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"It's my meeting! I can do what I want!"

Oakland mayor violated town meeting policy with demand that resident stop speaking, sit down during public comment. 



Anne Fulton (left) attempts to explain a misunderstanding that touched off Mayor Kathy Stark's shouting match during Oakland's March 12, 2024 town commission meeting , Stark's last as mayor.



In one of her last acts before stepping down after nearly 20 years as Oakland’s mayor, Kathy Stark violated the town’s meeting policy Tuesday when she angrily demanded that a resident stop talking during public comment and sit down.


“It’s my meeting,” the mayor said, repeatedly. “I can do what I want.”


That's not the way it works, according to government law specialist Clifford Shepard, founding partner of the Maitland law firm Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand, which represents numerous municipalities including Maitland, Eatonville, Ponce Inlet, Dunnellon, Flagler Beach and Mascotte.


“It is not her meeting. It will never be her meeting,” Shepard said in a Wednesday phone interview. 


“Generally speaking, a public meeting is considered a public forum when a meeting's being held,” Shepard explained. “That means the boundaries on what are acceptable within the realm of ‘decorum’ are pretty wide. Most rules of decorum have pretty broad boundaries on what you can say during your three minutes, four minutes or five minutes. 


“I could say, I think you're dishonest. I think this body doesn’t handle things efficiently. I think you guys are engaged in mismanagement. I don't think you make good decisions. I don't think you studied the issues. I could say a lot of things that are negative and still be well within my rights.”


Anne Fulton, a resident of Johns Landing — south of Colonial Drive, on the east side of the Florida Turnpike — didn’t offer negative remarks. She empathized with another resident dealing with cars zipping around school buses near her home and thanked a developer for removing a hotel from a project after hearing resident feedback at a Planning & Zoning Board meeting that it wasn't wanted.


But Fulton had a question about the town’s comprehensive plan, portions of which, she said, had not been updated since 2007. She said the mayoral election had spurred many residents who’d been “asleep” and “in a coma for almost 30 years” to become more engaged with the town. She said she understood the need for commercial growth to sustain the town, but asked if the commission would consider a pause on the comprehensive plan to re-evaluate if the plan formulated 20 years ago still suited the town’s needs. 


Stark appeared to misinterpret Fulton’s comments about who she said was “asleep” and lost her temper. 


“Anne, my last meeting. I wanted to go out with a bang,” the mayor said. “You can’t just storm in here and decide that what we’ve done is wrong.”


It quickly went sideways from there. 


Fulton, who hadn’t “stormed” anywhere and remained calm throughout the two-minute exchange, attempted several times to explain that there had been a miscommunication. 


“Respectfully, I did not say you have done anything wrong.”


“It’s my meeting! I can say … I can do what I want!” said Stark. “You cannot come in here and tell us what we have done wrong when you don’t know what you’re talking about.” 


“I did not say that you have done anything wrong. Respectfully — ”


“We’ve been asleep, we didn’t update the comprehensive plan —”


“Respectfully, I said the residents had been asleep. I did not say you’ve been asleep.”


Stark had had enough.  “Stop! Stop now! Go sit down! 


“No.” Fulton tried one more time. “Respectfully, I said the residents had been asleep. I said I’ve been asleep. I said my neighbors have been asleep.” 


“SIT DOWN! NOW! DOWN!” Stark shouted. “YOU CAN COME BACK … YOU CAN COME BACK WHEN I’M GONE! I don’t need to hear someone tell me how to run this town five minutes … SIT DOWN! SIT!”


Fulton’s husband Shaun spoke up from the back of the room, his Australian accent instantly recognizable. “She’s not a child. Don’t speak to my wife like that.”


“She wouldn’t stop. She wouldn’t stop,” Stark attempted to defend her actions. 


“Show some respect,” Shaun replied. “Go out in style.”


Stark put out both hands, “STOP!” 


Another resident spoke out: “You’re disrespecting the law.” 


“THIS IS MY MEETING!” Stark said again, pumping her arms, her fists clenched.


Shaun raised his voice, as the crowd in the room began to rumble its discontent, “NO! IT’S OUR MEETING.” 


At that point, Town Attorney Stephanie Velo, stood up from her seat across the U-shaped table from the mayor. 


“Anyone being disruptive will be warned, and then they will be escorted out by the police,” Velo warned. 


That warning did not appear to apply to the mayor. 


Rules of Engagement 

Although it took some time for town officials to put their hands on it, Oakland does have a set of policies governing how commission meetings are conducted: A 37-page document called Oakland’s Rules and Polices of the Town Commission, adopted in 2003 and amended in 2005.


Fulton addressed the commission under Rule 4.704 “Privilege of the Floor” (d) addressing the commission. (Other cities call this portion of a commission meeting “public comment” or” matters from the public.”)


The rule states: “By permission of the Mayor, the privilege of the floor shall be extended to a citizen or citizens to address the Commission on any matter pending before it or which needs the attention of the Commission.”


The only criteria for addressing the commission are to stand at the podium, state your name and address, speak “in an audible tone for the records,” limit comments to three minutes, address the commission as a whole rather than individual officials, and don’t trade your three minutes to anyone else. 


After reviewing the town’s meeting policies, VoxPopuli’s video of the meeting and the meeting audio from YouTube, Shepard, the government law specialist, praised Fulton’s composure at the podium. He said that Stark’s outburst violated Rule 4.402 Commission to Preserve Order and Decorum and Rule 4.404 Disruption of Meeting of the town's meeting policies.


Rule 4.402 Commission To Preserve Order and Decorum states: 

While the Commission is in session, the Mayor shall preserve order and decorum, and a Commissioner shall neither by conversation nor otherwise delay or interrupt the proceedings or the peace of the Commission, nor disturb any Commissioner while speaking, or refuse to obey the orders of the Commission or its Mayor. [Emphasis added]


Rule 4.404 Disruption of Meeting states: 

Any person disrupting a Commission meeting by making personal, impertinent or slanderous remarks or by boisterous behavior while the Commission is in session, may be removed from the meeting by the Chief of Police or his designee. [Emphasis added]


“The mayor must have been having a bad day,” Shepard said.  


Stark told VoxPopuli after Tuesday’s meeting that what set her off was Fulton “looking at things, and she didn’t want to hear that they were not quite right. People come in here, they think they know, they've been involved for a week or two, and they think they know everything about how to fix things.”


Reached Wednesday by phone, Fulton said she was shocked by the Stark's behavior. Shocked and confused. 


“I was being calm. I wasn't being aggressive. I wasn't being snarky or sarcastic. I was using a loud voice so the people in the back of the room could hear me. I was projecting, but I wasn't being aggressive or antagonistic. So I was just really confused why she wouldn't let me get a sentence out,” Fulton said. 


“Moreover, I was confused that the remaining elected officials sitting up there didn't make any eye contact or do anything to protect my right to say anything.”


VoxPopuli reached out to the commissioners who were present at the meeting — Sal Ramos, Mike Satterfield and Rick Polland — by email and text message and also contacted the town attorney at her office at the Vose Law Firm in Winter Park, to ask why they did not intervene to allow Fulton to continue speaking. 


Not a single commissioner, nor the attorney, responded. 


 

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