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.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Council Meeting Summary - May 7, 2013

Resident Comments

The meeting kicked off with a flood of citizen questions and comments. And unlike at previous meetings, the Mayor and City Council responded to each and every one. If this signals a shift in policy at City Hall, then it is certainly a welcome step towards improving government transparency in Belle Isle, although we still have more work to do in this area.

Our right to publicly ask questions of our City officials and expect a response is a power which we must not take lightly or abuse. There will be times when we are upset about things going on in our City, and Council meetings give us a venue to ask our questions and voice our concerns. But we will get nowhere if we allow these meetings to devolve into conflicts where neither side listens to the other.

Commissioner Pisano said to me after the meeting that you shouldn't get involved in local politics if you can't handle a little conflict. And I agree that a little conflict is not a bad thing. But while there is helpful conflict, which strengthens our City by weeding out the bad ideas and refining the good ones, there is also harmful conflict, which does nothing more than exacerbate tensions and stand in the way of useful dialogue.

A city of 6,000+ residents is never going to agree on everything. But if we can maintain open and civil dialogue between all Belle Isle residents, including our City officials, then I think we have the potential to accomplish some amazing things in our little town.

Annexation Update

One resident's questions revolved around the status of Belle Isle's efforts to annex large portions of Taft. Surprisingly, Mayor Brooks forcefully denied that our City officials had ever considered annexing properties in Taft. I'm not sure how to reconcile this with Commissioner Pisano's statement in January that "we are looking at annexing the CFRC, amongst other properties."

Upon later questioning by Commissioner Readey, City Manager Keith Severns further denied that City Hall had seriously looked into annexation. Mr. Severns claimed that City Hall "just has a map" and never commissioned any sort of financial study on annexation. However, it appears that Mr. Severns himself commissioned a financial study on annexation within the last couple years (see records.belleislesun.org under "Annexation").

There was also a reference at the meeting to some new properties that are now being considered for annexation by the City, but I do not have any details at the moment. I'll make sure to update the Sun as more information is available. 

Vice Mayor Election

Every year, the Council elects one of its seven Commissioners as Vice Mayor. Commissioner Lydia Pisano has served as our Vice Mayor for the past year. At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Harvey Readey nominated District 7 Commissioner Eric Spaulding. Commissioner Pisano seconded the nomination and Commissioner Spaulding was elected as our new Vice Mayor. After the meeting, Commissioner Pisano made it clear that she would continue to serve our City with as much dedication as before.

Elimination of Fire Department

Commissioner Readey led the charge to completely and finally abolish any Fire Department in Belle Isle. His motion was passed by the Council. After the vote, Mayor Brooks stated that he plans to follow through on his idea to line-item the amount we are paying for fire/rescue services on our property taxes. Although this will make residents more aware of the amount they are paying for fire/rescue services, it will also likely cause more work (read: expense) for the City to separate out that cost.

Lake Drainage

Commissioner Pisano initiated a long discussion on the importance of maintaining and improving lake drainage. Although this is not an issue I am deeply familiar with, it appears to be a very important concern for our lake community. Mayor Brooks wants to also involve the Orange County Nav Board and Edgewood in a collaborative effort.

On a related note, Mayor Brooks also wanted to make sure that all residents are aware of the dangers posed by amoebas in our lakes and water table. Apparently, the commonly-held idea that amoebas don't pose a danger when the water is below 86 degrees is actually a myth - most likely attributable to the fact that more people swim in warm weather and are therefore more likely to be exposed. So please exercise caution at all times of the year to keep yourself and your family safe.

The Gateway Project & The Five Year Plan

Commissioner Van Dyke briefly discussed our City's five year plan, about which one resident inquired at the beginning of the meeting. Commissioner Van Dyke mentioned that the Gateway project will be budgeted to begin next year.

Commissioner Van Dyke also discussed traffic on Hoffner as a part of our City's five year plan. The Council has been working hard to ban trucks from Hoffner Avenue. Pete Clark, our Orange County Commissioner, indicated that he has initiated discussions with the Department of Transportation to help Belle Isle achieve this goal. Commissioner Clark has been paying a lot of attention to our City lately, and I thank him for taking the time to attend Tuesday's meeting and for his interest in helping our little town fix this big problem.

