Sunday, November 10, 2013

Last Call for Candidates

The qualification period for Belle Isle Commissioner candidates begins this Monday, November 11 at 12:00 p.m. Candidates from Districts 1 and 7 are up for election.

At this time, it appears that at least one competing candidate will be running from District 1. But I have not yet learned of any competing candidate planning to run in District 7.

Democracy is meaningless without competition. Belle Isle residents have not voted for a City official since 2006 because of a lack of competition. It's time for this to change.

Are you ready to serve? Candidate packets can be picked up at City Hall. Completed packets must be submitted by Friday, November 15 at 12 p.m. You can find your district number on this map:

District Map and Commissioner Info

Need any help getting your qualification packet completed? Contact the Belle Isle Sun at contact@belleislesun.org and we'll get you all the help you need!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Orlando Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra's Salute to Veterans

In case you haven't noticed the signs posted all around our City, the Orlando Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra's Salute to Veterans will take place this Friday, November 8 at 7:00 p.m. This event will be held in the Cornerstone Auditorium.

To read more about this event and to purchase tickets, please visit the below link:

Orlando Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra's Salute to Veterans

Tuesday City Council Meeting Agenda

The November City Council meeting will take place this Tuesday, November 5 at 5:30 p.m. at Belle Isle City Hall.  A copy of the meeting agenda is linked below.

November 5, 2013 City Council Meeting Agenda

Sorry for the brief writeup, but I hope to see you there!

Monday, October 28, 2013

City Council Workshop Meeting Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

This month's City Council workshop meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 30 at 8:30 a.m.  The meeting agenda has been posted. You can view a copy below.

City Council Workshop Agenda - October 30, 2013

It looks like the Council will be discussing Ordinance No. 13-09, described as a "Line of Credit Renewal." The Council typically discusses items beyond those specifically listed in the agenda. So come see what's going on in your City this month.

Additionally, the regular City Council meeting will be held next Tuesday, November 5 at 5:30 p.m. No agenda has yet been posted for the regular meeting.

Both meetings will be held at Belle Isle City Hall. I hope to see you there!

Monday, September 30, 2013

October 1 City Council Meeting Agenda

Just wanted to make sure readers are aware that the October City Council meeting will place this Tuesday, October 1 at 5:30 p.m. in Belle Isle City Hall. Here's a copy of the agenda:

October 1 City Council Meeting Agenda

Hope to see you there, and don't forget about the Lake Conway East pancake dinner fundraiser!

Celebrating Doctor Bernstein

Belle Isle will soon be sending out its first candidate qualification announcement under the new "Bernstein Ordinance." It is a simple postcard containing candidate qualification info, but it represents a big change in our City.

As you may be aware, Belle Isle has not had an contested election since 2006. While this would be a shocking revelation in most other cities of our size, it has become the status quo here in Belle Isle. We seem to have forgotten that contested elections are necessary and healthy for our City. Just as competition in business promotes better products and services, so do contested elections promote better ideas and representation of the people.

The Bernstein Ordinance, originally proposed by Belle Isle resident Dr. Stuart Bernstein and voted into law on September 3, is intended as a first step in changing that status quo. It ensures that all residents are made aware of the candidate qualification requirements and registration dates. But it is only a first step.

Not satisfied with a mere postcard, Doctor B and his lovely assistants set up at the Lake Conway Estates annual meeting to pass out election qualification info for the upcoming election in districts 1 and 7. And on his birthday, no less. Here's to your dedication, Doctor B!



Do you live in districts 1 or 7 or know anyone in those districts who may be interested in running for commissioner? If so, here's some important information to save or print:

2013 Candidate Qualification Info

Not sure which district you're in? Click here to view the district map.

Don't forget, candidate registration for districts 1 and 7 takes place from noon on November 11 through noon on November 15. If you have any questions or need any assistance, feel free to contact Stuart Bernstein at rustu@bellsouth.net or by phone at (407) 851-1142.

Friday, September 27, 2013

More Upcoming Belle Isle Events

Hot on the heels of Commissioner Clarke's well-attended "coffee connection" event this morning, here are some more upcoming events in our City:

Lake Conway East Pancake Dinner Fundraiser

Lake Conway East is holding a pancake dinner fundraiser on Tuesday, October 1 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Conway Cafe. Whether or not you live in Lake Conway East, come to meet some of your Belle Isle neighbors and help them build their playground. If you can't make it, but would like to donate to the playground fundraiser, please email HOA president Sarah Goodwin at sgoodw222@bellsouth.net.

Click here to see a copy of the event flyer.

Cornerstone Charter Academy Ducktoberfest

Cornerstone Charter Academy is holding its annual Ducktoberfest event on Saturday, October 12 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Click here to learn more about Ducktoberfest.

October City Council Meeting

With everything else going on, don't forget that there is a City Council meeting this Tuesday, October 1 at 5:30 p.m. And don't worry, you should be out in plenty of time for pancakes.

Click here for a copy of the meeting agenda.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Opportunity for Change

by Sue Nielsen

Yesterday's City Council workshop meeting began without Mayor Brooks, who had an appointment that delayed his arrival. In the Mayor's absence, there was significant Council discussion regarding Keith Severns' vacated position on the Cornerstone Charter Academy governing board. Several commissioners discussed the possible appointment of Edgewood Mayor Ray Bagshaw as Mr. Severns' replacement.

Upon Mayor Brooks arrival at the meeting, these commissioners expressed to him their desire to be included in the candidate selection process. In response, Mayor Brooks flatly stated that he would be nominating Dr. Torres, a Nemours emergency room doctor and a Belle Isle resident, because there were no other candidates as qualified for the position. While no one doubts Dr. Torres' significant medical credentials, is he really the best choice for this position? Mayor Bagshaw is not only a seasoned and respected community leader who represents the numerous Cornerstone students hailing from Edgewood, but has also personally requested appointment to the CCA governing board.

To really grasp the significance and importance of this board appointment, you have to go back to the beginning of the charter school. Cornerstone was conceived in 2009 as a joint venture between Belle Isle and Edgewood. The original board of the charter school corporation was Mayor Brooks and the members of the Belle Isle City Council. But the intent, as stated in the bylaws and applications for a school charter, was to form an interlocal agreement with the City of Edgewood which would ensure representation from both cities on the school governing board. When these negotiations broke down, the school governing board was formed according to the alternative spelled out in the bylaws - consisting entirely of Belle Isle city officials as it does to this day.

With the resignation of Keith Severns, we now we have the first-ever vacancy on the CCA governing board. This is a perfect opportunity to finally begin including members from Edgewood on the governing board, beginning with Mayor Bagshaw. With our City's financial security on the line, we all need the school to be successful. And Cornerstone Charter Academy can only achieve its highest possible degree of success if all of its stakeholders become involved.

With at least three Belle Isle commissioners expressing interest in evaluating both potential candidates for the school governing board position, it is disappointing to see Mayor Brooks continuing to make unilateral decisions and ignoring the will of our City Council.

Ready for a change in the way our City does business? Be sure to contact Mayor Brooks (bbrooks@cobifl.com) to express your thoughts on this issue.

Breakfast with Commissioner Pete Clarke

Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke will be hosting a Belle Isle "Coffee Connection" event this Friday, September 27 at 8:00 a.m. Interested residents should stop by to discuss local issues in our City, or just to say "hello" to our Orange County representative.

The event will be held at Dixie Belle's Cafe, located at 7125 S Orange Avenue (just south of Nela on Orange). I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wednesday Meetings & Agendas [UPDATE]

There are two upcoming meetings scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, September 25:

Belle Isle City Council Workshop Meeting

The first is the monthly Council Workshop meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m. in City Hall. You can find a copy of the agenda here:

City Council Workshop Meeting Agenda - September 25, 2013

Attached to the agenda, you will find the City's proposed postcard to be sent out under the newly-ratified Bernstein Ordinance which requires the City to inform residents of upcoming election qualification periods. You will also find the curriculum vita of Dr. Adalberto Torres, for reasons discussed below.

