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.

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