Resolution 13-02: The Charter School Debt Service Fund

There was a lot of discussion at Tuesday's meeting about the Charter School Debt Service Fund. Many residents wanted answers about the meaning and purpose of Resolution 13-02. Although the Mayor stated in no uncertain terms that our tax dollars would never be used to pay for the school, some residents still had doubts.

Resident Sue Nielsen described a number of errors she had identified in the resolution. The Mayor and Council agreed that there was at least one error in the resolution, a $300,000 arithmetic error. Although Commissioner Readey wanted to send the resolution back to be fixed at the next Council workshop meeting, the other six Commissioners voted to pass Resolution 13-02 in its present form.

The "Bernstein Ordinance"

At the beginning of the meeting, Belle Isle resident Dr. Stuart Bernstein addressed the Council for a second time regarding our City's need for an ordinance that would require the Mayor to publicize by mail the qualification dates for all elected offices in Belle Isle. Mayor Brooks agreed that publicizing these dates is necessary, but said that he is "not sure we need an ordinance for that" because he planned to announce qualification dates more publicly in the future and to get word out through the Belle Isle Newsletter.

Undeterred, Commissioner Readey sought to pass a resolution that would require the Council to workshop the "Bernstein Ordinance," citing the fact that Belle Isle has not had a single election since 2006. Vice Mayor Spaulding amended Commissioner Readey's resolution to permit such announcements to be done through the Belle Isle Newsletter and to also require notification by the Belle Isle "e-lert" email list. The resolution passed, and the Council will address the Bernstein Ordinance at the next workshop meeting!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Council Meeting Agenda - Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Just a reminder that this month's City Council meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 7 at 5:30 p.m. All council meetings are located at City Hall, 1600 Nela Avenue, unless otherwise announced.

Click here for a copy of the meeting agenda. The agenda highlights include:
  • Council discussion of Resolution No. 13-02 to amend the City budget and create a Charter School Debt Service Fund. Documents regarding this $10,323,133.00 budget item can be found at the bottom of the meeting agenda, although the exhibits describing the fund itself are omitted.
  • Commissioner Readey's report regarding a proclamation to officially eliminate the Fire Department process.
  • Vice-Mayor election by the Council.

Do you have something to say? Perhaps a suggestion to increase government transparency in Belle Isle? Resident comments take place at the beginning of the meeting, so be sure to arrive on time if you want to speak or just want to support your fellow residents!

Workshop Meeting Summary, Part 2

Hahn & Hahn "Gateway" Presentation

As I mentioned in part one of the Council workshop meeting summary and the workshop meeting agenda summary, a major portion of Wednesday's meeting was taken up by Hahn & Hahn Team, Inc.'s presentation to the Council. Hahn & Hahn presented on a number of designs it created for City Hall's Gateway project.

According to the representative from Hahn & Hahn, the purpose of the Gateway project is create a "branding" throughout our City. As described in the presentation, the City began "branding" itself with its prior bridge beautification project. The object of the Gateway project is to extend that brand across Belle Isle by adding and replacing entranceways, signs, landscaping, hardscaping and lighting.

The presenter strongly emphasized that Belle Isle is in competition with what she described as our "sister cities" of Winter Park, Altamonte, Lake Nona and Kissimmee. She also emphasized that now is the time to undertake these projects before Belle Isle stops being attractive to new home buyers, describing the Gateway project as the defibrillator paddles that would save Belle Isle from a fate like Pine Hills.

I am still unsure what amount has been paid to Hahn & Hahn for its work on the project, although their contract calls for payment of $25,000 for the preliminary work and partial plans produced thus far. As far as the cost of implementing the project, the presenter gave no hard figures but suggested the use of lease-to-own plans to defer costs. The City Manager later provided a few cost figures, as discussed below.

Although the presenter from Hahn & Hahn appeared more than happy to take questions from residents, the Mayor quickly clarified that only questions from City officials would be permitted. This is unfortunate, since it was the perfect setting for residents to ask some of their many questions about the Gateway project and its potential costs. As I have stated before, I think it would greatly benefit our City if the Council would open its meetings to resident questions during question and answer and citizen comment periods. But in any case, you can read more about the Hahn & Hahn Gateway plans at records.belleislesun.org.

