Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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.


  1. I like the possible restrictions on the CM'S severance pay. Also, questions still remain on Severns hiring.

  2. What in the world makes Winter Park, Kissimee, Lake Nona, and Altamonte "sister cities" of Belle Isle? Lake Nona is not a city but a planned development within the city of Orlando. Kissimee in 2010 had ten times the population of Belle Isle's; it is the county seat of Osceola County. Altamonte in Seminole County in 2010 had a population of 41,496 and Winter Park had almost 28,000 residents. Pine Hills is not a city but a census-designated place with a population in 2010 of 60,076.

    Do most Belle Isle residents believe this ridiculous high pressure sales pitch?

    Do most share the mayor 's grandiose ideas of what our city might become?

  3. Why would the city manager get any severance pay? According to the city clerk, he has no written contract. According to the city charter, he serves at the Pleasure of the city council.


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