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 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!


  1. Thank you for the good job you do. This is great. I think the city officials ar egetting the message.
    Ray Heurtin

  2. Great job. Thank you for keeping us informed.
    I am concerned that City Manager Keith Severns denied that City Hall had seriously looked into annexation. Yet Mr. Severns himself commissioned a financial study on annexation. Seem like someone is not being truthful. I think we need further explanation by Mr. Severns.

  3. Thank you for the time and hard work you put in to this site. I have been to many meetings but I actually walk away from this site with more factual information than I do the meetings due to the rhetoric and dishonesty. If our elected officials were truly looking out for what's best for our city and not for they're own gain, there would be no need to be dishonest. Speaking of which, it appears that Mr. Severns was not a good choice for City manager.

  4. The City Manager is a puppet for the Mayor.

  5. Yeah and if he is such a great contractor,couldn't he be making a lot more money doing contractor work?


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