Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The City Commission Work Session on Tuesday, April 11th: Code enforcement, business licenses, and board appointments.

Below are very important topics that went unaddressed on this blog last week, the issue of our City volunteer boards, board appointments, and one issue in particular that will be a “hot button topic” for a long time: the “C-51 Advisory Board”. More on that later in this blog post.

Use this link to watch the entire YouTube video of that Commission Work Session. For the agenda, and to download the back-up material and PowerPoints, use this link.

I watched portions of this Work Session on YouTube. About 20 minutes into the meeting discussion centered on the nuisance abatement process. The trigger for this sort of code enforcement action that a “Property is subject to three (3) or more incidents of drug sales, prostitution or gang related activities as documented by PBSO”, and “PBSO requests Declaration of Nuisance property to the Special Magistrate.”

Eventually, this can lead to fines and actions taken against the owner of the property by the City in order to curtail the activity causing the nuisance. The discussion turned upon the distinction between a “call for service” and the actual reporting of an “incident”. There can be “calls for service” to a property, but if the activity is not going on at the time PBSO arrives at the property, little can be done. Officers have to see those activities going on at the time it’s happening to document everything.

Many times this involves undercover work over a period of time, and other methods as well, to assemble enough evidence to present to the Special Magistrate. There is a flow chart showing this process in a PowerPoint slide (page 15 of the agenda).

Commissioner Omari Hardy brought up a scenario he heard has played out in other communities as it relates to crime and violent incidents (e.g., domestic) which, according to William Waters (Dir. of Community Sustainability), can fall into this “nuisance” category if they are frequent enough. Hardy was concerned this may create a disincentive for someone who may withhold reporting incidents due to possible activities of other residents in the home, the landlord, property owner, etc.

Such a situation could lead to eviction or other unforeseen consequences. This is a keen observation and one which appears the Commission will be discussing in the future.

Commissioner Andy Amoroso also raised the issue of calls for service and what number or frequency of them should be the trigger for action by the City. Mr. Waters responded there can be calls of a nuisance nature coming from another nearby property that may not have merit. The problem in many cases are individuals repeatedly calling in complaints, not always at a property or location from which the alleged complaint is occurring.

Waters said a call for service does not count towards determining whether a nuisance is actually happening or not. A Code Officer has to see illegal activity going on at the time in order to document it.

Later on in the meeting, the Commission turned its attention to City volunteer advisory boards, the appointment process, and the possible “sunset” (shutting a board down) of boards that repeatedly fail to meet quorum requirements, where more than half of those appointed members need to attend the meeting to proceed. If there is no quorum the board cannot take any action. This happened repeatedly with the Sister City Board, documented many times before on this blog.

Also discussed was the situation where boards do not have a clear vision or direction from the City Commission. This is a disincentive for almost everyone: the members are unsure of their goals, City residents become confused with the process, and the electeds and staff are left to try and make sense of everything.

One such board was the subject of lively and contentious debate, the recently created “C-51 Canal Advisory Board”, a board created for one single issue affecting a very small group of property owners along the canal — vis-à-vis the Blueway Trail Project — whilst there are already boards and processes in place to deal with citizen concerns and questions.

This was an issue that should never have become one at all, some commissioners suggested: 1) The C-51 Canal is outside the jurisdiction of the City, 2) Questioning the process of creating a new board, and 3) Why those concerned citizens have not attended public meetings or reached out to the entire Commission to express their concerns. Beside these 3 questions there were others, such as how this process is viewed through the lens of politics and public perception.

The Commission also talked about the length of time, spanning anywhere from 30–60 days, in order to make appointments to boards when there is a vacancy. Since this was a Work Session and not a Regular Commission meeting, no action was taken, but the staff, City manager, and the Citys attorney took many notes and asked a lot of questions to seek the direction going forward.

In conclusion: expect major revisions to the volunteer advisory board appointment process, possible “sunset” provisions for boards, much discussion and debate, and many changes to this process on a future Regular Commission agenda some time soon.

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