Cornerstone Charter Academy (CCA) Board Meeting

Cornerstone Charter Academy's governing board is holding a meeting tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. at Belle Isle City Hall. These CCA governing board meetings are open to the public. Regardless of whether you have a child at Cornerstone, it is important to attend these meetings because our City's financial well-being is directly tied to the school's success. You can find a copy of the CCA meeting agenda here:

Cornerstone Charter Academy Board Meeting Agenda - September 25, 2013

The CCA governing board plans to appoint a new governing board member at the meeting. Presently, the board consists primarily of Belle Isle's mayor and commissioners. Edgewood Mayor Ray Bagshaw personally requested appointment to the CCA governing board, even going so far as to offer funds to support the school. Mayor Bagshaw would be a logical appointment since many Cornerstone students live in Edgewood and are presently unrepresented on the governing board.

However, the City Clerk has confirmed that Mayor Brooks has no intention of appointing Mr. Bagshaw, but will instead appoint Belle Isle resident Adalberto Torres, Jr. MD. You can find Dr. Torres' curriculum vitae attached to the Council Workshop minutes linked above. While Dr. Torres appears to an extremely qualified doctor, and would surely do his best for Cornerstone, it is hard to imagine why Mayor Brooks would prefer to appoint a busy ER doctor from Belle Isle instead of a seasoned mayor from Edgewood who represents many of the students at Cornerstone.

Also of interest on the CCA agenda is the apparent intention of the CCA governing  board to appoint itself as the school's Audit Committee. The Audit Committee's function is to ensure that school funds are being utilized for legitimate school purposes. With our charter school run by Academica, a private for-profit company and Florida's richest charter school management company, it is vitally important to ensure that the board appoints an impartial Audit Committee that has no ties to the school's management.

Again, both meetings will be held at Belle Isle City Hall on Wednesday, September 25. The Council Workshop meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. and the CCA meeting begins at 2:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!

UPDATE 9/25/13:

The City Clerk, Yolanda Quiceno, has requested clarification on her above-referenced statement regarding the nomination of Dr. Torres to the CCA board. She correctly points out that she made no comment regarding whether Mayor Brooks intends to nominate Mayor Bagshaw of Edgewood for the CCA board position. To be more precise, Yolanda only stated that Mayor Brooks intended to nominate Dr. Torres for the board position, but provided no information regarding whether Mayor Bagshaw would be nominated for the position.

Regardless, Mayor Brooks personally confirmed at this morning's workshop meeting that he indeed will not be nominating Mayor Bagshaw for the open CCA board position. Despite requests from multiple City Council members that both candidates be brought in front of the Council for their review, Mayor Brooks refused these requests and reiterated that he will only be nominating his preferred candidate, Dr. Torres, for the CCA governing board position.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Notice of Proposed Tax Increase

The below Notice of Proposed Tax Increase and Budget Summary are reposted from the Sunday, September 15 edition of the Orlando Sentinel (page J7 of the Orange Extra section).

Click the below documents to open larger versions.



Please be sure to attend the upcoming final budget hearing at City Hall this Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m.!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Belle Isle Financial Trends - Part II

by Sue Nielsen

The 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), compiled by our City's new finance manager, reflects a major change in the way our City accounts for its available funds and outstanding debt. In the 2012 CAFR, many items were adjusted and figures were restated, meaning that the 2012 CAFR cannot be compared to prior CAFRs to determine changes in the way our City spends and saves.

Despite the fact that our City has used the same CAFR structure for at least the last ten years, the accounting firm employed by the City did not find fault with this sudden change in the 2012 CAFR. At this point, it may be relevant to note that this review work performed by the accounting firm is not a substitute for an internal audit; as clearly stated by the accounting firm in its reports.

If a public entity like Belle Isle plans to completely revamp its method of accounting for the flow of public funds, a comprehensive internal audit should be performed by an independent CPA firm to ensure that the new reporting method is accurate and reasonable. In Florida, public entities are allowed request a state audit, which can be substituted for the lesser review usually done by the local accounting firm.

A state audit would presumably be a thorough investigation of all the money trails in our City's finances, providing an open and forthcoming assessment of Belle Isle's financial management through the years. As such, it would certainly inspire more public confidence in our City's accounting and reporting methods than the sudden and unexplained changes in the 2012 CAFR made by a new finance manager with unknown credentials.

Regardless, it is clear that information from the 2012 CAFR cannot be compared to the CAFRs from prior years. For example, the term "unrestricted reserve" from prior years is not used in the 2012 CAFR. Instead, the amount reported as "reserve" includes capital assets, which we all know cannot be spent in case of emergencies or other City needs. So when Mayor Brooks speaks of Belle Isle's "million dollar reserve," it is important to remember that the term "reserve" is being defined differently than it was in 2011 and earlier years. Not to mention the fact that Belle Isle's unrestricted reserves were over $3 million just before the beginning of Mayor Brooks tenure, as discussed in part 1 of this article.

Another noteworthy change in the new CAFR is a completely revamped method of reporting our City's total revenues and expenditures. The 2011 CAFR revenue and expenditure amounts were retroactively modified to match the new 2012 reporting system. The following table is an attempt to present this modification visually:

Year                         Total Revenues      Total Expenditures

2011  (per 2011 CAFR)        4,890,835                4,926,956
2011  (per 2012 CAFR)      11,506,878              11,281,079   
2012  (per 2012 CAFR)      11,328,676              10,772,768

Note that under the new system of reporting, our City's 2011 expenditures are made to appear as though they were less than the total revenues for that year, in stark contrast to the prior 2011 CAFR which accurately reflected the fact that our City is spent more than it took in.
Now try to compare the above figures to the revenue summary on page 2-2 of the 2012-13 Annual Budget. In the Annual Budget, our City's "total revenues" for 2012-13 are $5,656,406. I have no explanation for how $11,328,676 in total City revenues (from the CAFR for fiscal year ending September 30, 2012) became $5,656,406 in the Annual Budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2012. By any logical standard, these figures should be identical, not $5-6 million dollars apart!

Finally, there is the matter of the Cornerstone Charter School bond issue in October 2012, which added $9,625,000 to our City's outstanding debt. Residents have been repeatedly reassured by Mayor Brooks and the City Manager that this debt will be paid entirely out of rent paid by the school to the City over the next 30 years. However, this debt belongs solely to our City, and City Hall has admitted that it has no contingency plan if the school should close or become unprofitable.

Considering that our City's financial condition has steadily worsened over the past decade, it is troubling to see City Hall adopting new financial reporting methods designed obscure the important figures and make our City's financial condition appear better than it really is. Is this change in reporting methods an attempt to make residents feel financial secure while the Mayor and City Manager continue Belle Isle's recent spending spree?

If you have questions or want to learn more, please attend the upcoming budget hearings. The first is scheduled to take place at tonight's Council meeting on Tuesday, September 3 at 5:30 p.m. (agenda linked here). The second budget hearing is scheduled for Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m. Hope to see you all there!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Belle Isle Financial Trends - Part I

by Sue Nielsen

With budget hearings beginning at the Council meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, September 3, this is probably a good time to publish some information about how Belle Isle has received, spent, reserved, and borrowed money over the last decade. The below figures date back to the year 2000, just before the start of Mayor Brooks'  tenure in Belle Isle.

