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Lake City News

Pt II  Mayor Witt Asks All Speakers to Follow the Rules - City Attorney Makes No Effort to Diffuse

Mayor Witt reaches out to Sylvester Warren. City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., looks on (last person on right). Rather than make any effort to diffuse a difficult situation, he sat silent. Also in photo: Councilman Jake Hill (plaid shirt), Councilman Chris Green, City Clerk Audrey Sikes.

City Rules of Procedure:
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LAKE CITY, FL – After going over the City Council approved rules for addressing the Council and asking all speakers to address their comments to the Council "as a whole..." Mayor Witt invited Lake City resident and community activist Sylvester Warren to the microphone. See Part I: City Council Discovers 2014 Rules of Decorum, Mayor Witt Asks All Speakers to Follow the Rules, for the background to this story.

Local Resident & Community Activist Sylvester Warren

Local resident and community activist Sylvester Warren came to the microphone. He was not happy with the rules.

Mr. Warren introduced himself and addressed Mayor Witt, "As soon as you get a chance Mr. Mayor I wanna' get a copy of that. I wanna' make sure we ain't violating anybody First Amendments with that."

Mayor Witt responded, "Absolutely."

Mr. Warren followed up, "That whole thing you got goin' there."

Mr. Warren then continued with his presentation.

Mr. Warren:  "First I would like to say a few words to Mr. Helfenberger. I'd like to thank you.

Mayor Witt reminded Mr. Warren of the rule, "OK. There again, we're not going to address anybody individually... Just speak to the Council as a whole."

Mr. Warren took exception, "You said that that's gonna' be goin' through the chambers. This is the known procedin' that we hadn't made a motion to even rule or vote on that particular procedure. Have we not?"

Mayor Witt answered, "It's City Council Resolution 2014-004. It was adopted and signed 21 January, 2014."

Sylvester Warren turns to City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., looking for guidance.

Mr. Warren turned to City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., "Mr. City Attorney, is this an infringement on my first amendment rights or do we need the City Council to address this issue?"

There was a long silence. City Attorney Koberlein wasn't talking. He could have asked the Mayor for permission to speak and explained the resolution and the rules. He didn't.

The Mayor broke the silence, "I don't think he's there to answer your questions."

Mr. Warren continued on the same track, "I just wanna' make sure that I don't put the seed in type of litigation by infringing on me to be able to speak to my elected officials."

Again, Mayor Witt invited Mr. Warren to speak, "Well speak, and if I think it's inappropriate I'll bring it up."

Mr. Warren responded, "Right. I mean. Mr. Mayor. Mr. Mayor."

Cutting Each Other Off
Things got a little out of hand

Mayor Witt:  "We just gotta'. We just gotta'."

Mr. Warren:  "Well, you don't even know what I'm gonna' say. I mean, you've already just impede on what I was about to say. I mean, that's very."

Mayor Witt:  "I know what you said last time."

Mr. Warren:  "What did I say last time?"

Mayor Witt: "You kept interrogatin' Mr. Helfenberger (Mr. Warren, speaks over the Mayor).

Mr. Warren:  "Interrogatin' Mr. Helfenberger. (to Mr. Helfenberger) Did I interrogate you?"

Mayor Witt:  "I let it go. I let it go last time. It's not gonna' happen again."

City Manager Helfenberger Added to the Confusion
Mayor Witt Let Nature Take Its Course

Without asking for permission from the Mayor, City Manager Helfenberger answered Mr. Warren.

Mr. Helfenberger: "I think that we talked about a lot of stuff."

Mr. Warren:  "Right."

City Manager Helfenberger responds to Mr. Warren.

Mr. Helfenberger: "and we've worked out some stuff."

Mr. Warren:  "Right."

Mr. Helfenberger:  "since the meeting and have made some progress on the issues that you did raise."

Mr. Warren:  "Right, but did I interrogate you?"

Mr. Helfenberger:  (fumbles for words) "We just. We talked. Ok."

