Commissioners heard from community members interested in a backyard chicken program and amended a resolution regarding invocation procedures.
WINTER GARDEN Invocation procedures returned to the Winter Garden commissioners at the Feb. 25 meeting, again igniting emotions from community speakers.
Commissioners were presented with an amendment to the resolution regarding invocation procedures. The amendment sought to clarify the criteria used to compile a database of groups eligible to give an invocation before commission meetings. Under the new criteria, groups must have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
Before commissioners voted, speakers from the Central Florida Freethought Community voiced concerns with the amendment.
“We were here just a few months ago to witness the city’s first and only secular invocation so far,” David Williamson said. “Other than one interruption, I thought it went extremely well. Yet tonight’s proposed resolution seems to be an attempt to prevent future invocations from being conducted by non-clergy or by those who aren’t leaders of ‘groups or organizations that would legitimately qualify for section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.’”
“Get rid of invocations,” Joseph Richardson said. “That’s all it takes. It can’t be any simpler. It’s not what I originally asked for. All I asked for was to do an invocation. For almost two years now, I’ve asked only that I be allowed to stand here for one or two minutes at the beginning of one of our meetings to encourage you to do a good job for the citizens of Winter Garden. But here we are, almost two years later, still discussing it, still spending taxpayer money on it, still considering resolutions about it, because apparently you don’t want me to do an invocation.”
After brief comments from City Manager Mike Bollhoeffer, commissioners unanimously approved the amendment.
“The reason we made this change was based on my request to change it,” Bollhoeffer said following the meeting. “My staff has to maintain that database, and I help work on it. Without a definition of group, it was difficult to maintain the database. We made this change for the simple reason to make it easier to administer. If you look at it, it actually makes it more inclusive. So their argument just really doesn’t make any sense.”
City Attorney Kurt Ardaman agreed with the city’s actions.
“The city’s being inclusive — objectively and expressly inclusive — by its language and by its actions,” he said.
Commissioners stood behind the amendment to the resolution.
“I think all it does is adds that we’re requiring their group to be defined — a group that’s a 501(c)(3),” said Commissioner Colin Sharman.
“It meets the law, and we as a commission follow it,” Mayor John Rees said.
“They don’t want us to have invocation, but yet we allowed them to have an atheist prayer,” Commissioner Bob Buchanan said. “It’s kind of one-sided.”
To view the amendment, visit OrangeObserver.com.
The meeting began on a lighter note as members of the Winter Garden Chicken Club attended the meeting to give a presentation to commissioners and ask them to consider allowing a backyard program in Winter Garden.
Presenter Jessica Stone showed examples of other cities with chicken-keeping programs, which allow cities to give regulations on coop sizes and the number of chickens a family can have. Many cities also require people to receive permits to raise chickens, as well as take a class on how to properly care for chickens.
Commissioners received copies of the Maitland ordinance that outlines its program to review prior to the March 10 meeting.
IN OTHER NEWS
Commissioners approved a temporary moratorium on the acceptance and consideration of applications for development along Plant Street between Dillard Street and State Road 429. This will allow city staff to establish design guidelines for new buildings along the road. The moratorium is in effect until Aug. 31, unless city staff asks for an extension or less time is needed.
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].