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‘Free Speech Amendment’ sees unanimous council approval following 2018 veto

Following months of revision and re-examinations, the Free Speech Amendment received an affirmative vote and was passed unanimously by the Wildwood City Council at its Jan. 14 meeting.

The bill was brought forth by Councilmember Steve Taylor [Ward 4] with its twofold goal, according to Taylor, being:

• to allow individuals attending city council meetings to ask specific councilmembers direct questions at the podium during the public comments portion

• allow councilmembers to issue direct replies to those questions

The council previously passed the bill in October 2018 with a 12-4 council vote in favor of the legislation. However, following the bill’s original passage, Mayor Jim Bowlin vetoed the amendment due to concerns regarding the language in the amendment that allowed the city council to set rules about public participation on a meeting-by-meeting basis. At the time City Attorney John Young also voiced concerns over the possible impact of the bill’s language.

Ultimately, the council took a vote to override the mayor’s veto. That vote fell short by one vote at the council’s Nov. 14 meeting. Subsequently, the bill was sent back to the Administration and Public Works Committee to be revised for a potential future vote.

After several revisions that included removing the language that inspired the veto and adding language that allows residents to state their ward as opposed to their address at the podium, the committee voted unanimously to approve the amended language and send the bill back to the city council for another vote.

On Jan. 14, Councilmember John Gragnani [Ward 1] motioned that the bill, now known as Bill 2437, receive a first and second reading. The motion received no opposition from the council. As a result, the Free Speech Amendment received its first, second and third readings at the Jan. 14 meeting and received council approval to add the amendment’s revised language to city code.

Taylor expressed enthusiasm at the revised language of the amendment and thanked the entire council and mayor following the affirmative vote. In a follow-up with West Newsmagazine, Taylor described the passage of the amendment as a “cooperative effort.”

“It’s great,” Taylor said. “We worked at it together and came back with unanimity.”

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