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Suit says lack of public comment was wrong

A Port Richey man is asking a judge to order the mayor to allow more citizen input.

By CARY DAVIS and MATTHEW WAITE
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 2, 2002


PORT RICHEY -- A Port Richey man has sued Mayor Eloise Taylor, accusing her of stifling public participation at Port Richey City Council meetings.

John Ward King, in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court, is asking a judge to prevent Taylor from cutting off public comment at meetings. He also is asking Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson to void last week's council decision to move forward with an investigation into the city's building department.

"Mayor Taylor has closed the marketplace of ideas," King said in his lawsuit, which he prepared himself.

Taylor, who has not yet been served with the complaint, said the lawsuit was "frivolous and without merit."

"I just think it's a shame that we as a city are going to end up spending taxpayer dollars to defend this lawsuit," Taylor said.

"I think you can see from the record that I have gone out of my way to encourage public participation. If anything, I've allowed people to continue speaking longer than the rules allow."

King said the mayor's failure to allow public comment on the building department investigation amounted to "illegal behavior."

The council discussed the issue at the end of the June 11 meeting, after the public comment period. The council agreed to put the matter on the next agenda and then tried to adjourn.

King, who has served on citizen committees and frequently attends council meetings, was outraged. "I protest . . .," he shouted from the back of the room. "You are breaking the Sunshine Law and the public meetings law."

When the issue came up again on June 25, the council debated, voted to hire an outside investigator and moved on to the next agenda item without opening the floor for public comment.

Taylor said she never meant to exclude public participation.

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