City Manager's Report

The City Manager, Keith Severns, presented regarding the City's latest Inter-local Agreement for Fire Protection and Rescue Services. Mr. Severns described the agreement as a "good deal" and explained that it will prevent our fire/rescue costs from rising over the next five years while extending our present 7.5% discount.

The City Manager also discussed City Resolution 13-02, which amends the City's budget to create a Charter School Debt Service Fund. As described by Mr. Severns, this is a standard budget item required by law to allow the City to take in rent and pay its debt on the charter school property. But if this is so, then it is unclear why such an item was not included in the City's budget until now.

The City Manager concluded with discussion of a Belle Isle Capital Improvement Program, which he described as implementation of some of the plans from the Gateway project. Mr. Severns provided cost figures for implementing just a portion of the City's new lighting plans, specifically the cost of replacing the streetlights on certain parts of Hoffner, Judge and Nela with decorative LED lights. According to Mr. Severns, replacing the lights in these areas alone will cost the City a base price of $800,000. Spread over six years, the City will pay $151,000 per year for a total project cost of over $906,000.

Mr. Severns stated that the City's other alternative is to continue paying Duke Energy (formerly Progress Energy) to lease the same streetlights the City has been using for the last thirty years, although he provided no cost figures for this option. Mr. Severns' believes that the City is better served by owning its own streetlights and describes implementation of the lighting project within an eight month window.

City Attorney's Report

Our new City Attorney, Frank Kruppenbacher, reported on the legality of and requirements for a City Manager contract. As described by Mayor Brooks, Keith Severns has now been serving as our City Manager for two years without pay. This is because our prior City Attorney determined that Mr. Severns could not be paid as City Manager for two years following his resignation as a City Commissioner.

Mr. Kruppenbacher stated on Wednesday that he is going to "review the eligibility of Mr. Severns to hold the position" of City Manager. Presumably he was referring to Section 4.07 of the City Charter, which 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 proceeded to address his general concerns about the City Manager contract. He stressed the importance of "agree[ing] on an evaluation tool" to assess the performance of whoever serves in the position. He also addressed salary and severance pay concerns, relating a situation in Duval County where the school district wound up paying three former superintendents in addition to the current superintendent because of excessive severance pay awards. Mr. Kruppenbacher recommended a contract in which the City is free to dismiss the City Manager without any repercussion more than a couple weeks of severance pay. Mr. Kruppenbacher specifically stated that he would not participate in a "Winter Park debacle," where there have been disputes over city contracts providing for over $1 million in severance pay.

It remains to be seen how Mr. Kruppenbacher will advise the Council regarding the legality of hiring Keith Severns as our City Manager. He stated that he will be addressing these issues over the coming weeks, so they will likely be discussed at a Council meeting next month.

Commissioner Readey's Report

Unfortunately, Commissioner Readey was called away from the meeting for an urgent personal matter just before he was able to present about reviewing the City's election process. It does appear that Commissioner Readey's calls for a City Manager Performance Work Appraisal have been taken to heart, as indicated by the City Attorney in his above report. However, Commissioner Readey is still determined to address the other issues discussed "Restoring Democracy in Belle Isle" at an upcoming Council meeting.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Annexation Alert, Part 3: This is Pete Madison

I finally caught up with long-time Belle Isle resident Pete Madison. We had a long conversation about our histories in Belle Isle and our feelings about some recent local issues. Of course, we discussed Belle Isle's proposed annexation of Taft. Pete made some great points in favor of annexing Taft, so I asked if I could write an article about his position.

Pete was surprised and excited to learn that Belle Isle is still considering annexation of Taft, as he thought that City Hall had abandoned those annexation plans. He believes that approving this annexation would be of great benefit to Belle Isle residents because of the added tax base with few added expenditures. More specifically, Pete says:

“It's a win-win situation. This is not a proposal to change an existing Belle Isle area to industrial, Taft is already there. Nothing is changing. Meanwhile, Belle Isle gets a chance to pick up the additional tax revenue, which it could use to improve it's services and enhance the community, and we all get a lowered property tax bill to go with it.”

While I don't have the data or expertise to evaluate his argument, Pete gave me absolutely no reason to doubt its accuracy.

My position is still that the potential tax savings would not be worth devaluing the Belle Isle "brand" by spreading it over a bunch of corporate and industrial properties that don’t represent our residential town. But Pete also makes the good point that just calling a property part of "Belle Isle" doesn't suddenly transport it to your backyard.

