Thursday, November 24, 2011

The relationship between staff, advisory boards and the City Commission...

There is an interesting discussion happening in a FaceBook group called "Lake Worth Voice" about how or how not work by advisory boards is used in the decision making process - usually culminating in action taken by the City Commission.  There are many instances where recommendations made by an advisory board are not adequately communicated to the City Commission and the public.

In her City Manager's report of 11/23, Stanton points out that the Finance Advisory Board (FAB) met and reviewed the proposed leases and closing times for the casino building and came up with a 2 a.m. recommendation.  This was never discussed at last Monday's Commission meeting as the dais was flailing around trying to come to some conclusion on the issue, which seemed hard to come by.  The FAB had their meeting on November 10th which would give plenty of time to include information in written form to the City Commission.  Likewise, the Library Board did not have an opportunity to meet or comment on the proposal to use various trust funds to cover operating expenses.  These are only two recent examples.

This is a systemic problem here and it fosters a feeling of being disconnected from the process and the community - the one that you were chosen by the City Commission to serve.  In the ideal system, staff brings forward information and many times carries a recommendation.  That recommendation is usually based on their close observation of the subject matter by being exposed to it for over 40 hours a week.  It also represents their skills, education and experience related to the subject matter.  It is the reason they are hired to work for the city in the first place.  Their point of view is different from that of the appointed, volunteer advisory board.  Board members live in the community they serve and know what life in the community is like outside of city hall.  They may have an interest or background in the subject matter or not.  Regardless, their input is important since it provides another perspective, brings real world concerns to the fore and may be counter to the professional view of the staff person.  They may agree with recommendations made by staff or they may not - and they may have their own recommendation.  Also, during their advertised public meeting as an advisory board, they have the advantage of general public input by people who attend their meetings - which adds to their knowledge base and is a good test of how the decision will be interpreted and felt by the public, if implemented.

My point here is that the staff recommendation and the recommendation of the advisory can be the same or different.  But both deserve to be presented independently to the ultimate decision making  body - the City Commission.  They might side on one side or the other - or come up with a completely new way to address the issue based upon public comment that they receive at their public meetings.

So, let's say we go back to the transmittal memo for Monday night's meeting on the beach and casino project.  That memorandum should have included the staff recommendation - which it did - along with a section related to the review of the relevant part of the matter by the Finance Advisory Board.  This could be repeated throughout the city's board structure and how things are presented to the City Commission.  Right now, it is haphazard at best and many times if staff doesn't agree with the recommendation from an advisory board, it is not mentioned at all.  It is o.k. to disagree with staff!  The ultimate decision makers also need to see ALL of the information the matter carries with it as it went through the process.  Also, if the matter hasn't been seen by the advisory board which is designed to address the subject matter, it should never make it to the City Commission until it has.

Adhering to this policy in Lake Worth would be revolutionary.