At its Oct. 8 meeting, the Wildwood City Council gave the first reading to a proposed ordinance by Councilmember Steve Taylor [Ward 4] that would allow residents to ask questions from the podium at city council meetings. The ordinance has been dubbed “The Free Speech Amendment.”
The bill had received prior approval from the city’s Administration and Public Works Committee.
With the legislation poised for a first reading on Oct. 8, Mayor Jim Bowlin surprised those in attendance at the council’s work session by announcing that:
- He had met with Taylor and City Attorney John Young multiple times regarding the ordinance and approved the overall concept of the bill.
- Beginning Oct. 8, members of the public, when at the podium during the council meeting’s public comment period, could identify a specific councilmember or staff member of which to ask a question.
- At the end of the meeting’s public comment period, time will be set aside for those identified councilmembers or staff members to answer questions, should they choose to do so.
Additionally, warning lights at the podium used to alert speakers of the five-minute time limit were removed. That move followed suggestions from residents and some councilmembers at multiple, previous council meetings.
During debate after its first reading, the bill’s language met with concern from Councilmember Dave Bertolino [Ward 5], who made a motion to refer the bill back to the administration and public works committee for further clarification. Bertolino also said the bill could serve to limit free speech by promoting further debate at meetings instead of eliciting comments and questions.
Taylor and other councilmembers cited the referral back to the committee as “unnecessary.” He noted that the committee already had thoroughly vetted and approved the bill for consideration by the council. He also stated that the bill could be amended at its second reading if issues with legality or technical language remained.
“I would strongly suggest that the Free Speech Amendment be given a fair hearing in the light of day,” Taylor said at the Oct. 8 meeting.
Following council discussion, Bertolino withdrew his motion for the referral.
The bill is currently scheduled for its second reading and a final vote at the council’s Oct. 22 meeting.