Monday, December 1, 2014

Tuesday Meeting Agenda / Wednesday Snow Celebration [UPDATE]

The City Council will be holding a combined workshop/regular session meeting this Tuesday, December 2 at 6:00 p.m. You can find the agenda linked below.

The only specific item noted on the agenda is a presentation by Commissioner Harvey Readey regarding the airport noise abatement program. I have heard from many local residents who are concerned that the proposed phaseout of the noise abatement program, which has been in place for the last 30 years, will have an enormous impact on nearby homes and businesses. As an aviator and retired engineer, Commissioner Readey is well qualified help us understand the true effects of this change, so be sure to attend his presentation to learn more.

This Wednesday, December 3 will hold the annual Belle Isle "Tree Lighting, Snow and Santa" event. The event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. near the Cornerstone gazebo. Donations will be collected for the Belle Isle Food and Toy Drive, so be sure to bring an unwrapped new toy for a child or teen and/or non‐perishable food items. You can read more about upcoming Belle Isle holiday events in the holiday schedule linked below.

City Council Meeting Agenda - December 2, 2014

Belle Isle 2014 Holiday Event Schedule



UPDATE 12/2/14

Information on the noise abatement program will be primarily presented at today's meeting by a member of the Aviation Noise Abatement Committee (ANAC). Thanks to Commissioners Readey and Pisano for their hard work and diligence in getting this important issue on the agenda for discussion.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Election on the Horizon!

It's still a ways out, but Belle Isle will be having a City Council election in March 2015!

Districts 5 and 6 are up for election next year. These Council seats are presently held by Commissioners Lydia Pisano and Harvey Readey. And while no one stepped up to run in District 6, meaning that Commissioner Pisano will be reelected next year without opposition, we have a contender in District 5!

Resident Larry Miles will be running against Commissioner Harvey Readey in the upcoming election. Mr. Miles announced his candidacy after encouragement by resident Machele Rowe at the recent Belle Isle 90th Anniversary Celebration. I have not yet had an opportunity to meet Mr. Miles, so I look forward to learning more about him and his views on Belle Isle over the coming months.

In other news, we have a busy week coming up in Belle Isle with a City Council meeting on Tuesday, December 2 at 6:00 p.m. and a "Tree Lighting, Snow and Santa" event on Wednesday December 3 at 5:30-8:30 p.m. near the Cornerstone gazebo. Mark your calendars!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Candidate Qualification Forms Available Now - Due Friday

It's candidate qualification week in Belle Isle!

Do you live in District 5 or 6 and want to run for City Council? Qualification forms are due by 12:00 p.m. this Friday, November 14. Qualification packets are available at Belle Isle City Hall as of noon today.

Regardless of whether you support the incumbent candidates, holding open and contested elections is vital to the health of a municipality. This is especially true in a small city like Belle Isle, where it can be tough to find multiple candidates in districts containing only a few hundred qualified residents. But without multiple candidates, we don't get a vote! 

Not sure which Belle Isle district you live in? Click here to check the map. 

Need help collecting signatures? I know some volunteers who would be glad to help. Please drop me an email at contact@belleislesun.org.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Belle Isle Celebration Tomorrow, Featuring the Crawford House!

The City of Belle Isle, and especially Commissioner Pisano, have worked incredibly hard to put together a Belle Isle 90th Anniversary & Veterans Day Celebration. This event marks the passage of 90 years from our City's initial charter in 1924.

According to the latest information from the City, this event will feature a tent set up near Pine Castle's "Crawford House" where locals can swap stories about old Belle Isle and Pine Castle. There will also be a separate tent where the "Save the Crawford House" group will be kicking off their fundraising drive to move and restore the Crawford House. Come learn more about the Crawford House and the plan to save it!

Additionally, Jane Tracy from the Orlando Public Library will be at the Pine Castle Historical Society booth in the afternoon taking oral histories from local residents. So please encourage your friends and neighbors to stop by and share some of their memories.

There will be a morning parade departing City Hall at 9:00 a.m.  Following the parade, the event will begin at 10:00 a.m. at the Cornerstone campus, located at 5903 Randolph Avenue. Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Special Meeting This Wednesday @ 9am [UPDATE]

There will be a combined workshop / regular City Council meeting held this Wednesday, October 29 at 9:00 a.m. The regularly-scheduled meeting on November 4 has been cancelled.

You can find a copy of the meeting agenda linked below.

Special Meeting Agenda - October 29, 2014 [UPDATED]



UPDATE 10/28/14

The Wednesday morning meeting agenda has been updated to include discussion of Pine Castle's Crawford House, which is presently slated for destruction by Belle Isle on December 20. Commissioner Gold will seek an extension to allow time for the implementation of plans developed by a local coalition, which includes the Pine Castle Woman’s Club, Pine Castle Historical Society, Office of Commissioner Clarke, Orange County Parks and Recreation, Pine Castle Pioneer Days and Pine Castle Safe Neighborhoods.

If this extension is granted by the Belle Isle City Council, the Crawford House will be relocated to a lot in the heart of Pine Castle between Orange and Hansel. You can read more about the group's efforts to save the Crawford House in the press release linked below.

Crawford House Press Release

Monday, October 6, 2014

The More Things Change... [UPDATE]

At the workshop meeting on October 1, our City Council discussed the recent incident involving our City Manager and Chief of Police which resulted in the resignation of Chief Thomas Jackson. The last time this issue was discussed at a public meeting, our City Attorney recommended refraining from any Council discussion about the incident until the FDLE investigation was completed. These investigation results would be presented to Council when finalized, which was expected to happen many weeks ago. No results have been provided to date, leading residents and Commissioners unclear about whether the investigation has been completed.

In light of City Manager Keith Severns' involvement in the incident precipitating Chief Jackson's retirement, the Council visited the issue of Mr. Severns' unilateral control over the hiring of Belle Isle's new Chief of Police. Commissioner Nielsen expressed that residents would find it more appropriate for the Council to have some input regarding the selection and appointment of our City's new Chief of Police.

Mayor Brooks responded with a firm denial that Council could participate at all in the process. He spoke about the Council's decision years ago to change from a "strong mayor" form of government to a council-manager form which instead utilizes a strong city manager position. However, Mayor Brooks' assertions about his relinquishment of power to the City Manager are belied by significant evidence of the nearly unilateral power that Mayor Brooks exerts over our City's governance.