This table provides an overview of our City's recent financial history and it is a good place to start if you are curious about our City's financial condition. This information was obtained from Belle Isle's Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) from 2009 and 2011. The 2012 CAFR can't be compared to the below figures, for reasons to be discussed in part 2 of this article.
Year              Total                Total                       Total               Unrestricted 
                      Revenue          Expenditures         Debt                Reserve

2000              2,400,261          2,421,456                   -0-                 3,131,762
2001              2,537,509          2,481,850                   -0-                 3,137,421
2002              2,428,016          2,590,415                 107,616           3,084,293
2003              2,556,887          3,185,486              1,042,958           2,785,501
2004              2,925,472          6,589,318              1,927,217           1,741,059
2005              6,528,001          4,076,926              1,786,256           1,713,140
2006              5,122,393          4,533,751              1,576,425           2,097,127
2007              5,731,990          7,805,724              2,841,771           3,287,910
2008              4,366,959          5,005,441              2,586,587           1,979,832
2009              3,981,663          5,615,854              2,472,220              911,654
2010              4,408,210          4,711,729              2,208,896              770,409
2011              4,890,835          4,926,956              1,893,769              807,189

Here are some brief observations about the above figures:
  • Since 2002, Belle Isle has regularly spent significantly more than its yearly revenue, as evidenced by the revenue and expenditures described in the above table.
  • The 2004-07 revenues were greatly supplemented by FEMA grants to deal with hurricane destruction. These grants do not have to be repaid, but should have replaced some of our City's money that was spent on hurricane-related projects.
  • Belle Isle had no debt before the election of Mayor Brooks. Since that time, our City's has been required to pay interest and principal on its loans as a regular budget item, further reducing the available revenue every year to meet our City's basic needs. The above debt also does not include the City's charter school bond (to be discussed in part 2 of this article).
  • Unrestricted reserves are the funds not designated for any particular purpose, but are instead available to meet emergency needs that may unexpectedly arise in our City. They are an important indicator of our City's financial security. This reserve was over $3 million before the election of Mayor Brooks, but were well under $1 million by the end of 2009. In order to rebuild our City's reserves to their prior level, our City would have to significantly temper its present spending and borrowing habits.

If any of these observations concern you, please be sure to attend our City's upcoming budget hearings which will take place on Tuesday, September 3 at 5:30 p.m. and on Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m. The budget hearings will be held at City Hall located at 1600 Nela Avenue.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 28 Workshop Meeting Summary

by Sue Nielsen and Jeremy Weinsier

This month's workshop meeting opened with a presentation by Angela Hutschenreuter, Community Service Officer (CSO) for the Belle Isle Police Department (BIPD). Ms. Hutschenreuter has been employed by Belle Isle on a part-time basis since March 2013 and has worked on the Neighborhood Watch and Senior Watch programs. At Wednesday's meeting, she reported on the Senior Watch Program, a proactive approach by the BIPD to address the special needs of Belle Isle's elderly residents. The program is an attempt to prevent potential manipulation, defrauding and abuse of our elderly population. You can view a copy of Ms. Hutschenreuter's presentation here. City Manager Keith Severns announced that Ms. Hutschenreuter's upcoming move to full-time employment at the BIPD will be funded under the City's proposed budget. He stated that the $27,000 increase in her salary will come out of reserves and be added to the BIPD funds in the new budget.

The Delia Beach storm water project is still in planning and design stages but all documents should be complete soon, according to Mr. Severns.  Structural and geotechnical engineers have to be involved in designing in order to overcome the design flaws in the earlier system of retention pools that lie upstream from the waterfall. In short, the flawed design will hopefully be replaced in the near future by a system actually able to filter out pollutants before they are released into the lakes.

The new city solid waste contract with Republic was discussed at Wednesday's meeting, and City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher made some recommendations to include a "really strong termination clause" to protect city interests. Other minor changes were also discussed at the meeting. While the proposed changes seemed beneficial, or at least harmless, to our City, some residents as well as at least one commissioner expressed their general concern for the way contracts and proposed ordinances are modified up until the last minute, prohibiting residents and Commissioners alike from being able to review the proposed changes in advance.

The mayor ended the waste management discussion with comments regarding trends in the waste management industry towards a "pay as you go" model in which charges for garbage pickup will vary according to amount of refuse each household puts out for disposal.

Attorney Kruppenbacher said that he wants to make a presentation at next week's council meeting about Florida's Sunshine Law, the gifts law, and public records, reminding the Council of the stiff potential penalties for even minor infractions of these laws. The mayor, who sets the Council meeting agendas, agreed  to this request.

Several commissioners reported on concerns within their districts. The recommendation was made to put neighborhood grant money into the City Budget to assist Belle Isle neighborhoods with projects like Lake Conway East's playground project. Commissioner Pisano reported that the application date for neighborhood grants is coming up in October and suggested that interested residents contact her for the details.

Commissioner Readey brought up a charter amendment proposed by one of his constituents requesting a Charter amendment that would require filling vacated council seats by special election, rather than by mayoral appointment. At least one other Commissioner has informally voiced support for such an amendment.

In transportation news, Attorney Kruppenbacher suggested getting Orange County involved in the Orange Avenue beautification project between the approach to Belle Isle and the planned metro Sunrail station. Chief Jackson reported that vehicle inspections are in the works as a way to limit truck traffic on Hoffner Avenue while the Council pursues methods of eliminating this traffic entirely. Finally, Mr. Severns reported that speed limit signs will soon be installed to create a uniform speed limit within the Lakes and Landings neighborhood.

Although it took place before the meeting began, readers may be interested to learn that resident Charline Kennedy requested that Mayor Brooks revive the tradition of putting out a sign in front of City Hall to announce on upcoming Council meetings. This was always done by Belle Isle's prior mayor, although not required by law, to ensure that residents knew about upcoming meetings. Despite the minimal costs associated with printing a couple reusable signs to announce meetings, Mayor Brooks refused Mrs. Kennedy's request outright, stating that City Hall is not on a thoroughfare and that residents already know when upcoming meetings are scheduled. Dissatisfied with this response, many residents, and at least a couple Commissioners, have expressed interest in putting up such signs in their own yards to announce upcoming meetings.

It was great to see so many residents in attendance at the recent workshop meeting, and we hope to see more at next Tuesday's meeting! The Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, September 3 at 5:30 p.m. will host the first hearing on our City's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting in October 2013. The second budget hearing has been scheduled for Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Three Upcoming Meetings

by Sue Nielsen

The monthly workshop meeting of the Belle Isle City Council is scheduled for this coming Wednesday, August 28, at 8:30 a.m. As recently as the August council meeting, we have heard significant rhetoric from our Mayor and commissioners regarding better communication between City Hall and the residents of Belle Isle. However, as of 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before the meeting, there is still no agenda posted on the City website.

We do know that the second reading and adoption of the Bernstein Amendment should be scheduled to occur at one of the upcoming meetings, most likely the regular Council meeting scheduled for September 3 at 5:30 p.m.

Additionally, the September 3 meeting will likely be the first public reading of the proposed City Budget. This will be a great opportunity for residents to ask questions and express their thoughts regarding our City Hall's budget plans for the coming year. If you have concerns about the way City Hall is allocating our tax dollars, spending our City's financial reserves, and steadily increasing our City's debt level, then this is your opportunity to speak up before the 2013-14 City Budget is finalized. You will have a second opportunity to express your concerns at the second public hearing on the new City Budget, which will be held at City Hall on Friday, September 20, at 5:30 p.m. according to Commissioner Pisano.

If have questions or concerns but cannot make it to these meetings, please be sure to call or write your district commissioner. The City is required by law to make the planned budget available for citizens to read ahead of the meetings at which it is presented. Until the proposed City Budget is published in a more accessible manner, you can find it on the official city website. Look under the Government heading, select Meeting Agendas and Minutes; then scroll down under Workshop Agenda to 07/31/2013. Select this date and you will open the entire agenda for that meeting. There are 59 pages, and the budget starts on page 24.

