FENWICK ISLAND – Citing the use of a new digital format, the Fenwick Island Town Council suspended public comments at its meeting earlier this month.
In a virtual meeting of the Fenwick Island Town Council this month, Mayor Gene Langan announced the council would not be taking public comments, citing a new meeting format in which all councilmembers attended virtually through the videoconferencing platform Zoom.
“With this particular meeting we’re not taking comments, and the reason we are not taking comments is very simple, nothing sinister or anything like that,” he said. “It’s because we want to make sure our meeting is working without introducing another element to the thing.”
Langan went on to add that councilmembers had been advised to limit their comments as a result of a pending lawsuit against the town. In August, a group of Fenwick Island property owners filed a petition in Superior Court demanding the town enforce its code related to outdoor bars.
“Also be aware since there is a pending lawsuit our lawyers have advised us to be quiet about a lot of things,” he said. “So that’s why we can’t talk about a lot of things.”
The mayor’s announcement came months after residents first voiced their concerns surrounding the limitation of public comments and council interactions at town meetings.
In late September, for example, the town limited its public comment period to 30 minutes, as well as the length of time each participant could speak. Individual comments were ultimately lowered to 2 minutes.
“We do not allow speakers to give their time to others, we review the guidelines at the beginning of each comment period, which we do, and explain that the council will not engage in dialogue with the public at this time,” Town Manager Terry Tieman said at the time.
Residents, however, were quick to share their frustration with the lack of communication among councilmembers and residents.
“You need to be aware of the fact that you are our elected representatives and you are not doing your job properly,” resident Peter Frederick said. “You need to communicate properly. The lack of communication is what’s causing all of our problem and what is increasing our legal bills.”