By Rich Pollack
Five-minute public comment is back in Highland Beach.
Since the summer, residents coming to the podium to express concerns and opinions at the beginning of Highland Beach Town Commission meetings and then again toward the end of the meeting have been limited to speaking in three-minute segments.
That’s because commissioners in July rolled back public comment in response to some residents launching long tirades, which led in part to commission meetings and workshops lasting as long as five hours.
At a meeting earlier this month, commissioners voted unanimously to return to allowing people to speak for five minutes each at the beginning and the end of the meeting.
Several residents said they were glad to see the commission allow residents to speak for five minutes.
“Having more time allows some speakers to get their point across more effectively,” said resident John Boden, who spoke out when commissioners first cut back on the time allowed for public comment.
Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who supported cutting public comment to three minutes during the summer, brought up the idea of reversing the previous decision after hearing from residents.
“It was in response to the public feeling they didn’t have a voice,” she said. “People emailed me and called me and said they felt their voices were being squelched.”
In returning to the five-minute period, Highland Beach is one of the few South Palm Beach County communities to allow the public to speak that long; and the only one to give speakers up to a total of 10 minutes – five in the beginning and five at the end.
At this month’s meeting, where residents were given the opportunity to speak for the five minutes, only a few used their full allotment.
“Even with the return to the five minutes there was a significant increase in civility and polite comment,” Boden said.