We hope to see you at these upcoming meetings at City Hall on Wednesday, August 28 at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, September 3 at 5:30 p.m. and Friday, September 20, at 5:30 p.m.!

UPDATE: It appears that the agenda for the August 28 workshop meeting has been posted to the City website. You can view it here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Bernstein Success

"An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people"

by Sue Nielsen

These famous words are attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Let there be no mistake about the intent of this newsletter. Our goal is to inform the citizens of Belle Isle by providing accurate and timely information, in order to empower them to direct the course of their community and city. That said, if the facts anger or upset citizens, and consequently they exercise their choice to speak, we certainly do expect our local government to honestly and openly address the concerns so raised and expressed.

The regular meeting of the city council was held as scheduled on Tuesday, August 6, at 5:30 p.m. Issues of interest included the first reading and council approval of the "Bernstein Ordinance." After numerous changes to the wording over the past months, weeks, days, and hours, the final version was substantially the same as the original ordinance as proposed by Dr. Bernstein. Constant vigilance and citizen input were instrumental in achieving this result. We have Charlene Kennedy, Lydia Pisano, Harv Readey, the Sun editors and readers, and of course Dr. Stuart Bernstein to thank for this milestone achievement. 

In the future, assuming this ordinance is followed, citizens and voters of Belle Isle will in a timely manner be informed (for the first time in many years, I am told) of the correct qualifying dates for candidates who wish to run for public office in Belle Isle. Several months have elapsed since Dr. Bernstein proposed the ordinance; also, a second reading and final vote is yet to occur. Because of this, we will continue to attempt to inform citizens that the first opportunity to qualify to run for a commissioner's seat will be in early November 2013. We will be giving you more information about this in upcoming issues.

It has come to our attention that many of our citizens are not aware that commissioners are elected at large; according to the city Charter, all Belle Isle voters have the opportunity to vote for each commissioner. You do have to live in a district to run for commissioner of that district. There a few hoops to jump through to qualify, but the first step is making up your mind. Then we would like to talk with you. We want to do all we can to support actual elections with actual candidates and actual voters voting, before and after the new ordinance takes effect.    

Also noted at the meeting is that minutes are getting caught up; we hope to see them on the city website soon. And lastly, it was good to hear the commissioners actually discussing issues during a meeting; hopefully this will continue and become the norm.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tuesday Meeting Agenda & The Bernstein Mistake, Part II

The agenda for Tuesday August 6, 5:30 p.m. Belle Isle City Council meeting has been posted to the City website. You can find it under the Government heading/agendas and minutes or access it directly here. Even though the City Budget for 2013-14 was presented at last week’s workshop, it is not on the agenda for tomorrow night’s regular meeting. The City is required to have public hearings on the budget and to post it in a general circulation newspaper (The Orlando Sentinel) so that citizens can be informed and have input about how their tax dollars will be spent.

If you are interested in knowing what your city plans to spend money on, how much debt they have, and if there will be any reserve funds on hand for possible emergencies, you will want to read through this document. It can be found in the July 31 workshop agenda on the City website. The city website is anything but user-friendly, so sit down with this project when you are relaxed and have plenty of time.

What is on Tuesday’s agenda is an equally significant item, Proposed Ordinance 13-07, also known as the Bernstein Ordinance. The new wording, corrected before and once again at the workshop on July 31, still does not read as intended by the author and those citizens who have spoken out for greater transparency in our local government. It now calls for notices of city elections and the qualifying periods for candidates for mayor and commissioners to be sent out during the qualifying period. Since the purpose of this ordinance is to notify residents who might be interested in running for Commissioner or Mayor of date by which they must qualify to run, it obviously will not be able to accomplish its purpose in its present form.

There are many other errors present in the proposed ordinance as well.  The date of the mailing is calculated from the election date, not from the qualification date. Our qualification date was pushed back to November a few election cycles ago, allegedly to prevent a competing candidate from being able to run against Mayor Brooks. This highlights the need to have the mailing date calculated from the qualification date, since the qualification date can be changed. Furthermore, there are no requirements in the proposed ordinance for the mailer to include requisite information such as the dates by which residents must qualify to run and where residents can get information about the qualification process.

The City Attorney was provided with multiple drafts of the proposed ordinance and directly notified of these errors by residents as well as by Commissioner Readey. So these reoccurring “errors” make it extremely clear that City Hall does not want Belle Isle residents to have a chance to run for office. These errors in the Bernstein Ordinance must be addressed at Tuesday’s meeting, and it is probably going to take some citizen support to do it. So I hope to see City Hall packed with residents at tomorrow night’s meeting!

Join our effort to reclaim Belle Isle for all of its residents! Spread the news of this movement and tell all your friends and acquaintances in Belle Isle to read and subscribe to The Belle Isle Sun!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wednesday Agenda and The Bernstein Mistake [UPDATE]

The agenda for Wednesday's workshop meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m. in City Hall, has been posted to the City website. There are many important items on the this month's agenda including:

  • Belle Aire Luxury Homes planned development
  • An urban chickens pilot program
  • Water quality report regarding the "Wipeout" event
  • The 2013-2014 proposed budget for Belle Isle

Documents regarding each of these agenda items, including our City's proposed budget, are attached to the meeting agenda.  You can find a copy of the meeting agenda here:


Additionally, our City Attorney will be presenting on the proposed "Bernstein Ordinance," which was requested by a number of residents for the purpose of announcing candidate qualification dates. Many potential candidates for Commissioner or Mayor never get to run because they are unaware that they must qualify in a specific week in November - four months before the upcoming election in March of the following year. The Bernstein Ordinance was designed to ensure that all potential candidates will be made aware of the qualification dates.

Proposed City Ordinance 13-07, represents our City Attorney's attempt to codify the Bernstein Ordinance. You can find it attached to the last two pages of the workshop meeting agenda. As drafted, proposed Ordinance 13-07 contains a major mistake, as well as some omissions, which will undercut its entire purpose:

1.  The proposed ordinance has been drafted to announce election dates, not candidate qualification dates as requested by Dr. Bernstein and others. Although announcing election dates is great, this is not the purpose of the ordinance. The purpose is to ensure that all residents are notified of the date by which they need to register to run for office.

2.  Although the ordinance correctly requires no less than 90 days advance notice, it also needs to state the maximum number of days notice permitted. This will ensure that the announcements won't go out so early that potential candidates forget about the qualification date before it actually comes up. Under the ordinance as written, the announcements could be sent out a year or more in advance and still technically satisfy its requirements.

3.  Two qualification announcements were requested by Dr. Bernstein in his proposed ordinance. One at six months out and another at three months out from the qualification date. Although proposed ordinance 13-07 addresses the three month notice, it appears that the six month notice didn't make it into the ordinance as drafted.

Obviously, the mistake described in number 1 above is most crucial as it undercuts the entire purpose of the ordinance. While it is unclear how this mistake could have happened, since both Dr. Bernstein and I provided drafts of the proposed ordinance to the Council, it should be easy enough to address these issues at the Wednesday workshop meeting.

But here's the rub. As of this moment, the Wednesday meeting has not been designated a "special" meeting. This means that residents may not be given the opportunity to speak, and we will therefore need to ensure that our elected representatives speak for us to get this proposed ordinance corrected. So please call or email your Commissioner and make sure that he or she is aware of these problems with the proposed ordinance. Your Commissioner's contact information can be found here.