The irony is that although this previous change in our City's governance structure was aimed to prevent perceived excesses in Mayor Brooks' use of his powers, the only thing that appears to have actually changed is that Mayor Brooks has now been given plausible deniability regarding nearly all City decisions. While Mayor Brooks takes credit for any popular City decisions, Keith Severns gets paid one of the largest City Manager salaries in the state to take the fallout for the many unpopular decisions made over recent years.

Mayor Brooks' continuing power over City decisions was clearly demonstrated at the September 22, 2014 meeting, at which Mayor Brooks presented a nominee for the Cornerstone Charter Academy School Board. Although the Council must approve any nominations, our Mayor is solely tasked with recommending candidates. Information about the Mayor's candidate was not provided to Council for review prior to the meeting, leading a number of Commissioners to ask for additional time to review the candidate's file before voting. In response, Mayor Brooks stated that he had reviewed many potential candidates and that the chosen candidate was the best available. Mayor Brooks further rebuffed Council efforts to table the vote for a couple weeks while they reviewed the candidate's file, leading to confirmation by a 5-2 vote without any Council review of the candidate's qualifications.

The real question is not whether our new CCA board member is qualified, but why our City Council members were not permitted to review any information about him before Mayor Brooks sought a confirmation vote. In rushing to that vote, Mayor Brooks stressed the need for urgency, despite there being no actual emergency, while also misstating the applicable rules of order to prevent a vote on tabling the motion.

Mayor Brooks again referred to the "rules of order" later in the meeting when Commissioner Sue Nielsen made a motion to earmark funds and prioritize spending for our City to finally fix the Lake Conway East drainage issues. In response, Mayor Brooks requested that Commissioner Nielsen withdraw her motion so that Commissioner Pisano could instead make an identical motion under her own name. It appears that this is another of Mayor Brooks' efforts to secure an additional term for his favored candidate, Lydia Pisano, whose present term is up in March (candidate qualification forms are due at 12:00 p.m. on November 14).

Another tactic employed by Mayor Brooks is to eliminate public discussion of important issues by calling for private planning sessions between individual Commissioners and our City Manager. Not only does this keep such communications out of the public record, it reduces or even eliminates public discussion of these issues, as evidenced by the mere minutes of public Council discussion regarding our recently-approved 2015 City Budget. At the October 1 meeting, it was announced that this strategy will again be employed to develop plans for an upcoming Belle Isle land use map.

Far from utilizing his mayoral powers to enact the wishes of our City's residents, we have instead seen a longstanding pattern of making decisions without considering resident desires. A prime example is Mayor Brooks' declaration at the October 1 workshop meeting that he wants to see an ordinance creating an "architectural board" which would have to approve all cosmetic features of Belle Isle homes, up to and including the colors that our homes can be painted.

Residents have expressed strong opposition to creating additional City ordinances such as this architectural board. Many feel that we already have too many municipal ordinances controlling our everyday lives, similar to the strict rules enforced by many homeowners associations. Individuals who desire the uniformity and restrictions imposed by HOAs choose to live in areas governed by HOAs. To force such restrictions on the rest of our City's residents, despite most showing little to no support for such an action, will represent yet another overreach of municipal government powers pushed through by Mayor Brooks.

The next City Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, October 7 at 6:00 p.m. You can find a copy of the upcoming meeting agenda linked below.

City Council Meeting Agenda - October 7, 2014



UPDATE 10/7/14

Commissioner Pisano has provided additional information about the sequence of events surrounding Commissioner Nielsen's motion on the Lake Conway East drainage issue. She states as follows in a recent Facebook post:

I have been at every Conway East meeting, and I said when it wasn't the correct time in the meeting that I wanted to make a motion for Conway East when we were past the current discussion. Did I not? Then she tried to do it. She made the motion, and it was Commissioner Ed Gold who graciously reminded the Mayor that I was going to do it as it is my district. This had NOTHING to do with the Mayor. The Mayor asked me and I said it doesn't matter. He stated it would be my motion and her second, since I wanted to do it earlier. It is proper protocol as we have our own districts. The only time that would change is if a Commissioner was working with a neighborhood in their district and weren't in attendance at the meetings, or were out of town. As everyone clearly knows, and for those of you that attended the CCA school board meeting, clearly know I am NOT a "favorite" of the Mayor. It really doesn't bother me who makes a motion, as long as what we need to do, gets done.

As Commissioner Pisano confirms, Mayor Brooks requested that Commissioner Nielsen allow her motion already on the floor be recorded as having been made by Commissioner Pisano. Whether this is technically a "withdrawal" of Commissioner Nielsen's motion is debatable, but I'm not sure what else to call it when one Commissioner makes a motion, but the motion is recorded as having been made by another Commissioner.

Regardless, I agree with Commissioner Pisano that it doesn't matter who makes a motion, so long as things get done. And whether it was the Mayor or another Commissioner who prompted the Mayor's request to change the name on the motion, we should not be wasting precious meeting time deciding which Commissioner gets the credit for City projects paid for by the taxpayers.

The above article also prompted a lot of discussion regarding the applicable rules of order on tabling a motion. You can read all about "laying a motion on the table" here:

Robert's Rules of Order - Motion to Table

In a nutshell, a motion to table takes precedence over the present motion up for consideration. It is used once Council has seconded a motion and debate has begun. A successful motion to table stops the debate and "tables" the motion until it is taken back up at a later time. To wait until after a vote on the pending motion before addressing the issue of tabling, as suggested by Mayor Brooks at the recent meeting, would defeat the entire purpose of a motion to table!

Mayor Brooks has many years of experience chairing City Council meetings and should understand the applicable rules of order regarding tabling a motion. So his refusal to allow the Council to consider or second Commissioner Nielsen's motion to table appears calculated to force a vote on the new CCA board member before Council could review the candidate's file.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Final Budget Hearing This Monday

This Monday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m., our City Council will be convening a special meeting to review and approve the final budget for the upcoming fiscal year. You can find a copy of the proposed 2014-2015 City Budget linked below.

This proposed budget raises a number of questions, many of which were detailed by Commissioner Nielsen in a recent letter to City Manager Keith Severns (linked below). Public discussion about our City's proposed budget has been extremely limited to date, primarily due to Mr. Severns' request that Commissioners' concerns about the budget be brought directly to him outside of any scheduled public meeting.

Many of these questions should ideally be answered by the budget document itself. Section 5.04 of the Belle Isle City Charter details exactly what is required in a proposed budget. For example, one such requirement is that the budget "show comparative figures for actual and estimated income and expenditures of the preceding fiscal year."

