The Coastal Star

Highland Beach: Vice mayor: Get public input before decision-making

By Rich Pollack

Highland Beach Vice Mayor Greg Babij knows that some residents have good ideas, and he hopes a new process he is proposing will make it easier for those ideas to surface before town commissioners make important decisions.

Babij late last month asked his fellow commissioners to consider changing procedures at commission meetings to allow residents a chance to comment on each agenda item shortly after elected officials discuss it, but before they vote.

The goal, he says, is to make sure good ideas don’t get lost and surface only after decisions have been made. “No one is smarter than all of us collectively,” he said. 

Currently, residents each get five minutes to comment at the beginning of meetings and five minutes at the end of meetings.

“Residents either have to guess what commissioners are thinking and comment at the beginning of the meeting or have to watch suboptimal decisions being made and seek to correct them with comments at the end of the meeting,” he said.

Babij, who was appointed to the commission in late March following the resignation of Vice Mayor Alysen Africano Nila, proposes providing three minutes each to anyone wanting to speak on non-agenda items at the beginning of the meeting.

As agenda items come up in the meeting, he proposes letting commissioners have one round of comments and then asking for public comment. After each resident speaks for a maximum of five minutes, commissioners would have further discussion before making a decision. The public would then have a chance to speak on non-agenda items at the end of the meeting.

“Why would I not want to leverage the expertise in the room?” he said.

The process, Babij said, is similar to one Town Manager Marshall Labadie became familiar with while working in Michigan and is similar to one being used by other coastal towns in Palm Beach County.

The downside to the proposal, he said, is that often-long meetings get even longer. Babij acknowledges that, but says asking residents to stay on point, be concise and not repeat themselves could prevent discussions from dragging on.

“I’d rather have things moving forward slower and more methodically and with resident input,” he said. “I don’t understand why there has to be a rush to decision-making without gathering all the information first.”

Babij’s proposal received support from other commissioners, although there was discussion on how much time residents should be allowed to speak on both agenda and non-agenda items.

“I think this is a great idea as long as we keep a tight rein on it so it doesn’t get out of hand,” Commissioner Evalyn David said.

Following discussion, commissioners agreed to have Labadie and Town Attorney Glen Torcivia draft a resolution based on Babij’s proposal, but left room for the opportunity to change time limits. Ú

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