UPDATE 7/30/13:  According to Commissioner Readey, the problem noted in #1 above was an honest mistake made by the City Attorney which will be corrected before Wednesday's meeting. However, I believe it is still important to address the issue raised in #2 above. This wouldn't be difficult, simply add the following language at the beginning of line 15 of the proposed ordinance: "No more than one hundred twenty (120) days prior to and no less than ninety (90) days prior to..."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Belle Isle's Latest Distinction: The Hiring of Keith Severns

by Sue Nielsen

After recently approving Keith Severns' City Manager contract on July 26, Belle Isle has earned the dubious distinction of hiring one of the highest-paid and least-qualified city managers in all of central Florida – perhaps in the entire state! A comparison of city manager qualifications in cities throughout the Sunshine State reveals that virtually all city managers have at least a four year college degree if not a graduate degree. Many city managers also have over ten years of experience in the job.  By comparison, Keith Severns has only earned a high school diploma and had zero City Manager experience prior to being hired by our City. So the reasoning behind our City Council's choice to hire Mr. Severns without considering other applicants, and then pay him one of the highest city manager salaries in the state, is rather unclear.

Although many factors go into determining a city manager salary, the general trend is that larger cities pay more than smaller cities with regard to salary and benefits. Other factors include whether the city has municipal utilities and the number of city employees. As a small city with no municipal utilities and relatively few city employees, there don't seem to be any factors supporting anything higher than a modest City Manager salary.

Mayor Brooks previously stated that he asked our city attorney to research salaries, responsibilities, and qualifications for comparable city manager positions. However, either this research was never performed or the city attorney never made his report public. Regardless, a contract was presented at the June 29 workshop meeting after being added to the meeting agenda less than 12 hours before the 8:30 a.m. workshop meeting.

The emergency that justified this last minute addition to the meeting agenda remains a mystery. However, Commissioner Readey suspects that the city manager contract was added to the agenda after Mayor Brooks learned that Mr. Readey – a vocal opponent to this City Manager contract – would be absent from the workshop meeting for medical reasons. Mr. Readey believes that the Council rushed to vote on the city manager contract in his absence to ensure a smooth approval without opposition.

So after every Commissioner in attendance voted to approve the contract at last month’s workshop meeting, Mr. Severns has finally received his written City Manager contract. He now receives a base salary of $150,000 per year plus generous benefits including a $500 per month vehicle allowance and the ability to remain on the City payroll for an additional six months after termination of his employment contract. You can view a copy of his entire employment contract here:

City Manager Contract from July 26, 2013 Meeting Agenda

Although our City Attorney never performed, or at least never presented, any of his promised research on city managers, I performed my own research and emailed it to Mayor Brooks and each City Commissioner on May 7, 2013. I received no response from anyone at City Hall except Commissioner Readey. Apparently, no one else thought these facts were relevant to determining a fair and reasonable salary for our City Manager. Here are the facts that our City Council had before them before approving Mr. Severns’ hiring and $150,000+ salary:

I obtained city population information from the 2010 census data. Then I selected cities throughout Florida that have a manager-council form of government as well as populations within 1500 residents of Belle Isle’s estimated population. By accessing the Florida Statewide Government Personnel Survey, I was able to produce the following table summarizing the city manager salaries and education levels in those cities.

CityPopulationSalaryEducationExperience
Treasure Island7500$105,046Bachelor's Degree10 years
Clewiston6357$85,000Bachelor's Degree3-4 years
Dade City6133$75,000Bachelor's Degree10 years
Fellsmere5108$115,000Bachelor's Degree5-7 years
High Springs5350$55,000Bachelor's Degree10 years
Live Oak6480$65,000Bachelor's Degree10 years
Newberry4950$86,112Master's Degree10 years
Sanibel6374$105,046Bachelor's Degree10 years
St. Augustine Beach6241$106,587Bachelor's Degree5-7 years
Surfside5800$18,000Bachelor's Degree10 years

So the next time you hear Mayor Brooks complain about the minuscule cost of mailing election announcements, or the next time he says that the City does not have money to fix your broken sidewalk or constantly-flooded street, think of the above table and the over $150,000 per year we are paying to Mr. Severns. Consider how many highly educated and experienced individuals in our area would happily take Mr. Severns’ job for half the amount we are paying him. I know I can name a few.

Remember that the qualification date for city council candidates from districts 1 and 7 is coming up this November. It’s time we elect some new Commissioners who will stand up to the corruption and cronyism that has permitted our City Council to approve such an exorbitant salary for a high-school educated city manager with no prior experience. Please email the Sun at contact@belleislesun.org if you are interested in running for Commissioner in districts 1 or 7. We’ll be happy to help you every step along the way!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Gateway Project "Survey"

I'm excited to introduce our first addition to the Sun editorial staff, Sue Nielsen! Although Sue has only lived in Belle Isle for about a year, she has significant experience in local government and is eager to help us pave the way for future changes at City Hall. Here's what Sue has to say:

If you read the Mayor’s Report in the recent Belle Isle Bulletin, you probably know that the Mayor’s vision is for the city it to be “central Florida’s premiere community.” What his article did not tell you is how this new plan will affect you, the community, your friends, and neighbors. We know from past experience that the Mayor’s plans are not always that popular with residents once the details are revealed. They also tend to cost a lot more than we expect. Could this be why our City has been in debt ever since Bill Brooks took office, even though it never was before in its entire history?

To promote the Mayor’s grand vision of becoming the “premiere community” - which means jumping into competition with much larger cites with much higher tax rates - our City paid Hahn and Hahn $25,000 to provide a 50% complete plan to show how this could be accomplished. Included in the $25,000 deal was a “survey” that would “engage the community” and show just how responsive our City Hall government is to its citizens. This sounds good in theory, until you actually look at the survey.

Guess how many of Belle Isle’s residents were asked for their thoughts on Belle Isle and its future direction? Seven! Also included is one former Belle Isle resident for a total of eight survey respondents. That is 0.1% of the population of Belle Isle. And there is more to wonder about. The respondents were all in the real estate business! Does this tell us something important about the purpose of the Gateway project? Does it make you feel that our City Hall wants to consider the opinions of all residents?

Citizen Responses from Survey Summary
Hahn and Hahn / Mayor’s Interpretation from Survey Summary & Belle Isle Bulletin
Charter school is disliked, called “Achilles’ heel”
Charter school is a “quality initiative” like the police department
Airport is convenient but noisy; not liked by all
Airport is a marketing plus
If you like Lake Nona, you won’t like Belle Isle, and vice-versa
Belle Isle needs bigger houses, mixed use areas, community gathering places, walking trail around lakes (more like Lake Nona)
No consistency about “blight” in Belle Isle; all respondents enjoy living here
Problem with “blight” on Hoffner, near Orange, and parts of Nela
No consensus about any needed change or redevelopment in Belle Isle
Belle Isle needs to leave a legacy, advance community desires, develop “Nela Row” shopping center, build expensive city gateways, and develop a community “brand”

As it turns out, the “results” of the survey as reported by Hahn and Hahn did not even consider the opinions of those few residents who were actually surveyed. In order to find out about this, I had to request the survey results from City Hall. The actual citizen comments, as compared to the interpretations of those comments, paint very different pictures. Below are a few examples:

And this is just a small sampling of the "selective" interpretations of the resident surveys. Make your own comparisons by reviewing the survey summary here. And don't forget that you can always find all the Sun's public records at records.belleislesun.org.

To put all this in a nutshell: the survey itself was done with a very small and select group. Even so, there was virtually no agreement between respondents’ comments and the Mayor’s vision as presented by Hahn and Hahn. As to the $25,000 paid for this “survey” and some partial plans, that amount is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the tremendous amounts our City will be spending on the Gateway project over the coming years.

Thanks again to Belle Isle resident Sue Nielsen for her contribution to this Sun! Do you have an idea for an article you'd like to publish? Please write me at contact@belleislesun.org.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Fourth of July Exercise in Democracy!