A review of the current proposed budget reveals that such actual income and expense figures are not provided for comparison. While the prior year's estimated income and expenditures are provided (in the form of 2013-2014 approved and revised budget figures), the actual income and expenses are conspicuously absent.

Hopefully, the important questions raised in Commissioner Nielsen's letter will be addressed publicly at the budget hearing tomorrow. To date, residents have not been given access to our City's process of developing the 2014-2015 proposed budget, which was developed through a series of communications and individual meetings outside of the public view. Therefore, publicly answering these questions would go a long way towards creating the transparency envisioned by the Sunshine Law and City Charter as our City completes this vital annual process.

Even more importantly, providing these answers will allow our residents and Commissioners to become better informed about our City's finances - helping everyone understand how our City's funds are being raised and spent.

Hope to see you at the final budget hearing on Monday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m.!

2014-2015 Belle Isle Proposed Budget

Letter from Commissioner Nielsen to City Manager Severns re: Budget Questions

Monday, September 1, 2014

First Belle Isle Budget Hearing This Wednesday

Last week, our City Council began discussion of the proposed 2014-2015 Belle Isle City Budget at the morning workshop meeting. These discussions are set to continue at the specially-held budget hearing this Wednesday, September 3 at 6:00 p.m. This special Wednesday meeting replaces the usual Tuesday night meeting, which has been cancelled for the month of September.

Based on the discussion at the workshop meeting last week, it appears that increasing the revenue collected from Belle Isle residents is the top priority for many of our City officials.

Not but a few months ago, City Manager Keith Severns spoke strongly in support of seeking a $2 million low-interest bond to increase available funds in Belle Isle. On Wednesday, he reversed course, stating that "down the road, we are not going to be able to pay for the bond." Mr. Severns gave no reason for this drastic change in his assessment, leading some residents to wonder whether Belle Isle is unable to procure such a bond because of our City's debt ratio and inability to pledge an income stream for bond repayment.

Instead, many officials, including Mayor Brooks and Commissioner Van Dyke, strongly supported increasing the power company franchise fees collected from Belle Isle residents. These franchise fees are additional costs tacked on to residents' monthly power bills, and they are a popular revenue stream in many Florida municipalities. I personally believe that such franchise fees are popular among city governments because these fees are paid directly to the power company on a separate schedule from residents' regular taxes, meaning that many taxpayers will not recognize that their taxes have effectively increased.

Although there was a lot of discussion last Wednesday about ways to increase City revenue, very little time was spent discussing ways to realistically cut our City's expenses. You can get a look at these planned expenses in the proposed budget, linked below.

I have heard from many residents regarding simple ideas which could significantly cut our City's expenditures. I hope that anyone with similar ideas will attend the budget hearing this Wednesday, September 3 at 6:00 p.m. and make themselves heard!

Belle Isle Proposed Budget 2014-2015

Special Meeting Agenda - September 3, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to Budgets Beginning this Wednesday [UPDATE]

This Wednesday, August 27 at 9:00 a.m., our City Council will begin addressing the issue of Belle Isle's 2014-2015 City Budget. The September budget hearings will decide our City's short term and long term plans for the coming years.

Readers may not be aware that the 2013-2014 Belle Isle City Budget adopted by our Council was unlawful under our City Charter and Florida state law. Under section 5.04 of the Belle Isle City Charter, "The total of proposed expenditures shall not exceed the total of estimated income." Similarly, Florida Statutes, section 166.241(2) requires that the amount available from taxation and other sources equal the total appropriations for expenditures and reserves. Put more simply by our Orange County Commissioner, Pete Clarke, "budgets by law must be balanced."

A quick review of the 2013-2014 adopted budget (linked below) reveals that it does not meet the requirements of Florida law or our City Charter. Expected revenues, shown on page three, total $5,778,710. Planned expenditures, shown on page five, total $6,340,509. These figures are prominently displayed and easy to understand, so our Commissioners clearly knew that they were voting on a budget that authorized the City to spend significantly more than it would take in during the year. Voting in favor of this unlawful budget at the September 20, 2013 meeting were Commissioners Van Dyke, Ady, Shuck and Pisano.

It is vital that residents attend the upcoming budget hearings to monitor the development and approval of the 2014-2015 City Budget. While no one wants to raise taxes in Belle Isle, it is clear from the waning condition of our City's roads and drainage that refurbishment of our City's aging infrastructure is going to be a huge cost in the near future. It will take extremely careful budgeting - including elimination of all unnecessary expenditures - to address these infrastructure issues without a tax hike.

The 2014-2015 City Budget will be discussed at the workshop meeting this Wednesday, August 27 at 9:00 a.m. (the new starting time for workshop meetings). The workshop agenda is linked below. The second budget meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 3 at 6:00 p.m. (there is no meeting on Tuesday). The final budget hearing will take place on Monday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m.

The Belle Isle City Budget will affect most residents' everyday lives more than the laws coming out of Washington or Tallahassee. Don't miss this opportunity to help decide how your money will be spent or saved!

August 27, 2014 Workshop Meeting Agenda

2013-2014 Belle Isle City Budget (Adopted)



UPDATE 8/27/14

At the August 27, 2014 meeting, Mayor Brooks strongly asserted that the 2013-2014 budget does not violate the City Charter or state law, suggesting that there are other revenues from fund appropriations, not included in the 2013-14 budget figures cited above, which would make the revenue and expenses equal.

Reviewing the adopted City Budgets from 2011-12 and 2012-13 (linked below), it is easy to see that those past budgets complied with the Charter and Florida law by the fact that the total revenues matched total expenditures. This is required under the City Charter, section 5.04, which states that the budget "shall show in detail all estimated income" arranged in a way that the reader can compare with expenditures from the present and prior years. Here's a simple table comparing the pertinent figures in last three budgets:

Budget Year
Total Expected Revenue
(page numbers in budget)
Total Planned Expenditures
(page numbers in budget)
Difference
2011-2012 Approved Budget
$5,698,966 
(pages 3 and following)
$5,698,966
(page preceding 1)
$0
2012-2013 Approved Budget
$5,656,406
(pages 2-1 & 2-2)
$5,656,406
(pages 2-3 & 2-4)
$0
2013-2014 Approved Budget
$5,778,710
(pages 3 & 4)
$6,340,509
(pages 5 & 6)
- $561,799

This pattern of matching revenues to expenditures was broken in the 2013-14 budget, when the expected revenues were short of planned expenditures by $561,799. Furthermore, all revenues from any source should already be included in the 2013-14 revenue figure, which is labeled as the "Total Revenues" for "All Funds" in the 2013-14 adopted budget (pages 3-4). There is nothing in the 2013-14 budget noting a change in reporting methods from prior years which would explain this discrepancy.

