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Thursday, May 30, 2024

‘They’re not contributing anything’: Ocala City Council pushes public comments to end of meetings

Following weeks of public comments about the Gaza Strip, the Ocala City Council voted unanimously to amend its “Rules of Order” for the first time since 2019 to push public comments to the end of its meetings.

Four minutes before the end of a nearly two-hour meeting, Ocala City Council members voted 5-0 in favor of amending the “Rules of Order of the City Council.”

Among other changes in the document, which was last amended over five years ago in March 2019, was a change to the order in which public comment is made during the meetings.

Before Tuesday’s change, city meetings would start with a call to order, public notice, proclamations/awards, and presentations.

The council would then hear public comment, which generally began within about 15 minutes of the start of the meeting at 4 p.m.

Now, all the city’s business matters will be discussed before general public comments are allowed.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, council president Barry Mansfield was quick to clarify that the change will only impact public comments at the beginning of the meeting and not the comments associated with individual items.

“If it’s on an agenda item, those people will come up and speak at that time,” said Ocala City Council President Barry Mansfield.

Mansfield emphasized that those items need to be prioritized because they tend to come from individuals are accompanied by attorneys and other professionals.

Council member Jay Musleh, who represents District 3, was more direct in his criticism of those who he says have sought their “3 minutes of fame” at the city’s last several meetings.

After moving to adopt the changes, Musleh commented on the empty room, which cleared after most of the individuals in attendance made comments about the conflict in Gaza.

“I don’t know if there are any real members of the public out there” said Musleh, who is the longest tenured member of the council.

The councilman posited that over time, residents would “get used to” the change and expressed his displeasure with being in the “fourth consecutive meeting” with public comments he deemed had “nothing to do with the city of Ocala.”

“We’ve also had other people come in, you know, to just jabber for 3 minutes, so that they got their 3 minutes of fame,” said Musleh. “I’m not trying to silence them, they can speak. But it will be at the end of the meeting. Because they’re not contributing anything to the meeting as it is.”