According to the discussion at Tuesday's Council meeting, the Bernstein Ordinance will be ready for presentation at next month's meeting. Now that the ball is rolling on the Bernstein Ordinance, it's time we address another crucial item for restoring democracy in Belle Isle: requiring general elections to replace retired Commissioners.

Are you aware that five of our seven Commissioners on the City Council were appointed by Mayor Brooks? How could this happen in our supposedly democratic society?

Ten years ago, the Mayor of Belle Isle only had the power to appoint replacement Commissioners when one retired or otherwise left office with less than six months remaining in his or her term. This Charter provision was reasonable - it prevented the City from having to run a hasty election when there were only a few weeks or months remaining in a retiring Commissioner's term.

When Mayor Brooks entered the scene, all of this changed. As the Council began to recognize that Bill Brooks was exercising the broad powers of his office much more fully than our previous Mayor, the Commissioners sought a change. To combat Mayor Brooks' excessive use of his office's power, the Council changed the City Charter to invest many of our Mayor's prior powers into the City Manager, who had to be approved by the Council.

Before permitting these Charter changes, Mayor Brooks demanded one seemingly small concession from the Council - the ability to appoint replacements for retiring Commissioners at any time in their three-year terms. Not realizing the potential effects of this Charter change, the Council conceded to Mayor Brooks demand.

Fast forward to today. Mayor Brooks has used his demanded power to appoint nearly every Commissioner on the Belle Isle City Council. With the Council in his pocket, Mayor Brooks proceeded to hire a City Manager who would follow the Mayor's orders without question. This means that Mayor Brooks has now regained the powers previously stripped by the Council while also adding the power to appoint the Council members who supposedly oversee his actions. Welcome to Belle Isle "democracy."

So I think it's time for a little Fourth of July exercise in representative democracy. Ever single person reading this article should call or write their Commissioner to let them know that the Charter has to change. Neither Bill Brooks, nor any future Mayor of Belle Isle, should ever again be permitted to appoint a member of the City Council. It's time to return to a sensible Charter that requires democratic elections of replacement Commissioners and only permits mayoral appointments when a Commissioner resigns during the final six months of a term.

Find your Commissioner's contact information below and contact him or her directly. Posting comments to the Sun, Facebook, or anywhere else is great for getting the word out, but it's not enough. The Council needs to see that we are committed to this cause and that we cannot be ignored!

Commissioner Map & Contact Info

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Attack on Commissioner Readey

At last Wednesday's workshop meeting, Mayor Brooks briefly discussed the council meeting he illegally cancelled last month. He stated that there had been violations of the law, leading those in attendance to believe that the Mayor was going to show some sign of contrition, or least acknowledge his violation of the law.

We could not have been more wrong. Instead of acknowledging that he had illegally cancelled last month's meeting, Mayor Brooks instead proceeded to attack Commissioner Harvey Readey for inquiring about the meeting cancellation. As you probably know, Commissioner Readey has been the only Council member in recent history to challenge Mayor Brooks' plans and questionable methods of accomplishing them.

Soon after learning of the last-minute meeting cancellation, Commissioner Readey emailed Mayor Brooks to inquire about the cancellation and its legality. Technically, this may have violated Florida's Sunshine Law, which prohibits elected officials from communicating outside of public meetings. But despite acknowledgement that the Council lacks Sunshine Law training, Mayor Brooks and City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher did not hesitate to highlight Mr. Readey's minor violation without mentioning the Mayor's own breach of the law.

Had Mayor Brooks followed the legal procedure for rescheduling the prior Council meeting, Commissioner Readey's email would never have become necessary. Regardless, it seems that Mayor Brooks may intend to seize this opportunity to remove a thorn from his side and replace Commissioner Readey with a "friendlier" commissioner who will not question the Mayor's plans.

Call or email your commissioner and let them know how you feel about this attack on Commissioner Readey. And be sure to attend Tuesday's meeting to show your support for Harvey Readey and all he has done to promote democracy in our City.

City Hall's Latest Ploy & Tuesday Meeting Agenda

The Tuesday City Council meeting agenda has been posted, you can view a copy here:

City Council Meeting Agenda - July 2, 2013

The agenda states that the Council will be discussing the "surplus" building located at 5920 Randolph Avenue. It also mentions further Council discussion of the Inter-local Agreement with Orange County for Fire/Rescue services, which has still not been signed despite the City's seeming abandonment of its fire department plans. Although no other items are specifically mentioned in the agenda, many other topics may still be discussed at the meeting.

If you weren't at the workshop meeting last Wednesday, you may notice that discussion of the City Manager contract is conspicuously absent from this Tuesday's meeting agenda. This is because our City Manager contract was already hastily approved and awarded to Keith Severns at the last workshop meeting after being attached to the agenda at around 9:00 p.m. the night before the meeting. [Much more on the hiring of Keith Severns coming soon.]

How was the Council able to approve the City Manager contract at the workshop meeting when all Council votes are supposed to be reserved for regular Tuesday meetings? City Hall's latest ploy to thwart resident involvement is for Mayor Brooks to declare each Wednesday meeting as a "special meeting." By declaring these Wednesday morning meetings as "special" meetings, the Council can vote on controversial matters at a time when most residents are unable to attend and not expecting a vote - thereby allowing our elected representatives to avoid the hassle of having to listen to resident questions and concerns before voting.

How do you feel about City Hall's latest attempt to avoid your input and involvement? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, but please be sure to also contact your commissioner and make yourself heard at the upcoming Tuesday meeting on Tuesday, July 2 at 5:30 p.m.!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wednesday Workshop Meeting Agenda... Finally

After some prodding from at least one Sun reader and with less than 48 hours until the meeting begins, City Hall has finally posted the workshop meeting agenda. Obviously, this was posted with far less notice than the seven day minimum referenced by the Florida Attorney General.

The posted agenda provides no details regarding the content of the upcoming meeting, with exception of the City Attorney's report. The City Attorney, Frank Kruppenbacher, will be discussing three issues: the Belle Isle interlocal fire agreement, a surplus building at 5920 Randolph, and our City Manager contract.

The City Manager contract is a huge issue in our City, with many residents questioning his eligibility, qualifications, review standard, and potential salary. At the upcoming workshop meeting, the City Attorney will be addressing these questions.

According to statements he made to me after the last workshop meeting on May 29, Mr. Kruppenbacher will initially be addressing the question of whether our present City Manager, Keith Severns, is even eligible to hold the position.

As previously noted by Commissioner Harvey Readey, Keith Severns is not even eligible to hold the city manager position under the Belle Isle City Charter because of his prior term as a City Council member. More specifically, Section 4.07 of the City Charter states that "a person who has served as a commissioner or mayor of the city shall be ineligible for appointment to the office of city manager for two years following the end of the term of office."

Although Mr. Severns resigned as City Commissioner over two years ago, his "term of office" just ended in March 2013. This is because the City Charter distinguishes between an official's term of office and his or her actual dates of service. For example, Section 4.02 regarding the Mayor states that the Mayor "shall be elected for a term of three (3) years and shall serve until a successor takes office" - clearly distinguishing between an official's elected term and the length of time actually served in the position. Since Mr. Severns' "term of office" as City Commissioner did not end until three years from the date he was elected in March 2010, he would not eligible to serve as our City Manager until two years later in March 2015.