If City Hall provides any further information explaining this discrepancy, this article will updated accordingly.

2011-2012 Belle Isle City Budget (Adopted) 

2012-2013 Belle Isle City Budget (Adopted)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

FDLE Investigation Update & Tuesday Meeting Time Change

Readers have requested an update regarding the recent City Council workshop meeting. While it would be tough to provide a comprehensive summary of the three-hour meeting, it was refreshing to see some actual discussion of City issues - even if this discussion focused on some of the less important issues presently before the Council. The recent workshop meeting included an hour-long discussion the proposed "golf cart ordinance" and an extended discussion of the proposed "Belle Isle Neighborhood Grant" program.

But despite the lengthy meeting, the Council provided residents with little information about the most pressing issue on many residents' minds: the status of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation into the recent incident involving City Manager Keith Severns and Chief Jackson of the Belle Isle Police Department. The Council engaged in a brief discussion of this incident at the request of Commissioners Nielsen and Readey, but did not address the question of an interim Council response to this incident.

While it is sensible for the Council to refrain from making any final judgments until the FDLE investigation is complete, many residents have inquired as to why the Council has not even considered temporarily suspending the individuals involved in this incident for the duration of the FDLE investigation. According to a number of residents, this would be the expected response in most other Florida municipalities.

However, the majority of our Belle Isle Commissioners appear to be against taking any Council action in response to this incident. In fact, Commissioner Shuck described his outrage at the Sun's reporting of this incident, yet did not even express mild disappointment at the individuals admittedly involved in the actual wrongdoing.

Although the Council did not provide any significant update regarding the status of the present FDLE investigation, I received the following information from Special Agent Danny Banks in charge of the FDLE Orlando Regional Operations Center:

"As with all our cases, FDLE will be choosing the lead agent for this investigation, and I am confident that our team will do a thorough, unbiased review of the facts surrounding the allegations. I am very proud of our agency’s reputation in fulfilling this role, and equally proud of our ability to provide accurate reports which document our investigative activities."

Special Agent Banks stated that he cannot comment further on this active investigation, but anticipates that the investigation "will be completed within a matter of weeks."

Apart from the ongoing FDLE investigation, the other major issue presently faced by our City is the creation and approval of our 2014-2015 City Budget. On Wednesday, the Council discussed an initial budget proposal made by City Manager Keith Severns. It appears from this discussion that the Council's focus in the upcoming City Budget will be the Capital Improvement Program - especially issues surrounding repaving our City's roadways. You can learn more about these repaving issues by reading Commissioner Nielsen's recent Sun article entitled "Everything You (N)ever Wanted To Know About Repaving."

Discussion of the 2014-2015 City Budget will continue at the upcoming City Council meeting scheduled for this Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. This is a change from the previous 5:30 p.m. meeting time, made pursuant to the recent City Council decision to change meeting times. From this date forward, regular Tuesday meetings will begin at 6:00 p.m. and Wednesday workshop meetings will begin at 9:00 a.m. Citizen comments will continue to be permitted at Tuesday meetings but not at Wednesday workshops.

The 2014-2015 City Budget must be approved by next month. Any residents who want to provide input regarding our City's infrastructure, budget, or any other topic should plan to attend the City Council meeting this Tuesday, August 5 at 6:00 p.m.

Everything You (N)ever Wanted To Know About Repaving

by Sue Nielsen

I recently asked David Morgan, Public Works Coordinator for the Roads and Drainage Division of the Orange County Government, for his assessment of our Belle Isle roadways. Mr. Morgan’s knowledge and expertise really helped me understand the condition and needs of our streets, and I want to share some of what I learned with the citizens and commissioners of the City of Belle Isle. 

First, the principal method of repairing streets used since the early 2000’s is a “mill and overlay” paving process. This process requires the damaged streets to be milled down 1½ inches. The streets are then resurfaced with a thick layer of asphalt known as a “super pave” mix. This mix must be put down at a depth of at least 1½” or reflective cracking will result. Streets resurfaced by this method will last an average of 15 years. The cost for this process is approximately $10/square yard, and it is considered the proper means for repairing roads with a good base.

However, in the 1980’s and 90’s, a cheaper method of restoring roads known as “microsurfacing” was popularized. Before applying the microsurfacing process, asphalt sealant is applied to repair cracks in the pavement. Then the road is then microsurfaced with a layer of asphalt 1/8 inch thick, or about the thickness of two pennies. Two sequential applications of this microsurfacing were recommended. The microsurfacing treatment was said to last 6-8 years, but the appearance deteriorates much sooner than that because the tiny bits of rock wash out, leaving the ugly sealant patches visible. The rock pieces cause problems by accumulating on or near the road, in drainage systems, and eventually in our lakes. 

Mr. Morgan calls the microsurfacing process a “bandaid.” The microsurfacing process should never be done more than once, as repeating this process after a few years is like putting another bandaid over the first one. One reason for the past popularity of microsurfacing was its cost of around $2/square yard. But even with its seemingly low cost, microsurfacing is today considered a poor value for the money. 

The good news is that Mr. Morgan believes that the roads in Belle Isle are generally solid with a good base. However, many need to be repaved, and some require more thorough evaluation. The standard for determining the condition of roads is called the Pavement Condition Index (PCI). Roads are assigned a PCI number within the range of 1-100, with 100 being the best. PCI ratings under 70 indicate the road will need to be repaired in the very near future. PCI ratings are very useful for government planning and scheduling of road maintenance. PCI values below 70 are described as poor, very poor, serious, or failed. In some parts of Belle Isle such as in Lake Conway Shores, the asphalt is only 3/8 inch thick. In cases like this, it is good practice to obtain core samples because to mill and overlay at 1½ inches will remove some of the base, and you want to be sure of the condition of the base before you begin. 

Mr. Morgan and I did not drive every road in the city, but it was apparent that many of our Belle Isle roads are in dire need of attention. The roads in Lake Conway Estates were assigned a PCI of 65-70, as were the streets in Windsor Place, where granite bits from the degrading paving have collected in the cul-de-sacs. Mr. Morgan could tell that Chiswick had been microsurfaced twice, using granite aggregate first from Nova Scotia and later from Georgia. He said that the streets in Lake Conway Estates are in good condition but that the valley gutters should have been repaired before paving. Lake Conway East streets differ from one another in condition, but Quando Drive has serious asthetic issues requiring attention. 

