The Gulfport City Council’s first meeting of the year started off with a row between Mayor Sam Henderson and Gulfport resident Ray Rodriguez.
The heated exchange occurred during the public comment portion of the council’s Jan. 4 meeting.
Henderson warned Rodriguez to maintain decorum and references to elected officials and city employees.
“I don’t want you intimidating the crowd – screaming and yelling. We still have some rules of propriety,” the mayor said.
That was the start of an increasingly terse exchange.
“I’m an honest man and only speak the truth,” Rodriguez said questioning the protocols related to his free speech.
Rodriguez contends city officials have not adequately responded to public records requests regarding his disputes with the Boca Ciega Yacht Club.
“What I have is multiple Sunshine Law violations,” Rodriguez said, referring to state transparency laws and his requests for emails referencing himself and the yacht club.
“There seems to be a problem with Ray Rodriguez,” Rodriguez said as the interaction escalated.
“Good night, Mr. Rodriguez,” Henderson said to Rodriguez as ended his comments. Rodriguez kept speaking during his exit. “Good night, Mr. Rodriguez,” the mayor then yelled.
“Give me my Sunshine Law requests,” Rodriguez yelled back as he left the hearing.
The Gulfport mayor apologized repeatedly throughout the meeting for raising his voice during the exchange, but also looked for some ways to address Rodriguez’s public comments.
Henderson asked City Attorney Andrew Salzman what recourse the city might have if council wanted to curtail Rodriguez’s public comments related to alleged corruption, questioning the ethics of city officials, and retaliation against him.
Salzman said the city could restrict future flare ups via violations of decorum rules. He could also face a trespassing restriction or receive a cease and desist letter, Salzman said.
The council voiced consensus in hearing options related to public comments from Rodriguez.
“We’ll go ahead and draft that,” Salzman said of potential options related to interactions with Rodriguez. “We’ll take care of it.”