Commission Meeting Protocol
Meetings of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Commission) are subject to Florida Sunshine Laws. This protocol is designed to guide the Chairman of the Commission in conducting public workshops and meetings of the Commission.
Notice and Agenda of Commission meetings
There shall be at least seven days notice of any public meeting, hearing, or workshop by publication in the Florida Administrative Register. There shall be an agenda which specifies the items to be considered at the meeting, hearing, or workshop. The Chairman may make specific changes in the agenda after it has been made available for distribution only for "good cause" shown. The Commission staff will post all Commission Meeting notices, agendas and to the extent practicable, background information on its website in advance of the meeting.
Under the Robert's Rules of Order, a quorum for any public meeting at which official agency action will be taken is a majority of the full membership of the Commission, which is four members.
Any matter brought before the Commission for official action must be done by motion. The steps by which a motion is brought before the Commission and acted upon are as follows:
- A Commissioner makes a motion.
- Another Commissioner must second the motion.
- The Chairman opens the motion to discussion.
- The Chairman puts the question, that is, puts the motion to a vote (generally, the Chairman should ask for an affirmative and negative vote but on minor or noncontroversial motions, may ask for only a negative vote.)
- The Chairman announces the result of the vote.
To provide for an orderly interaction between Commissioners, staff, and members of the public during Commission meetings and workshops, there are basic procedures under Robert's Rules of Order for "Obtaining and Assigning the Floor." The procedures are:
- Before any Commissioner, employee or member of the public may make a motion or speak, he or she must obtain the floor, that is, be formally recognized by the Chairman. Once recognized by the Chairman, that person has the exclusive right to be heard at that time. If the person is an employee or a member of the public, he or she shall approach the microphone.
- Only the Chairman may assign the floor. Other Commissioners, employees or members of the public shall not assign the floor. For the purposes of receiving public testimony, the Chairman traditionally delegates the assignment of the floor to the Vice Chairman.
- Any member of the public who wishes to address the Commission must register their information at the FWC registration desk.
- Anyone recognized by the Chairman shall speak only at the microphone to assure that their remarks may be heard and for the preservation of the remarks in the audio recording and meeting minutes.
- Anyone not recognized by the Chairman who speaks while another person has the floor is out of order.
Under Florida law, the need to receive and consider public comment may be balanced with the equally important need for orderly meetings with full deliberation by Commissioners. All persons who request an opportunity to speak at a Commission workshop or meeting will be allowed to speak within the following Commission guidelines:
- When a large number of people wish to speak, the Chairman may limit the time for each speaker, or the time allotted to public comment on specific agenda items, in order to ensure that speakers are heard within the time allotted for the meeting.
- The Chairman will ask all speakers to refrain from repeating comments from previous members of the public.
Commission Workshops: The primary purpose of the workshop is to allow staff an opportunity to brief the Commission on issues of interest and allow the Commission to solicit such information and advice from staff as may be necessary. Consistent with this purpose, public comment during the workshop should ordinarily be limited to the portion of the agenda specifically set aside for that purpose. As circumstances may dictate, the Chairman is free to impose time limitations on speakers consistent with the guidelines set forth below for Commission meetings.
Commission Meetings: In order to ensure meaningful and orderly public comment at the Commission meeting, the following guidelines may be implemented at the discretion of the Chairman, or as delegated, the discretion of the Vice Chairman:
- Public comment will be taken immediately after staff presentation of each item appearing on the "Items Requiring Action" portion of the agenda. After hearing public comment on an item, the Commissioners shall take appropriate action on the issue and then move to the next item. Based upon the Chairman’s discretion, it has been the practice of the Commission to allow for similar public testimony on other agenda items not requiring action, such as staff reports.
- A member of the Commission staff will manage the list of registered speakers during the public meeting. The list will indicate which item the speaker wishes to comment on and the name of their organization if applicable. Consistent with the order of the meeting agenda items, the Vice Chairman shall announce each speaker.
- It is the Chairman’s prerogative to establish a time limit for individual speakers. It has been the practice to allow 3 minutes for individual speakers. However, the Chairman may modify the amount of time based on a number of factors including but not limited to, total number of registered speakers and a time certain adjournment for the meeting. If the Chairman has imposed a time limit for individual speakers, that time limit should be applied uniformly and each speaker will be allowed to speak up to the designated amount of time imposed by the Chairman. The Chairman may impose a time limit for all public comment on any specific agenda item in order to ensure that all speakers are provided an opportunity to speak within the time allotted for the Commission meeting.
- A Commission staff member will keep time for each speaker and inform the Chairman when the speaker's time has expired. The Commission may use such timing devices as may be practicable to ensure that all speakers stay within the time limit.
- The "Public Comment on Items Not on the Agenda" portion of the Commission meeting agenda will be held on only one of the days of the Commission Meeting and reserved for public comments concerning items that do not appear on the meeting agenda. Time limits for speakers shall be in accordance with the section above.
- The Chairman shall encourage all prospective speakers to avoid repetitive statements and to submit written comments in advance in order to streamline the public comment process.
Under the Robert's Rules of Order (Ninth Edition), the minutes of a meeting are a synopsis of what was done at a meeting. Minutes are not meant to be a transcription of all that was said at a meeting. Minutes are prepared by the Commission Assistant who shall perform the duty impartially.
The Sunshine Law requires that minutes of a meeting of a commission be promptly recorded and open to public inspection. The adoption of the minutes, including any corrections, must be done in a properly noticed open meeting. The term "open to public inspection" in the Sunshine Law has not been clearly defined. However, it could be expected that the term public inspection could be interpreted to mean that the public has the right to make public comments on the minutes at the open meeting. Nevertheless, such public comment does not have to be received at the time the minutes are discussed or adopted but can be appropriately provided at some other point of the meeting.
Because the minutes of the Commission meetings are prepared by the Commission Assistant, it is unnecessary for the Commission to engage in debate about a proposed correction or amendment until the Commission Assistant and Assistant Executive Director have had the opportunity to review any proposed corrections or amendments to the minutes. In this review, the responsibility of the Commission Assistant is to make sure the minutes accurately reflect what was done; this does not mean the minutes must contain a record of everything that was said, or someone's version of what was said. Public suggestion to augment (as opposed to correct) the minutes should, in general, be rejected: minutes should reflect only the assistant's unbiased account of what was done. However, if a member of the public wishes to offer a correction of the minutes, they may do so in writing and this request shall be referred to the Commission Assistant for review.
The Chairman’s call to order should contain a description of keeping order during the meeting. Disrupting the meeting is described as conduct or speech that prevents the Chairman from proceeding through the agenda at a normal pace or prevents other persons from expressing their views, such as speaking without being recognized.
The content of what someone says, or the words used, are normally protected by the United States and Florida Constitutions. However, if the words used call for illegal conduct or have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person to whom they are directed, the speech is not protected and the person should be asked to refrain from making such comments and if the speaker refuses to refrain, he or she should be asked to leave the meeting or be removed.
The use of profanity is not grounds to ask someone to leave. The use of profanity may very well be part of the overall disruptive behavior by someone, in which case they may be asked to leave.
If any speaker conducts themselves in an uncivil manner at a workshop or meeting, the Chairman may find such conduct to be out of order and, if so found, must advise the speaker to refrain from such comments or else forfeit their privilege to speak. If the speaker refuses to abide by the Chairman's request, the Chairman may take action to bring the meeting back to order.