The Lakes and Landings streets are in good shape, but Trentwood Blvd was rated at PCI 60 (poor) due to high level cracking and broken ribbon curbing. Daetwyler is on the County schedule for repair in the near future, as are Seminole and Hoffner (which is a state-maintained road). 

Belle Isle Pines and Wind Harbor streets are in need of immediate attention, while those in Belle Isle West probably have another three years left.  In Wind Harbor and the Pines, the condition of the base needs to be checked as well. Horizon Court off Matchett is in “terrible” condition with a PCI of 30-40. Delia, Gibson, and Stockbridge are “on borrowed time” according to Mr. Morgan.

We did not have a chance to drive through the Pleasure Island and Oak Island area, but a quick tour at a later date revealed that those streets are also likely in need of attention.
Belle Isle has around 850,000 square yards of roadway that the City Council has charged our City Manager with maintaining. At $10/square yard, the cost to do them all at once would be over $8.5 million – more once you figure in the cost of repairs to our city’s gutters and curbing. 

But to maintain our property values, we must maintain our streets. For the last several years, the CIP has listed the streets of Daetwyler Shores, Wind Harbor, and the streets around Warren Park to be “resealed and resurfaced.” Some residents recall that the streets in Wind Harbor were last paved 30 years ago. 

I submit that our streets need more than “bandaids” that will leave ugly scars in 2-3 years. We need a Capital Improvement Plan that addresses the needs of the city. We need a well-reasoned, definite schedule for maintenance and improvement of our infrastructure. We cannot afford any longer to postpone the road maintenance that is already well past due.

Legal Note to City Commissioners:
According to the Florida Attorney General in Advisory Legal Opinion number AGO 2008-07, a City Commissioner may post an article or otherwise distribute written materials to other members of the City Council regarding city matters without raising any issues under the Florida Sunshine Law. However, City Commissioners should note that any responses to such an article or written material would run afoul of the Sunshine Law. Therefore, responses to the author of this article by other City Commissioners are NOT permitted.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wednesday Workshop - It's Time For Some Answers

Almost a month has gone by since it was reported in the Belle Isle Sun and on WFTV that City Manager Keith Severns directed Belle Isle Chief of Police Thomas Jackson to unarrest a suspect with personal ties to Mr. Severns.

Immediately after this revelation on July 3, Commissioner Lydia Pisano publicly stated that the Sergeant's signed report in this matter was somehow "innaccurate." Commissioner Pisano went on to state that the investigation into this incident would be underway the following week and that she would post the details of these supposed "inaccuracies" when they are available. You can find a complete record of Commissioner Pisano's statements below. Almost four weeks later, no new information or results have been made available by Commissioner Pisano or anyone else at City Hall.

On July 11, 2014, Commissioner Harvey Readey sent an open letter to the Mayor and City Council, requesting a special council session at the earliest opportunity to publicly discuss this issue. Unsurprisingly, Mayor Brooks and City Manager Keith Severns took no action to schedule the requested special session, or to even add this issue to the agenda for this week's workshop meeting.

But while it will be enlightening to learn more about the details of this incident, the basic facts are clear. It has already been admitted that City Manager Keith Severns made a phone call to Chief Jackson regarding an arrest in progress. In response, Chief Jackson made a phone call to the officer on duty requesting the release of the arrested suspect. The suspect was subsequently unarrested and released, despite specific Florida law requiring an arrest unless there are specific grounds, stated in writing, for not making the arrest.

The police report further indicates that this abuse and corruption may not be limited to a single recent incident. It is clear from the police report that the individual who called in this favor with Mr. Severns knew, with little question, that he would be able to get the arrest undone, either based his personal connection with Mr. Severns or because he had "poured too much money into this city for this to be happening." Furthermore, it appears from the police report that Chief Jackson knew to expect favors from "across the street" at City Hall in exchange for his compliance with Mr. Severns' request.

In addition to her above statements regarding alleged "inaccuracies" in the police report, Commissioner Lydia Pisano has also stated that Chief Jackson will be allowed to choose his own investigating agency in this matter. This statement has prompted concern amongst residents that the selected investigator may have personal or professional ties to Chief Jackson which would present a conflict of interest.

The identity of the lead investigator in this matter is presently unknown. However, the Florida Deparment of Law Enforcement has been contacted for further details regarding the identity of the investigator and the present status of the investigation.

The next City Council workshop meeting will take place this Wednesday, July 30 at 8:30 a.m. The primary item on the meeting agenda is the proposed 2014-2015 City Budget. But the issue of this recently-discovered corruption in our City will also be up for discussion at the option of any Commissioner. Residents have a right to know.

Lydia Pisano Discussing Belle Isle Corruption Incident

Workshop Meeting Agenda - July 30, 2014

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Corruption at BIPD and City Hall Revealed [UPDATE]

I recently obtained a copy of the police report linked below as a public record from the Belle Isle Police Department. The names and addresses of those involved are redacted as required under Florida law.

Belle Isle Police Department Incident Report (Case Number 14-600279)

This police report implicates City Manager Keith Severns pulling the strings behind the Belle Isle Police Department's actions to help his friends and business associates, detailing a clear example of the "favors for favors" mentality that has driven our City's leadership and finances behind the scenes for the past years.

This article will be updated as further details are obtained, but I would suggest reviewing the above police report in its entirety. You can also read more about this breaking story at Channel 9, linked below. A video report should air on Channel 9 this evening.

Did Belle Isle city leader pull strings to stop friend's son from being arrested (WFTV - Channel 9)

UPDATE: The full story will air at 6:00 p.m. tonight on WFTV Channel 9

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Workshop Meeting Tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

There is a City Council workshop meeting this Wednesday, June 25 at 8:30 a.m. You can find a copy of the meeting agenda linked below:

City Council Workshop Agenda - June 25, 2014

Next week, there will be a regular Council meeting on Tuesday, July 1 at 5:30 p.m. An agenda will be posted when available.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pine Castle Historical Society Book Signing Event This Sunday

On Sunday, June 22 at 2:00 p.m., the Pine Castle Historical Society will be hosting a book sale and signing event featuring Dr. Paul. W. Wehr, local historian and author of the newly-published book, Dateline Pine Castle, Stories of Orange County, 1870-1890, as reported by Will Wallace Harney. This event will take place at the Pine Castle Woman's Club, located at 5901 S. Orange Avenue.

