Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Special City Commission Meeting 5/24

What a day this was for me! It had been a busy week with work and Wednesday afternoon I chaired the Land Development Regulation Advisory Board (LDRAB) meeting. I really wanted to attend the special City Commission meeting that was called to discuss:

A. Discuss Legislative Duties and Accountability

B. Discuss amending the Commission's Rules and Procedures

Well, I got out of the LDRAB meeting, had to run a quick errand in the opposite direction and ended up in Lake Worth around 4:30 p.m. The first person I saw outside City Hall looked like she had seen a ghost - staring blankly into space, cigarette slowly burning down around her fingertips. I asked her how bad it was - the meeting, that is. She said it was "pretty bad" and she gestured towards her neck in sort of a hangman's way. Then she told me that Commissioner Vespo had all but mentioned my name during his "tirade" on the City Manager.

This came under the topic of department heads not living within the City and how the policy/ordinance was not being adhered to. He referred to the Community Development Director and how another very viable candidate that lived in the City was passed over for someone who lived out of town. And then, so no one would have any doubt who he was talking about, he said that the person who was passed over was now Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board. All that is true, but it is important to know some of the additional details – and why not here and now?

I submitted an application to the City soon after Ed Breese left the City (early retirement -
don't get me started on that). Wendy Newmeyer, the City's former City Manager was just leaving too - at almost the same time. She had wanted to hire me right away after Ed Breese left, but I said that it would be important for me if I was going to "lead" that I really needed to be hired my the new City Manager. Paul Boyer came on as manager and one of the first work items for him were to fill the various department head positions and senior staff that had taken the early retirement plan.

I hadn't heard anything for a while and I started to inquire. Come to find out, they were about to re-advertise the Community Development Director's position due to a "lack of qualified candidates".

I'll let you ponder that one for a while.

Apparently, my application package had been lost between personnel and City Hall. I guess it was finally found. (One wonders sometimes, doesn’t one?).

So, I get a call for an interview and during the interview Mr. Boyer said that he was ready to offer the position to me. I paused and said, "You know...I just don't like the appearance of this. Here I am, Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board - the only one that would have been interviewed and the only "qualified" candidate." I told him that he could make his own decision, but that if I was going to "lead", I would need to be on a firm foundation and that I would like to pulled for a pool of eligible and from other qualified candidates. And, most importantly, I want someone in that position that is the best for the City of Lake Worth. If that was me, fine - if not, at least we got the best one and I would have an opportunity to work with him/her in making the City a better place. The position was re-advertised and they eventually interviewed three candidates (if memory serves), one of them being Sharon Jackson.

We all know how this story ends and I am not one bit sorry. My ten year stint was coming to an end with DJT and I was thinking about going into business for myself anyway. That has turn
ed out to be one of the best decisions of my life! And, one of the considerations was that if I were to be paid City staff, then my political opportunities with the City were extinguished.

It really is funny how it ended up with Sharon Jackson interviewing and taking the position. Sharon and I worked together - in the same department and sometimes on the same stuff - when I was with the City of West Palm Beach- something that seems like years and years ago (maybe because it is).

Anyway, back to the commission meeting. I get in the building and everyone's faces looked drawn, sour and somber. It was during public comment on Commissioner Vespo's motion "to terminate the City Manager's contract without cause..."

Much of public comment revolved around the need for continuity and the feeling tha
t no one really was at the helm. Much was also made of the news that Mr. Boyer has applied for an open City Manager position in the Town of Stuart. The "train going down the track" analogy was used quite often - but then Mr. Boyer later pointed out that there has to be a "track" going in some "direction" for the train to work. The question was asked, by more than one resident, that if the action happened, he didn’t see the City having a “Plan B” or really an idea of where we were all headed, especially with an administrative leadership vacuum.

I eventually took a seat in the back row - had been in the hall. The vote was taken and it was 3-2, with Commissioner Lowe and Commissioner Vespo voting for the termination and Commissioners Burns, Jennings and Mayor Drautz voting against.

Then Commissioner Lowe made a plea for accountability - to which Mr. Boyer asked how they (staff) could be accountable if they didn't know for what he and the staff, department heads, are to accountable. There was general agreement that the Commission needed to conduct a visioning exercise in the very near future. There is just such a communication/action gap between the City Commission and the City Manager. This apparently also involves phone calls going un-returned from the City Manager to some members of the Commission.

The next item of business concerned the order of items on the agenda – particularly focusing on the appropriate place for public presentation. Discussion, and the eventual motion, called for the re-ordering of the agenda so that public comment for non-agendaed items would come later in the agenda (as shown below).


There was also discussion and eventual approval of a “card system” for public comment. This is the way many other municipalities conduct public comment portions of an agenda. It is a good verifiable way to identify people speaking and their place of residence, as well as registering their position, for or against, the item being considered. It also allows those might be hesitant to speak in public to record their comments in writing, to be read into the record by the Clerk or the person running the meeting. Concern was expressed about timing of submittal of the cards (the Commission settled on the need for them to be submitted before the subject agenda item) and whether or not it would stifle public comment or create an “un-friendly barrier” for public participation.

It just so happened that a stack of the cards used at the some of our Planning and Zoning Board meetings were in the plastic box on the back wall. I handed the yellow card to Commissioner Vespo so that he could pass it amongst the other Commissioners. I told them it is not something we use all the time, but when we “pack the house” it is handy to maintain order and that with the items the Commission has been dealing with and the amount of public comment associated with them, it was a good idea to use a “card system”.

Wow, that was a longer entry than I expected. Hope you all are still awake!

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"