Mr. Warren:  "No. But the Mayor is sayin' that I interrogate you. I just want to be clear. I just want to be on the record that I didn't interrogate you. I thought we had a conversation."

Mr. Helfenberger: "We just had a long conversation. That's all."

Mr. Warren:  "Right, but was there any interrogation goin' on."

Mr. Helfenberger:  "I didn't mind any conversation -unintelligible- I agree with."

Mayor Witt – He had enough with nature

Mayor Witt made an attempt to get Mr. Warren and Mr. Helfenberger back to following the rules:  "We're back doin' the same thing I've just said. If you would just address the Council with what your concerns are and we could refer it to the department and handle our matters. But there you are discussin' things with staff at the City Council meeting. Let me read this to ya'."

Mayor Witt read from City Resolution 2014-004:

"All comments are directed to the Mayor and not to individual members of the City Council or to the audience. Personal verbal attacks toward any individual will not be tolerated during the conduct of a City Council meeting. The Mayor or presiding officer may have individual(s) removed from the podium and/or City Council Chambers if such conduct persists after a warning has been issued. Staff members and citizens shall not use profanity or cursing, aggressive or threatening behavior when addressing the City Council or other participants."

Mayor Witt addressed Mr. Warren, "And that's what this ordinance [resolution] says. And if that's unconstitutional then (Mr. Warren jumps in).

Mr. Warren:  "Ok"

Mayor Witt:  "It's our law."

Sylvester Warren Digs In:
"I'm gonna address the two people"

Having just been reminded of the rules, three times, Mr. Warren was still having none of it.

He addressed the Mayor:  "Ok Mayor. One thing I'm gonna' do is I'm gonna' address the two people I came to address and then we can - if you want to - if you want to infringe on my first amendment rights, which I think I stated before, we'll litigate. You know I have no problem litigatin' with the City."

Mr. Warren continued, "Mr. City Manager, I just want to say thank you, is what I was commin' to say, before I was rudely interrupted by the Mayor and I appreciate the conversation and you take the time out of your schedule to meet with me about the issues that we discussed...

Councilwoman Moses: voted for the rules, but remained silent as they were violated.

Then Mr. Warren addressed City Councilwoman Melinda Moses, "The second person I wanted to address was Ms. Melinda Moses. Ms. Melinda Moses, I know we don't always see eye to eye on much..."

On January 1, 2014, Councilwoman Moses was part of the unanimous majority that approved the new rules. She did not ask Mr. Warren to follow them.

Mayor Witt did not interrupt. He did not ask for Mr. Warren to be removed. It is not clear what will happen at the next meeting.

Post Meeting with Mayor Witt and Councilman Greene

After the meeting your reporter spoke with Mayor Witt and Councilman Greene.

On Thursday morning, the Observer asked Mayor Witt, "Were your comments directed at Mr. Warren?"

Mayor Witt answered, "I brought it up before he spoke and it wouldn't have made a difference if he spoke or not, I was going to bring it up and have everybody read it [Resolution 2014-004] and make comments on it."

The Observer: "I heard some chatter that you were being directed by others to silence Mr. Warren."

Mayor Witt: "That was totally me and not another person on the face of the earth."

The Observer: "Moving forward, are you going to put this on for discussion at the next City Council meeting?"

Mayor Witt: "That's where I'm headed, but I haven't made a decision. I made sure the Council members will receive the ordinance to review. At the next meeting I will address it as to when they want to deal with it. Whether they want to set up a workshop, whether they want to deal with it, or however they want to deal with it."

Mayor Witt continued, "Considering Lake City's long tradition of giving everyone the right to speak, I have no intention of inhibiting anybody's right to address the City Council and welcome input from the community. Additionally, if anybody wants to write something and send it to us, I welcome their correspondence."

Thursday evening Councilman Greene weighed in with the following: "I've been provided a copy of the resolution. I think the language is clear. The resolution addressed decorum for both the public and the council. If we are committed to treating everyone respectfully we can have the dialogue we need to have. I want citizens to be able to address their concerns and this matter needs to be resolved at the earliest time that the Mayor and the Council believe is adequate."

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