The Pine Castle Historical Society is a new organization sponsored by the Pine Castle Woman’s Club. As you may know, the Pine Castle Woman’s Club is among a handful of cultural organizations in South Orange County. The Woman’s Club’s has been extensively involved in local historic preservation efforts throughout the years. The newly-developed Pine Castle Historical Society is a natural outgrowth of the Woman’s Club’s preservation efforts, but with an independent membership body and leadership structure.

The mission of the Historical Society is to preserve the history of Greater Pine Castle – including Belle Isle, Conway, Edgewood and Pine Castle – as well as South Orange County, primarily through the publication of local historical books and other historical documents. The Historical Society’s first publication, Dateline Pine Castle, Stories of Orange County, 1870-1890, as reported by Will Wallace Harney, authored by Dr. Paul W. Wehr, is now available for order. Two more historical books and an illustrated map of the Conway Lakes are also in the publication pipeline.

But the Pine Castle Historical Society is not just about preservation of our local history; it is also also about the preservation of our local community. Shared understanding and pride in our local history can bind our community together and help local businesses to grow and thrive.

The Pine Castle Historical Society is presently welcoming men and women of all ages, along with local businesses, to become charter members of the Pine Castle Historical Society. Please contact pinecastlehistory@gmail.com for more information about joining the Historical Society or purchasing the book.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Were You Charged Illegal Impact Fees?

Despite multiple attempts to get answers from City Hall, it is still unclear whether certain Belle Isle residents have been charged illegal impact fees over the past few years. The Sun's attempts to collect information about these impact fees date back over a year to April 24, 2013, when the following documents were requested:
  1. Any and all communications to or from any attorney or law firm paid by or retained by the City for any purpose from January 1, 2008 to the present.
  2. Any and all documents provided to or received from any attorney or law firm paid by or retained by the City for any purpose from January 1, 2008 to the present.
In response to this request, City Hall produced over 20 boxes of documents. A team of residents reviewed each of these boxes, but no recent attorney opinions regarding impact fees were discovered. So on April 14, 2014, a followup request asked for the following:
  1. Any and all letters, emails, legal opinions, and other communications or documents from City Attorney John Bennett regarding impact fees.
In response to the April 14, 2014, City Hall produced "a scanned legal file re: impact fees totaling 359 pages," and stated that this file completed City Hall's response to the April 14, 2014 records request. However, this impact fee legal file again failed to include the recent legal opinion regarding Belle Isle impact fees.

On May 5, 2014, City Hall responded to a third records request, which specifically sought a December 2010 letter from the City Attorney regarding impact fees. In response, a new document was produced by City Hall that was not provided with the 359 page impact fee file, nor in the numerous boxes of records reviewed in 2013.

The document finally produced by City Hall is a December 30, 2010 letter from City Attorney John Bennett to Commissioner Keith Severns (prior to Mr. Severns' resignation from the City Council so that he could be hired as City Manager). This three-page letter advised the City Council, Mayor and City Manager that our City Attorney has determined that "the impact fees passed by the City of Belle Isle are invalid."

This letter was sent to Commissioner Severns, copied to Mayor Brooks, and sent care of Belle Isle City Hall. Florida public records law requires that documents such as letter this be automatically recorded and preserved by our City government. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason that this legal opinion could or should have been omitted from City Hall's records, indicating that this specific document was withheld purposefully.

You can view copies of the records requests and the December 30, 2010 legal opinion linked below:

Records Requests for Impact Fee Letter

December 30, 2010 Letter re: Impact Fees

Since providing the December 30, 2010 legal opinion, City Hall has failed to respond to further requests for information about these impact fees. City officials provided no answers to questions regarding why the December 30, 2010 legal opinion was not produced with the attorney communications and impact fee files, nor any clue as to which Belle Isle residents are paying these invalid impact fees.

In fact, Mayor Brooks reminded all residents in attendance at the May 6 City Council meeting that while residents are welcome to make brief statements on the record at regular meetings, Belle Isle City officials will not answer resident questions in such a public setting. Similarly, there was no Council discussion of these impact fees at the May 28 workshop meeting nor were any answers provided in the recent Belle Isle Bulletin.

Have you been charged improper or illegal impact fees by the City of Belle Isle? Do you have any further information about these impact fees? If so, please contact the Belle Isle Sun at contact@belleislesun.org.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Orange County District 3 Community Meeting This Wednesday

An Orange County District 3 Community Meeting with Commissioner Pete Clarke will take place this Wednesday, June 18 at 6:00 p.m. Here's a copy of the meeting notice:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Review of Resolution 14-03

As you may be aware, Commissioner Nielsen presented proposed Resolution 14-03 at the May 6 City Council meeting. The purpose of this proposed resolution was to present to the City Council the many reasons why it is time for our City to move on to a new City Manager.

The process for termination of our City Manager is spelled out in the City Charter. It must be presented as a proposed resolution to Council. It must list the specific reasons for the proposed termination. If such a resolution is passed, the City Manager is suspended pending a public hearing upon the City Manager's request. You can read more about the process in the below presentation documents.

Commissioner Nielsen presented to the Council six reasons for terminating our present City Manager, each supported with documentation and audio recordings. She informed the Council that it did not have to agree on all of the reasons - any one of these six reasons, which include numerous violations of our City's rules and Charter, could justify the resolution all by itself.

Below, you will find copies of all the information presented to the Council regarding proposed Resolution 14-03. It includes a PowerPoint presentation (both in PowerPoint and PDF formats) as well as a supplement booklet containing the original documents referenced in the presentation. The audio recordings are integrated into the PowerPoint presentation, or you can download them separately below.

Presentation (PowerPoint) - click the audio icons to play the recordings linked on last page of each transcript (if you don't have PowerPoint, just download the PDF below)

Presentation (PDF) - audio recordings can be accessed separately below

Audio Recording (November 5, 2013 - Severns/Readey)

Audio Recording (April 1, 2014 - Nielsen/Auditor)

Audio Recording (April 30, 2014 - Severns)

Supplemental Documents (PDF) - use PDF bookmarks to navigate sections corresponding to each numbered paragraph in the resolution

Following the presentation, Commissioner Readey presented his own evidence in support of the proposed resolution. Later, Commissioner Gold questioned the legality of continuing to employ Mr. Severns as City Manager despite apparent conflict with our City Charter and the minimum job qualifications enacted by the City. In response, Commissioner Gold was informed by City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher and Mayor Brooks that he was not obligated to follow the City Charter or minimum job qualifications in this matter because they were unclear or just "guidelines."