Mr. Kruppenbacher will also be discussing compensation terms for our City Manager along with a standard for evaluating his job performance. Many residents noted that the prior compensation proposed by City Hall for Keith Severns seemed far out of line with his minimal education and job training. For example, Mr. Severns does not even possess a college degree, even though nearly every other City Manager in Florida has earned at least a Bachelor's degree. You can verify this for yourself, and also find the salaries of other city managers in Florida, with this spreadsheet provided by Representative Pete Clark's office:

Florida City Manager Qualifications and Pay

You can also find the entire workshop meeting agenda here:

June 26, 2013 Council Workshop Meeting Agenda

Upset by the last minute agendas and cancelled meeting? Want to know what else might be discussed at this meeting that hasn't been included on the agenda? Want to help make a real impact on the way our City government operates? Please come to the meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, June 26 at 8:30 a.m. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wednesday Workshop Meeting Agenda, Or Lack Thereof

This Wednesday, June 26 at 8:30 a.m., it will once again be time for our monthly City Council workshop meeting. I'd like to tell you about the issues that will be addressed at this meeting so you can arrive informed and contact your Commissioner in advance of the meeting with your thoughts about the issues up for discussion. Unfortunately, with just two days between now and the upcoming workshop meeting, the meeting agenda still has not been posted.

In case you are not aware, workshop meetings are where the Mayor and City Council draft our City's laws, plans and budgets to be voted on at the upcoming regular Council meetings. But despite the importance of these workshop meetings, City Hall has repeated failed to post the workshop meeting agendas in a reasonable time beforehand. Without access to the meeting agendas, neither the Council members nor the city's residents have time to research or review the agenda topics in advance, resulting in meetings where residents and Council members arrive unprepared and unable to critically evaluate the Mayor's plans.

The Florida Sunshine Manual clearly describes the amount of notice that should be provided under normal circumstances:



While the Attorney General’s Office cannot specify the type of notice which must be given in all cases, the following notice guidelines are suggested:

1. The notice should contain the time and place of the meeting and, if available, an agenda, or if no agenda is available, a statement of the general subject matter to be considered.

2. The notice should be prominently displayed in the area in the agency’s offices set aside for that purpose, e.g., for cities, in city hall, and on the agency’s website, if there is one.

3. Except in the case of emergency or special meetings, notice should be provided at least 7 days prior to the meeting. Emergency sessions should be afforded the most appropriate and effective notice under the circumstances.

4. Special meetings should have no less than 24 and preferably at least 72 hours reasonable notice to the public. See Yarbrough v. Young, 462 So. 2d 515 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985) (three days notice of special meeting deemed adequate) and Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, No. 502008CA027882 (Fla. 15th Cir. Ct. December 8, 2010), per curiam affirmed, 79 So. 3d 36 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (no violation of Sunshine Law where notice of special meeting held on Monday September 15 was posted at city hall and faxed to the media on Friday September 12, and members of the public [including the media] attended the meeting).

5. The use of press releases, faxes, emails, and/or phone calls to the news media is highly effective. Additionally, while not required by the Sunshine Law, paid advertising in the local newspaper of general circulation would be appropriate for matters of critical public concern such as rezoning, budget.



Guidelines 1 and 3 state that, under normal circumstances, agencies should provide seven days notice of agenda items to be discussed. Although the Sunshine Manual allows for rare situations where last-minute items are not included on the agenda, it does not allow a city government to regularly thwart its citizens' involvement by denying them access to the agenda in advance.

I described these Sunshine Law requirements to the Council at the last workshop meeting, after City Hall had repeatedly failed to provide access to the meeting agendas more than a day or two in advance.  However, it appears that City Hall does not plan to change its ways if we do not make this an issue.

Combined with the illegal cancellation of our City's last Council meeting - the one meeting per month where residents are guaranteed the right to address their City officials - this repeated failure to post agendas has prohibited residents and Council members from effectively participating in their own government.

Do you have something to say about the prior meeting cancellation or the last minute agendas? Contact your commissioner and come to the upcoming workshop meeting on Wednesday, June 26 at 8:30 a.m.!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

May 29 Workshop Meeting Summary

Here is a brief summary of last Wednesday's Council workshop meeting, which took place on May 29, 2013. You can view the official minutes here. As usual, this summary will not contain every detail of the meeting. Please refer to the official City minutes once posted.

City Attorney Report

City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher reported that he is still looking into various issues related to our City Manager contract. He stated that he is still researching the salary issue, including comparable local salaries. After the meeting, he confirmed that he is also still reviewing Mr. Severns' eligibility for the position. As you may recall, there is a question of whether our present City Manager, Keith Severns, is even eligible for the position.

As I have previously noted, Section 4.07 of the City Charter states that "a person who has served as a commissioner or mayor of the city shall be ineligible for appointment to the office of city manager for two years following the end of the term of office."

Although Mr. Severns resigned as City Commissioner over two years ago, his "term of office" just ended in March 2013. This is because the City Charter distinguishes between an official's term of office and his or her actual dates of service. For example, Section 4.02 regarding the Mayor states that the Mayor "shall be elected for a term of three (3) years and shall serve until a successor takes office" - clearly distinguishing between an official's elected term and the length of time actually served in the position. Since Mr. Severns' "term of office" as City Commissioner did not end until three years from the date he was elected in March 2010, he would not eligible to serve as our City Manager until two years later in March 2015.

Charter School Debt Service Fund Followup

A representative from McDermitt-Davis spoke to the Council again to clarify some lingering questions regarding the Charter School Debt Service Fund. She stated that the fund's sole purpose is to receive rent and pay bond payments. Upon later questioning, the representative and Mayor Brooks stated that the only money that ever goes into this fund are proceeds from the bond and rent revenue from the school - no City funds of any kind will ever go into the Debt Service Fund.

They further stated that neither the City Manager, nor anyone else at city hall, has direct access to these funds, since they are being held in trust and must be disbursed by the trustee. The Mayor also retracted his statement at the May 7 meeting that there was a $300,000 arithmetic error in Resolution 13-02, which created this debt service fund. Assuming there is no arithmetic error in the resolution, it is unclear how this $300,000 discrepancy can then be explained.

Mayor's Report

Mayor Brooks discussed the safety problems that come from allowing large boats, such as 30+ foot cigarette boats, to operate in the Conway Lakes. The mayor suggested formation of a committee to study limits on boat length, size or loudness. With regard to the speeding issue, it was stated at the meeting that police officers are unable to enforce speed limits on the lake. There was a question of whether our City needs a new ordinance to allow us to enforce speed limits. There may be more to this enforcement issue, so I'll post more information if it becomes available.

Commissioner Readey's Report

Commissioner Readey again followed up on the Bernstein Ordinance. The Council confirmed the City's plans regarding one crucial aspect of this ordinance - the requirement that notices of eligibility dates be sent both by postal mail and e-mail. I believe there are other important aspects of this ordinance that need to be clarified before it is finalized, as described in my prior article on the Bernstein Ordinance.

Commissioner Readey also discussed the City's problem with a park in Conway East, where the previous three pool retention system was replaced with a decorative waterfall. By removing the natural filtration provided by the three pool system, the City defeated the water quality measures that prevented toxins and debris from entering the lake. Furthermore, the waterfall has broken repeatedly and has not been running for quite some time. Apparently, the City Manager is working with an engineer to address these problems.

Modification of the Belle Isle Dock Ordinance

Belle Isle resident David Woods, chairman of the Belle Isle Planning and Zoning Board, made a citizen presentation regarding modification of Belle Isle's dock ordinance. Basically, his presentation centered around creation of a ordinance that will base permissible dock length on historic water level variations. His proposed ordinance can automatically modify itself based on variations in the lake's water level over long periods of time.

Many residents commented on how impressed they were regarding the amount of time and effort Mr. Woods' put into his ideas and presentation. Those interested can read a complete copy of the presentation slides, attached to last Wednesday's meeting agenda. It is unclear at this time whether the Council plans to act on Mr. Woods' suggestions.

Resident Comments

Many Belle Isle residents made comments at the meeting, including Charleen Kennedy who discussed a local property needing vegetation replaced and Sarah Goodwin who requested the City's assistance in raising $8,000 in funds for a playground project in Belle Isle. Mayor Brooks commented at the meeting that residents were being permitted to speak because this was a "special" meeting of the Council. Indeed, the City's agenda states that it was a "Special Meeting."

