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Residents and Brevard commissioners argue over sensitive issues

Residents and Brevard commissioners argue over sensitive issues

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Towards the end of the Brevard County Commission meeting on Tuesday, heated comments from speakers boiled over as Commission Chairman Jason Steele was forced to take an unplanned break to cool things down.

Tuesday’s public comments focused on the relatively low pay of Brevard County Fire Rescue’s unionized firefighters, who are in contract negotiations and have a starting wage of about $15 an hour.

As the nearly three-hour meeting drew to a close, Katie Delaney, a Canaveral Groves resident and candidate for the commission, took to the podium to deliver her public statement in support of the firefighters. When she finished her three-minute statement, the crowd of firefighters and their supporters erupted in applause for Delaney’s criticism of the commissioners, and Steele called for a five-minute recess.

Steele told the applauding audience – some of whom were shouting at the commissioners – to “sit down now.” Steele then said Delaney had “deliberately attempted to disrupt this session” before calling a recess.

Delaney, a Republican candidate for county commission in North Brevard’s 1st District, had criticized commissioners and district manager Frank Abbate for not doing enough to increase BCFR firefighters’ salaries.

“This is not a new problem. This is your problem,” Delaney said in her public statement, adding that part of her reason for coming to commission meetings is to “make sure that people on panels like this aren’t ripping people off.”

“All of you should be doing your jobs and serving the public,” Delaney told the commissioners, to cheers from a standing-room-only crowd of firefighters and their supporters at the meeting.

After the commission meeting, Delaney said it was not her intention to disrupt the meeting.

“The things I said needed to be said,” Delaney said.

Lawyer prepares memo on conduct

Concerns within the fire department: Brevard firefighters seek new contract, more competitive pay as turnover remains a problem

Steele and other commissioners brought to Tuesday’s meeting a seven-page memo from District Attorney Morris Richardson on “maintaining orderly conduct and appropriate decorum at public meetings.” The memo included sections on decorum and how to enforce it, including expelling a spectator from the meeting as a “last resort” if warnings are given and ignored. The memo also included a series of suggested responses from the meeting chair to various scenarios.

Steele had warned the public earlier in the session not to applaud the speakers’ comments.

“If this continues,” Steele said, “I’m going to end up taking a 5- to 10- or 15-minute break and we’re going to sit here for the rest of the evening.”

At another point in the meeting, Steele asked the audience: “Please no outbursts. It’s going to be an emotional night.”

Other controversial topics

Although firefighter pay was a major theme among speakers, others also raised other sensitive issues.

Fred Douglas and Pastor Oliver Wells, both from Melbourne, questioned what they saw as the county’s lack of willingness to provide its own source of funding to promote affordable housing.

Kristin Lortie of Cocoa and Thomas Perez of Titusville questioned the salary levels, raises and lack of performance reviews for the district manager and district attorney.

In her public comment, Palm Bay resident Susan Connally spoke about the tone of the County Commission meetings themselves. She said the anger and ridicule at the meetings, as well as the “unproductive behavior … of both citizens and commission members,” were not conducive to solving the county’s problems.

“What could have caused us all to resort to attacks rather than solutions to problems?” Connally asked. “I think what’s happening is there’s an increasing focus on people being the problem rather than problems.”

As the commissioners resumed their meeting after Steele’s time out, Steele made some final remarks on the events.

“I understand everyone’s feelings and passion tonight, so let’s just put it behind us and try our best to move on in a positive way,” Steele said.

Steele said commission members were unable to discuss concerns raised by firefighters and their supporters with those attending the meeting because contract negotiations are still ongoing.

“But I think you made your point tonight, and I respect it,” Steele added. “I think the board respects it.”

Dave Berman is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at [email protected], at X at @bydaveberman and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dave.berman.54