The other Council members appeared unconcerned about the numerous Charter violations and the fact that Mr. Severns does not meet any of the substantive requirements for employment as Belle Isle City Manager. Furthermore, no one on the Council besides Commissioners Nielsen and Readey expressed any concern about the financial misinformation that has been provided by Mr. Severns.

It may be that the remaining commissioners simply do not understand the seriousness of this error. The City Manager is tasked with some large responsibilities under our City Charter, including keeping the Council informed about the City's financial position. The City Manager must provide an accurate financial picture to the City Council because such information provides the basis for the Council's financial decisions.

Mr. Severns has regularly informed Council that the City has well over $1 million in unrestricted cash reserve funds, meaning cash funds available to the City after spending everything allocated in the budget, including the entire $532,000 allocated for vital capital improvement projects this year, such as road maintenance. See and hear Mr. Severns' responses to Commissioner Readey's questions on November 11 in the presentation documents above.

On April 1, it was proven by the CAFR and the auditor's presentation that Mr. Severns' prior statements to Council about our City reserves were wrong. It was revealed that our City would only have the reserve funds stated by Mr. Severns if the City forgoes the half million dollars in capital improvement projects planned for this year. This led to Mr. Severns' April 30 statement to Council that our City suddenly "can’t afford to spend a dime on the infrastructure." You can read and listen to his entire statement in the presentation documents above.

This massive financial error from someone tasked under the Charter to "keep the council fully advised as to the financial condition and future needs of the city" was not rebutted by Mr. Severns or the Council. To date, Mr. Severns has not provided the Council with any explanation or apology for this error.

This error highlights the need for the Council to follow our City's hiring requirements when choosing City employees, especially the minimum job requirements. These requirements were enacted by the City for good reasons. A City Manager meeting our City's minimum requirements would be guaranteed to have the training and experience to present accurate financial information to the Council.

Following the Council's discussion about the proposed resolution, Mr. Severns responded to some of the issues raised in the presentation. He related the story of becoming friends with Mayor Brooks while on the Council, after which he was invited to resign from the City Council so that he could become our new City Manager. Mr. Severns stated that he was the only choice left after the Council was unable to locate a single qualified candidate out of dozens and dozens of applicants.

Although Mr. Severns and at least one Commissioner spoke at length about the time Mr. Severns "volunteered" to serve the City without pay, both omitted the fact that Mr. Severns and the Council originally intended to pay his $150,000+ salary from day one. This plan only changed after Commissioner Readey alerted residents of the Council's intention to breach the City Charter in an article published in the Conway News. The Council's discussion also completely omitted the fact that Keith Severns was earning money from no-bid contracts awarded to his construction company, KNS Construction, during this supposed "volunteer" period.

Mr. Severns discussed the allegation that he has not been obtaining competitive bids on City purchases over $10,000, as required by law. I have been requesting records of these bids for over year via public records requests, yet I have not received a single bidding document in response to my requests. You can see these requests in the presentation documents above, along with Commissioner Nielsen's unfilled requests for similar documents.

While discussing the missing bids, Mr. Severns held a stack of papers that were never shown or distributed to Council while claiming to have documentation of each and every bid required. If this is true, then there is no explanation for the City failing to produce these documents over the past year as required under the Sunshine Law. Regardless, Mayor Brooks ordered Mr. Severns to produce these bidding records immediately. But over a week later, I still have not received anything from the City regarding my request for bids.

Some locals involved with the Pioneer Days Committee attended the meeting to express their disappointment at the fact that Mr. Severns had still not issued the check to Pioneer Days which he was directed to issue by the Council all the way back on February 4. In response to Committee members' claims that Mr. Severns would not return calls regarding this check, Mr. Severns repeatedly stated that he had not received a single call about the Pioneer Days check.

However, in emails from Commissioner Pisano to the Pioneer Days Committee, Commissioner Pisano stated that she had called Mr. Severns about the check and he had not responded to her inquiries. On April 29 she wrote that "No. He didn't answer me back. Let me call him." A week later on May 6, Commissioner Pisano still had not received a reply from Mr. Severns regarding the unissued Pioneer Days check.

After the presentation by Mr. Severns, the Council voted on proposed Resolution 14-03. Some Commissioners indicated that they would have liked more time to review the resolution before voting. This could have easily been accomplished through a motion to table the resolution until the next meeting while they explored the evidence. No Commissioner made such a motion, so the proposed resolution went to a vote.

Commissioners Readey and Nielsen voted in favor of the resolution. Commissioners Pisano, Ady, Shuck, Gold and Van Dyke voted against. After the meeting, Mayor Brooks expressed his appreciation to Commissioner Nielsen for her professionalism in presenting this proposed resolution.

Later, Commissioner Gold expressed his preference that this review process be conducted in private, as would be done in a private company. However, one of the biggest concerns raised by residents during the last election was how much City business goes on behind closed doors. Furthermore, it is important to remember that this process cannot be conducted in private. It is a decision that must be made by the Council, and any Council discussion of these issues outside of a public meeting would be illegal.

To the many residents who have expressed disappointed about the outcome of this vote, I'd like to remind you that change is often a slow process. But we have another election coming up soon enough, with Commissioners Pisano and Readey up for election at the beginning of next year.

But before that, there is a lot to do in our City. Commissioner Pisano has discussed a number of specific changes that are important to residents, including a change in Council meeting times sought by so many residents but repeatedly opposed by Mayor Brooks. Although Commissioner Pisano has brought these issues up for discussion over the course of the last two months, she has yet to present an actual resolution on any of these issues for Council vote.

Thorough discussion of ideas is important. Presenting a proposed resolution ensures that Council discussion stays focused on the idea up for vote. Without a specific resolution on the table, Council discussion often devolves into "wish lists" that accomplish little more than filling out our City's meeting minutes. Hopefully, we will continue to see our commissioners proposing and discussing specific resolutions that address the small and large changes residents want to see in Belle Isle.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Financial State, Part 3 - Confirmations and Corrections

You may have noticed that we have been having some technical difficulties here at the Sun due to an unexpected growth in readership. Linked documents are in the process of being transferred to a new hosting service capable of handling this additional traffic. Needless to say, this has put us a bit behind schedule on publishing new articles, as well as implementing a new commenting system.

I know many of you were expecting to learn more about Resolution 14-03, presented for Council consideration at the May 6 meeting. That information is forthcoming, but first there are a few remaining details about our City's finances that need to be addressed.

After the May 6 City Council meeting, I had an opportunity to speak with Tracey Richardson, our City's finance manager. Despite needing to get home to her kids, Ms. Richardson was more than willing to take time to speak with me about the conclusions drawn in the previous "Financial State of Belle Isle" series of articles.