Although Pete and I disagree about whether annexing portions of Taft is right for our City, we agreed on something just as important. Annexation, if pursued by the City, needs to be done the right way - with the knowledge and approval of Belle Isle residents.

Mr. Madison has read and approved this article.

Do you have an opposing viewpoint to something written on the Sun? If so, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Workshop Meeting, Part 1: A Shout Out to Belle Isle Residents and Mayor Brooks

There was an amazing resident turnout at Wednesday's meeting. Not an angry mob, like the crowd at the fateful March 5 fire department meeting, but a large group of interested residents wanting to learn about our City's upcoming plans and projects. Just about every seat in the room was filled. So here's to all those residents who took the time to attend. I believe everyone in Belle Isle thanks you for your dedication.

I would also like to thank Mayor William Brooks for some small, but important, things he did at the meeting to demonstrate City Hall's increasing respect for residents' financial concerns and interest in government transparency.

For example, when the representative from Hahn & Hahn spoke about the Belle Isle "Gateway" project, it was apparent that she had come to the meeting prepared to make a presentation about her company's grandiose plans to help City Hall create a "branding" for Belle Isle. The plans commissioned by City Hall include building elaborate new entranceways, signs, landscaping, hardscaping and lighting throughout the City. However, Mayor Brooks made a specific point to ask the presenter what could be done to create "branding" for our City on a more limited budget.

With regard to transparency, Mayor Brooks also showed that City Hall is getting serious about addressing this problem. Although resident comments are typically not permitted at workshop meetings, the Mayor made a specific point to allow resident comments at this month's workshop. I'm not sure if this signals a shift in Council policy, but I'm hoping that they will again welcome resident comments at next month's workshop,. Since many of the City's plans are created and refined at workshop meetings, this is exactly the time when public input could do the most good.

Additionally, the Mayor spoke adamantly in favor of transparency. He said that transparency is an issue the City needs to address "right now," although the Council did not address any specific suggestions as to how it could be increased.

I previously proposed one suggestion for increasing transparency: creation of a City web page that lists all major upcoming projects, including access to studies and other relevant documents. Now I'd like to propose a second suggestion: allowing residents to ask questions of their City officials at public meetings.

Although I regularly hear from City officials that residents "should have just asked" about something, there is no public forum for residents to ask their questions. The Mayor has previously stated at Council meetings that public questioning from residents is not permitted. Perhaps now he is willing to consider loosening that restriction.

It is vitally important that residents be allowed to publicly ask questions of their representatives at Council meetings. Private meetings with one or two residents at a time are inefficient as well as intimidating for many residents. Allowing questions at Council meetings permits residents to ask their questions while surrounded by friends and neighbors. It also ensures that no one is misheard or misquoted.

Furthermore, allowing resident questions during public meetings - including during the question and answer portion of any presentations made to the Council - would go a long way towards ensuring that residents get to have meaningful input on City decisions. It is also a great way to draw upon the vast knowledge of our City's residents to help evaluate and vet potential projects before the City commits our tax dollars.

Please write me with your ideas for increasing City transparency so that I can compile a list of everyone's recommendations. Then we can schedule a time to meet with City officials to discuss implementation of your ideas.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Are You Ready (To Pay) For Some Football? [UPDATE]

I'm still working on a summary of this morning's meeting. In the meantime, here's something for you:

I recently visited the Pioneer Days exhibit at the Pine Castle Women's Club. In a discussion with some club members about local historical buildings, they mentioned that Belle Isle City Hall presently has plans to remove the historic Crawford House, the blue house and the log cabin next to Cornerstone Charter Academy. Apparently, the City has plans for improvements to the school to make it a "world-class facility." While it would be a shame to allow these local monuments to be removed or destroyed, it's hard to find too much fault with a solid plan to improve our City's newly-acquired educational facility.

My feelings changed when I received an email from a Sun reader who relayed a conversation with Belle Isle Mayor William Brooks. It seems the Mayor's plan to turn Cornerstone into a world-class educational facility - and his justification for removing some of the few historical buildings that remain in our area - is to build a football stadium. As residents complain about rising taxes, we once again find City officials secretly pursuing another high-budget project. And this time, our local history will be lost along with our tax dollars.

