Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Report from last night...

I found my way to the Commission Chambers last night after a meeting that went longer than expected.  I walked in the door around 8:30 p.m. and left around 10 p.m.

There were few people in the room - probably less than 10 in the audience.  I ended up sitting on the pew that runs along the western wall.  I attempted, as best I could, to appear civil and non-threatening.  I wore simple and sensible shoes - all black without any shiny parts.  My blue jeans were humble, sincere and generally clean.  The blue dress shirt was worn un-tucked to project humility and to hide my figure flaws.  Besides being a white male and therefore having come from "privilege", I tried NOT to broadcast that since white males typically rely on hierarchical authority structures,  I came only as a simple citizen - having no appointed role in the administration of the city other than through the occasional act of voting and eking out words on this blog- and left that same humble way.  Of course, you can't control how people perceive your presence, but I would be surprised if anyone on the dais thought that my being there was either "mean" or "insulting." Perhaps I should have walked backwards into and out of the room to emphasize my passivity - perhaps bowing on the way out the door, but besides that, I would do nothing differently.  I could do nothing about my six foot five inch height unless I crawled on my hands and knees.  Maybe next time for that.

While there, the City Commission was finishing up discussion on the amendments to the FY 2010-11 budget.  During the process, Commissioner Maxwell asked a question about how one would go about finding the actually budget reference line item where these amounts that are being changed come from.  It turns out that Steve Carr explained that this is not a simple process as the changes come from different line items in each department budget and it would be difficult to label all the sources of these changes.  Commissioner Maxwell was looking for someway that he could check to make sure that the changes being contemplated last night would actually be made.  That's when it dawned on me...wouldn't this be a role for an Internal Auditor that would be under the employ of the City Commission?  The one that is required by the City's Charter and Code of Ordinances that the City Commission chooses not to fund since they don't think it is required due to bad advice provided by the City Attorney hired by the Commission.

They then went on to an item added to the agenda suggested by Commissioner Mulvehill about items that would be included on future consent agendas.  What amazed me was that, with the exception of Commissioner Mulvehill, no one on the Commission seemed to sense the importance of the public to comment on items on the consent agenda.  In most other municipalities and Palm Beach County, if the public submits a comment card on a consent agenda item, the item is either pulled for full board/commission discussion and/or public comment is allowed.  It is not at the discretion of the board or commission.  The discussion at the City Commission centered more about "well, it's o.k. if we've approved it already in the budget, if we have talked about it at a work session..." - it seemed that it was all about THEM - and not the need of the public to know.  I'm not sure if anything was really concluded other than finding a way to indicate that one of the five can identify in advance of agenda publication.  One might question about adherence to the Sunshine Law and the fact that the City Manager can act as a conduit of information - which is not legal, but that wasn't a concern apparently.

Back to the budget discussion, they talked about the multi-million seven year contracts the city has with Microsoft for various software packages.  The Mayor brought up the possibility of going to "open source" software and save a significant amount of money over time as these expire.  This has a lot of merit.  I know that the municipal government of Washington, D.C. uses Google documents - an Internet or "cloud" platform - exclusively.  There are a lot of YouTube videos about it - I'll sift out the best of them - perhaps they can shed some light on the issue.

There was another item pulled by Commissioner McVoy related to the purchasing of electric meters.  He wanted to include some purchase of smart meters, at least a few, so that the city could get a start on the ability to provide feedback for customers on real time electrical use.  Rebecca Mattey responded that these meters are purchased as entire systems and differ in their capabilities.  What would be needed is further discussion in a work session where alternatives could be presented.  What she did reveal is that 17,000 of the city's electric meters are more than 20 years old - someone confirm that number, it seems high to me based upon the size of Lake Worth's electric service area.  Over time, meters tend to slow down and those meters may only account for up to half of the actual electricity used by the customer.  So - there must be a wide variety in the metering of electricity throughout the city which should not come as a surprise to anyone.  However, I have heard of one instance that when a new meter was installed, a homeowner's monthly bill decreased substantially.  Perhaps it is not universally true that old meters slow down.  Anyway, something to think about.

I left before Commissioner Comments.