Belle Isle's Emergency Reserve Fund Balance

So what is our City's true emergency reserve fund balance? The previous Financial State article concluded that we must deduct the overdue impact fees to Orange County from the unassigned fund balance to determine this number. These unpaid impact fees total over a half million dollars.

However, I learned that despite not being specifically listed as a liability in the CAFR, these impact fees are already deducted as a general liability, eliminating the need to again deduct these unpaid impact fees from our City's unassigned general revenue fund. So after deducting non-spendable funds and the funds assigned to be spent over the next four months, $543,735 in unassigned funds remain. This amount is verified on page 13 of the 2013 CAFR and by the Auditor's presentation at the April 1 meeting.

Although $543,735 is higher than the amount concluded in the prior article, it is nowhere near the $1.2 to $1.3 million in unassigned cash reserves reported by Mr. Severns at the November 5, 2013 meeting. (Transcript linked below.) Which explains the auditor's April 1 statement that "you really don't have a million dollars of unassigned revenue. It's only half that amount."

November 5, 2013 Meeting Transcript re: Unassigned Reserves

Can Our City Create Financial Statements?

I discussed a number of questions regarding monthly financial statements with Ms. Richardson. She explained that the "Revenue and Expenditures" statements that the City recently began publishing are the monthly statements that were previously requested by the Council. She explained that these revenue and expenditures statements are the standard form of monthly reporting. If the Council wanted anything further, they would basically be requesting a monthly form of the CAFR, which would not be practical for our City to produce monthly.

As you may recall, one of the "significant deficiencies" described in the 2013 CAFR is that "The City of Belle Isle, Florida does not have controls over preparation of the financial statements which would prevent or detect a misstatement in the financial statements." Although the auditors' wording in the CAFR appear to imply that Belle Isle has no one on staff capable of preparing these monthly financial statements without additional training, Ms. Richardson clarified in no uncertain terms that she currently has the training and experience to create the monthly finance statements required for the CAFR. The only impediment to her producing these monthly statements has been her heavy workload at the City.

I did not ask about the City's plans or timetable for implementing the its stated goal of preparing these financial statements in-house, but I will follow up on this question at a later date.

Although I can't evaluate the accuracy of Ms. Richardson's statements, she gave me the clear impression that she was being straightforward. She offered an open door regarding any financial questions about the City that might come up in the future. Since Mr. Severns has still not offered a single explanation for the statements he made to Council on November 5, it may be prudent to direct any future financial questions to Ms. Richardson, who seems more than willing to openly discuss our City's real financial picture.

A Full and Open Hiring Process

One other point of discussion with Ms. Richardson was the issue of how she was hired. Ms. Richardson was understandably frustrated that people have recently been questioning her qualifications despite the fact that she is fully-qualified for her job. I explained that residents have no way of evaluating whether our City has hired the most qualified candidate for a position when the City does not perform full and open hiring processes.

Ms. Richardson did not debate my assertion that full and open hiring processes would produce more confidence from residents, but she also correctly noted that she was the person hired, not the person doing the hiring.

But while the circumstances of her hiring certainly should not be held against Ms. Richardson, this issue highlights why we need more open and transparent City hiring processes in which multiple qualified candidates are selected and interviewed without regard to their connections with City personnel and their colleagues.

What Does the CAFR Really Audit?

In Financial State, Part 2, I noted that after the financial presentation, the auditor acknowledged to Commissioner Nielsen that a different, more extensive type of audit would be required in order to truly verify the financial state of Belle Isle.

I distilled this information from a longer conversation, in which Commissioner Nielsen asked the auditor whether the audit performed for the CAFR was the type of audit where every transaction is checked between the City's accounting records and the actual bank transactions, invoices, contracts and other financial records. The auditor informed Commissioner Nielsen that the audit performed for the CAFR would not examine every such City financial record, but that the City could request a more extensive audit for this purpose.

Auditor Kelly Leary from the accounting firm McDirmit Davis, LLC offered a formal response to this statement about the depth of the audit performed for the CAFR, concluding that "Commissioner Nielsen has definitely distorted many things." I would expect a professional firm like McDirmit Davis to have a clear basis before making such a statement about one of its clients, but Ms. Leary appears to offer little in this regard. Here is Ms. Leary's statement in its entirety so you can judge for yourself:

"Commissioner Nielsen has definitely distorted many things. I told her that we did perform the type of audit required by the Auditor General but if the Commission wanted a 'fraud' audit or other specific agreed-upon procedures performed, we could do that as a separate engagement. I never said that a 'more extensive audit would be required in order to truly verify the financial state of Belle Isle.'"

Ms. Leary's statement seems to support and expand upon the conclusion that a deeper audit is needed if we want to truly verify our City's financial state. Her statement even gives a name to the more extensive type of audit our Council could request, calling it a "fraud" audit.

Neither Commissioner Nielsen, nor the Sun, has ever questioned whether McDirmit Davis provided the services they were contracted to provide and that they were required to provide by law. The only question addressed has been whether our City should consider contracting for a deeper type of audit - exactly the topic Commissioner Nielsen and Ms. Leary discussed at the April 1 meeting.

All statements made by the City and the auditor appear to support the conclusion that our Council would need to request a more extensive "forensic" or "fraud" type of audit if we wanted an auditor to review each and every City transaction to ensure the accuracy of our City's accounting records. This review is vital if there is any doubt about the accuracy of these records, because they form the basis for the CAFR.

A forensic audit is fully within the purview of the Council pursuant to the City Charter, Section 3.18, which gives the Council control over City audits, including the type of audit, frequency of auditing, and the identity of the auditing firm.

A Final Suggestion

As described above, the City has begun publishing regular revenue and expenditure reports. However, the great majority of our City's Commissioners and residents, including myself, do not have the financial expertise to be able to glean any useful information from those reports.

One solution would be to require brief oral financial status reports from our City's finance manager and/or city manager at each Council meeting. These reports could include all revenues and expenditures over a certain dollar figure, including bids requested and received on all expenses over $10,000, as are required by our City Charter.

These monthly reports would ensure that Commissioners and residents always have accurate, comprehensible, and up-to-date information about our City's financial state, while also guarding against misunderstandings and unanswered questions. Furthermore, this would allow our City to return to its procedure from prior to the appointment of Keith Severns as City Manager, in which the Council reviewed and approved bids on all large purchases before such expenditures were authorized.