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!