may be possible that we have missed it, but we have never seen this type of request before on the County Commission Agenda.

Not only is the request “odd” to us, but if you notice, the name of the ordinance has changed. Initially, the ordinance was called a “Civility Ordinance” and now it is being called a “Censure Ordinance.”

A “censure” can be defined as:

an official reprimand, as by a legislative body of one of its members.

There are four possible penalties for Council members when they “get out of line:”

A. First offense: when the Chair, or any other member of the Board so designated, determines that a fellow Board member is out of order, that Board member shall be called to order.
B. Second offense: if the Board member fails to come to order, the Board shall hold a contemporaneous vote as to whether a fine of $250.00 should be levied against the Board member for his/her disruptive and/or disorderly conduct. This vote shall require four-fifths (4/5) vote of the Board.
C. Third offense: if the Board member continues in a disruptive and/or disorderly manner, the Board member shall be publicly reprimanded in a newspaper of general circulation within the County. The fine shall be used to cover the publication costs.

D. Fourth offense: if the Board member fails to come to order, a petition shall be sent to the Governor, in accordance with Art. IV, Sec. 7(a) of the Florida Constitution, requesting the Board member be suspended from office for malfeasance, misfeasance, or neglect of duty. (emphasis ours)

When it comes to citizens, the Commission cannot legally “censure” a private citizen, but this ordinance does “censor” people’s right to speak:

3. Each person that addresses the Board, staff, or the general public must avoid making impertinent, profane, or slanderous remarks that cause a disruption, disturbance, or otherwise impede in the orderly conduct of any County Commission meeting and the fair progress of County business.

4. Enforcement
A. The Chair, or designated individual, is responsible for addressing any actions that disrupt, disturb, or otherwise impede a County Commission meeting. When addressing actual disruptions, disturbances, or other impediments during a County Commission meeting, the following steps shall be followed:
1. Issue a warning to the person causing the disruption, disturbance, or impediment, identifying how/why that person is out of order.
2. If the offender persists, request the person return to his/her seat.
3. If the offender persists, order the person leave the meeting.
4. If the offender is ordered expelled, but refuses to immediately leave the meeting chambers, the Chair, or designated individual, shall declare a recess and order the offender be removed by a law enforcement officer.

5. Penalties
A. Any action that disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise interferes with the regular course of a Board meeting is prohibited. Pursuant to Section 871.01(1), Florida Statutes, whoever willfully disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise interferes with a Board meeting commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in Sections 775.082 or 775.083, Florida Statutes.

Our point is that of the 8 possible infractions and penalties, only one deals with the “censuring” of anyone. Four of the infractions and penalties deal with “censoring” of people.

Let’s call this ordinance what it is: it is a “Censor Ordinance.”

It is an attack on the rights of people in Brevard County.

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