Information for Public Hearings
The information contained herein is intended to provide basic information to persons that plan to speak or present at quasi-judicial public hearings held before the City of Jacksonville Beach Council, Board of Adjustment, Planning Commission or Special Magistrate Code Enforcement. It is not intended to serve as or provide professional legal advice. The City Attorney cannot provide legal advice to private individuals. If you have legal questions or concerns about these hearings you should contact a private attorney.
Quasi-judicial public hearings involve the application of policy or code to a specific development application, site specific comprehensive plan amendment, rezoning, site plan approval, special exception or variance, code enforcement and standards for each. In quasi-judicial hearings, parties are entitled, as a matter of due process, to present expert witness testimony, cross-examine witnesses, present evidence, have witnesses testify under oath, and expect a decision that is based on a correct application of the law and competent substantial evidence in the record.
The general rule is an applicant or property owner (not City staff) bears the initial burden of presenting substantial competent evidence and/or demonstrating compliance with the City's Code of Ordinances, land development regulations, and/or comprehensive plan to support a development permit application request. The property owner bears the burden of demonstrating compliance with the Code when City staff presents a code violation case to the Magistrate in enforcement hearings. (Specific citation references to the pertinent portions of the City Code are provided at the end of this document)
Substantial Competent Evidence, Expert & Layperson Testimony
"Competent" means a person is qualified to give testimonial evidence on a subject. If special training, education, experience or knowledge is required, it is necessary for the person testifying to establish that person's competency to testify as an expert on a particular subject. Examples of this would be:
- Traffic impacts or traffic counts would be testified to by a traffic engineer
- Whether a desired use may impact the land values of surrounding property could be testified to by a certified property appraiser
- Architectural designs and engineering plans could be testified to by licensed architects and engineers. These experts have specific academic degrees or specialized training, education, and/or experience that qualifies them to testify as experts and provide competent expert testimony.
If a citizen wants to testify to a matter that requires special academic degrees or specialized training, he or she must make such training, education, and/or experience that they possess known to the board before whom he or she is testifying. Normally such a witness presents a resume or other material detailing his or her specialized knowledge or training. Testimony from layperson citizens cannot be considered as competent testimony as to matters which would require expert testimony. "Substantial" means sufficient, relevant and credible evidence in the record upon which to base a decision. It is the quality, persuasiveness, the relevancy of the testimony, and the credibility of witnesses presented to the board, and which become part of the record of the proceedings, that will be considered substantial evidence in a case.
Record & Appeals
Parties should be prepared to have a complete and accurate record of the proceedings for the purposes of filing an appeal. The testimony and evidence must be relevant, credible, and oriented toward the standards set forth in the ordinance. Quasi-judicial decisions are subject to a certiorari standard of review on appeal.
Ex-parte communication occurs when a decision-maker (City Council or Board member) communicates with or receives communication from a party outside the presence of all parties or a hearing. For example, if a Council member receives written or verbal communication from an applicant, party or opponent to an application, this is considered ex-parte communication. As a fact-finder, a Council or Board receives and hears all of the evidence and testimony presented at a hearing. City Council and Board members can only consider evidence that is testified to under oath and matters of common knowledge presented during a hearing. Submitting an ex-parte letter rather than appearing at a hearing and testifying is of very limited evidentiary value since the other party would not have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses or reasonably oppose the information contained in an ex-parte letter.
Additional information regarding legal procedures and standards can be found in the City Charter and Code of Ordinances:
- Chapter 2, Article VI; Planning Commission
- Chapter 34, Article V, Divisions 2, 3, 4, and 5; Violations of the Land Development Code
- Chapter 34, Article XIII; Board of Adjustment and Variances
- Chapter 34, Article V, Division 6