The purpose of a special meeting is so that the Council can hold an additional or emergency meeting when required. Belle Isle Ordinance 2-52 states as follows:

"Special meetings may be held on the call of the mayor or a majority of the commissioners and, whenever practicable, upon no less than twelve (12) hours' notice to each commissioner and the public. All meetings shall be public."

What qualified last Wednesday's regularly scheduled Council workshop meeting as a "special" meeting? And what is the connection between designating the meeting as "special" and residents' rights to speak?

Unfortunately, these questions couldn't be addressed at the June 4 Council meeting because it was cancelled at the last minute by Mayor Brooks. Although the June 4 meeting could have been easily rescheduled to another date in June by vote of the Council at the last workshop meeting, Mayor Brooks chose to instead cancel the June meeting entirely, in clear violation of Belle Isle law.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tuesday's Council Meeting (Unlawfully) Cancelled [UPDATE]

The City Council discussed many interesting issues at last Wednesday's workshop meeting, including the Bernstein Ordinance. A summary will be posted soon.

However, anyone interested in following up on those issues or presenting anything to the Council will have to wait until next month because the June 4 meeting was recently cancelled. According to the City website, Tuesday's meeting was cancelled because there are "no agenda items to present."

Regardless of whether there are any agenda items to present, this cancellation is in clear violation of the below Belle Isle ordinance:

Sec. 2-51. - Time, date, place for regular meetings.
(a)
Established. The city council shall hold its regular meeting at city hall on the first Tuesday of each and every month commencing at such time as the council may prescribe by rule.
(b)
Change. The time, date or place of holding the regular meetings may be changed by a majority vote of the city council; provided, however, that such vote must be taken at a lawful meeting of the city council, and notice of such change of time, place or date of such meeting must be posted at city hall for at least three working days prior to the time the meeting is actually held.

This ordinance clearly prohibits cancellation of regular Council meetings. While the date or time may be changed, such changes must be done by a Council majority at a lawful Council meeting. There was no Council vote to reschedule at last Wednesday's meeting or any prior meeting.

What do you think of City Hall's latest attempt to evade resident interaction and inquiry? Is this cancellation part of Mayor Brooks' plan to improve transparency at City Hall?

UPDATE 6/4/2013:  Like so many times before, City Hall has failed to use it's "e-lert" email notification system to communicate important information to residents. The City gave residents no notice, unless they happened to check the City's calendar. Since City Council meetings follow a regular schedule which cannot be modified except in a public forum, residents had absolutely no reason to check for such a cancellation.

Many residents have noted that it doesn't matter whether or not the Council had any agenda items to address. City Council meetings are residents' only chance each month to publicly address the Mayor and the Council. This is why monthly Council meetings are mandatory and may not be rescheduled except through a public vote.

Cancellation of this meeting is unacceptable - not to mention illegal - and it demonstrates that the Mayor Brooks' strong words about transparency were merely lip service.


Monday, May 27, 2013

The Bernstein Ordinance

This Wednesday, May 29 at 8:30 a.m., our City Council will be holding their monthly workshop meeting. To date, City Hall has not posted the workshop meeting agenda. However, one agenda item is sure to be included - the Bernstein Ordinance. As you may recall, the Council voted at the May 7 meeting to workshop the Bernstein Ordinance at their next meeting.

The purpose of the Bernstein Ordinance is to ensure that all Belle Isle residents are informed of the qualification dates to run for City Commissioner or Mayor. This proposed ordinance was originally suggested and drafted by Belle Isle resident Dr. Stuart Bernstein, who modeled it after Orlando ordinances 21.06 and 21.08. Dr. Bernstein's proposed ordinance reads as follows:

"Six months prior to the filing dates for election to position of mayor and/or commissioners, the mayor will issue a proclamations listing position and/or positions to be elected, relevant filing dates and election dates. This proclamation should be mailed promptly via regular mail to all Belle Isle residents as well as posted on the City of Belle Isle website. The mailing and posting should be repeated three months later."

Discussing this proposed ordinance at the last Council meeting, Mayor Brooks stated that while he supports the idea of publishing qualification deadlines, he does not believe that our City needs an ordinance requiring such publication. I respectfully disagree. Regardless of our present mayor's commitment to this cause, adoption of the Bernstein Ordinance is vital for two reasons.

Its first purpose is to ensure that qualification dates will be published in Belle Isle in perpetuity. An ordinance will ensure that all future office-holders will be bound by the same legal duty to announce qualification dates.

Its second purpose is to set specific guidelines as to how publication will be made. This ordinance represents an agreement between the government and residents of Belle Isle. So the ordinance needs to be sufficiently specific to ensure that we are all on the same page regarding the terms of that agreement and exactly how such publication shall be made.

To that end, Vice-Mayor Spaulding proposed a modification to the Bernstein Ordinance at the last council meeting. He proposed that the ordinance permit publication by way of city newsletter instead of by separate mailing. It appears that his motivation is to avoid the expense of two separate mailings if a city newsletter is already going to be mailed out to all residents.

Fiscal responsibility is always a worthy goal. However, I would hesitate to rely solely on the Belle Isle Newsletter to publish election qualification dates as I can't recall the last time one was mailed out. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that if publication is going to be made by Belle Isle Newsletter, such publication will be made at the proper time and be sufficiently prominent to ensure visibility.

In order to address Vice-Mayor Spaulding's fiscal concerns while also ensuring that the ordinance will accomplish its purpose, I hereby propose the following modified Bernstein Ordinance:



Six months prior to the qualification deadline for any election to position of mayor or commissioner, and again three months prior to the qualification deadline for any election to position of mayor or commissioner, the mayor shall issue a proclamation listing: (1) the positions to be elected, (2) the relevant filing dates and election dates, and (3) the relevant qualification requirements (or internet links thereto).

These proclamations shall be mailed to each residence in Belle Isle no earlier than one week prior to each proclamation date and no later than one week after each proclamation date. Such mailings shall be made by First Class U.S. Mail in one of the two following manners: (1) via postcard no smaller than 3 ½ inches by 5 inches in size or (2) via any other mailing so long as the proclamation is located on the front page of the mailing and no smaller than 3 ½ inches by 5 inches in size.

These proclamations shall also be sent by email to each Belle Isle "e-lert" subscriber as well as prominently posted on the City of Belle Isle website during the time frames set forth above.



Have any suggestions regarding the proposed ordinance? Feel free to email me at contact@belleislesun.org or leave a comment below.

Want to support the Bernstein Ordinance? Come to the workshop meeting this Wednesday, May 29 at 8:30 a.m. All council meetings are located at 1600 Nela Avenue unless otherwise noted. The mayor and council have recently been permitting comments and questions at the workshop meetings, so come prepared!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Still Curious About the Belle Isle Fire Department?

As of the last City Council meeting, it appears that the Belle Isle Fire Department has been formally abolished by the Council. However, residents still have many unanswered questions about our City's abandoned fire department project.

I initially requested all documents from the City related to the fire department project. These documents have been posted to records.belleislesun.org for months. However, when I inquired about certain records that appeared to be missing, such as a large number of applications for the Fire Chief position, I was informed by City Hall that those records were held by Crown Consulting and never provided to the City.

After requesting Crown Consulting's complete file on Belle Isle and waiting over five weeks, I have finally received Crown Consulting's records regarding the Fire Chief search. It appears that the Fire Chief search must have been Crown Consulting's only responsibility regarding the fire department project, since those records are all they produced.

You can view the new records at records.belleislesun.org under "Fire Department/Crown Consulting File" or get to them directly here.

Find anything interesting? Contact me or post a comment below - I'll update this story as needed.