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.