Panama City Beach City Council at Odds Over Public Speaking Change

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. - Panama City Beach is taking a new approach to hearing public comments at their city council meeting. Only people who live or own a business in the city limits or have a complaint about the city's water and sewage system can speak.

Mayor Mike Thomas said the meetings have gotten out of hand due to comments from those who don't live in the city limits. 

"They weren't speaking for the good of the city. They were attacking individuals. They were attacking different things... they'd get up and talk about stuff that doesn't have a thing to do with Panama City Beach," said Mayor Thomas.

The announcement at Thursday's meeting did not go over well with community members. Not everyone on the council is on board either.

"Public official to me kind of makes me think we listen to the public... regardless of where they live," said Vice-Mayor and Ward 3 Councilwoman Josie Strange.

Councilwoman Strange thinks the new move is just to take pressure off the mayor. 

"You were elected. You have to take the heat and maybe if those attacks were directed at me, this would never have come up," said Councilwoman Strange.

Mayor Thomas said he would be willing to meet with people outside of the meeting if they had concerns but wants the meetings to stay on topic. 

"Anybody that needs a meeting, got an idea, anything they'd like to do, if I can listen to something that I think is good, we'll try it or I'll say no," said Mayor Thomas.

Councilwoman Strange isn't sure that will happen. 

"I don't think he'll have time in his schedule. I think they are being shut out. They are being censored," said Councilwoman Strange.

Mayor Thomas said this measure is fair and is of the city's best interest. He said that he has consulted with the city attorney and that this measure is legal.

Councilwoman Strange pointed out that all other city and county meetings in the area are open to anyone in the public regardless of where they live. She plans to bring this to the next council meeting for a vote. 

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