Now it is certainly possible that Belle Isle residents want a football stadium. And that the City has a solid plan to finance it. Or that this information is totally wrong. But it's hard to know when no information is provided by City Hall about their upcoming plans. To that end, here is one suggestion to improve "transparency" in Belle Isle, submitted for your consideration:

The City should add a new section to the City's webpage, prominently linked from the home page, which contains a list of all major projects or initiatives being actively considered or investigated by City Hall. "Major" can be defined to mean an expected cost of $10,000 or higher - the same threshold for when Council approval becomes required. Under each project listed would be a brief description and links to any relevant documents.

Contractor presentations are often given at Council meetings regarding their work on upcoming projects. In advance of any such presentations, the City should post the presentation handouts to allow residents and Commissioners to read up ahead of time. This will also give residents a chance to contact their Commissioners ahead of the meeting so that the Commissioners can express their residents' questions and concerns.

In addition to presentation materials, all study results and other relevant project documents obtained by the City should be posted as soon as they are available. Don't make us do more public records requests - they're expensive for the residents and for the City.

This small addition to the City webpage, which would take very little effort to implement, would keep Commissioners informed and residents engaged. While it's true that residents will not agree about every upcoming project, a little healthy debate will ensure that City Hall's ideas are being thoroughly explored and vetted before our City commits major funds.



UPDATE 5/2/13:  According to comments made today by Vice-Mayor Lydia Pisano (click for link), the log cabin is not an actual historical building and the blue house will not be removed . Ms. Pisano's comments also detail the fate of the Crawford house, which she confirms will be removed. However, Ms. Pisano does not address the most important questions: What does City Hall plan to do with the land and how much will it cost us?

I would like to remind every reader of the Sun - residents and City officials alike - to please contact me with any article updates or corrections.

Welcome to The Belle Isle Sun

Also featured in the April edition of the Conway News, in print and online at conwaynews.com.

As you may be aware, the City of Belle Isle has abandoned its plans to build a local fire department. After learning of City Hall’s plan, hundreds of Belle Isle residents attended the City Council meeting on March 5 to voice their disapproval of this wasteful and potentially dangerous project.  Subdivisions in Belle Isle attempted to deannex from the City rather than allow City Hall to decrease their fire service without notifying residents or seeking their input.  In the face of such strong public opposition, Mayor William Brooks soon ordered cancellation of the fire department project.  However, City Hall has yet to address the underlying problem: its lack of communication with Belle Isle residents about the major changes it has in store for their City.

In the wake of the fire department, police department and charter school projects, the biggest question Belle Isle residents keep asking is how City Hall managed to work on each of these projects for so long without making any effort to notify residents or seek their input.  But while the reasons behind City Hall’s recent “culture of secrecy” are still unclear, it has become apparent to many Belle Isle residents that neither the City’s website nor its “e-lert” email system can be relied upon to inform them of important City news.
Although City Hall found space on its website for a prominent “Mayor’s Message” as soon as the fire department project was cancelled, there was no such mention of the fire department project at any time while City Hall was actively pursuing it.  Although City Hall sent out a prompt “e-lert” email to notify residents of the project’s cancellation, it sent no such emails to notify residents of the Council meetings where they authorized the fire department and hired our City’s fire chief.

Despite repeated requests from residents to increase City Hall transparency and the amount of information available on the City’s website, City Hall has given no indication that it plans to address these requests.  And although the fire department battle has been won, it appears that City Hall still has more major plans for our City, including annexation of a large portion of Taft while avoiding an otherwise mandatory resident vote on the issue.

With so much on the table and so little hard information coming from City Hall, residents need a source for up-to-date Belle Isle news.  It is in that spirit that I welcome you to The Belle Isle Sun, located at www.belleislesun.org.

At The Belle Isle Sun, you will find the latest news about what’s going on in Belle Isle, including summaries of all public meetings.  Visit the Sun’s public records repository to review nearly 1000 pages of public records obtained from City Hall on a number of topics, including the fire department project, yearly budgets, and the City’s annexation plans.

Sign up for The Belle Isle Sun email newsletter or follow us on Twitter (@belleislesun) to receive timely notifications whenever a new article has been posted.  And feel free to email me at contact@belleislesun.org with any ideas, questions or story tips.

Feeling “in the dark” about what’s going on in your City?  Shed some light at The Belle Isle Sun!  www.belleislesun.org.