Saturday, June 10, 2006

City Staffing Crisis

So much to say and so little time. I hope to add some more entries this weekend. I'd like to talk about the past Commission meeting and the Sunset Drive land use and zoning change, the market study for Dixie Hwy. commissioned by the CRA and our last Planning and Zoning meeting. Stay tuned for those.

But the most urgent item and one that we, as a community, should bring up at the Commission's visioning session scheduled for June 17th at the Osborne Community Center is the lack of an appropriate number of City staff to carry out important and critical municipal functions. We all heard about the lifeguard "walk-out" a couple of weeks ago - and the City inexplicably left the beach open - but this spreads through out all the departments. This is a regional problem that relates to the inequity in the salary ranges offered by the City in relation to other municipalities and in relation to the cost of living in Palm Beach County and South Florida in general.

This topic came up at the last Planning, Zoning and Historic Resources Preservation Board meeting (6/7) as it applies to the Community Development Department staffing levels and current vacancies. Here is the irony: The City is spending close to $1 million on a new master plan for the City, which will include major revisions to the City's Comprehensive Plan (and the associated and required Evaluation and Appraisal Report due this year) and development of a coherent set of Land Development Regulations (Zoning Code) that will guide the City's development from here on out. Each of these documents will be reflective of the citizen input solicited through many public workshops and design sessions with the consultants over the past year.

Now, why are we in a position where we have to pay almost $1 million to an outside consultant to up-date and revise our planning and zoning foundation of the City? It is due to the fact that changes and up-dates to our Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code have done in a reactive way without the proper staffing level over time to accomplish these updates over time. These should have been consistently been performed over the past twenty years or so, but have been relegated to the "back burner" since staff was always reacting to the latest crisis or the next development project. There have been no "comprehensive planners" working on the City staff ever - that is right, a City of almost 40,000 or more (depending on who is counting) has never had someone just doing up dates to the Comp Plan or to the Zoning Code.

O.K., so say next year we will have these documents in place. Each of these will be state-of-the-art land planning documents reflecting citizen opinion on the physical development of the City. So, who is going to be administering these documents. Right now, our Community Development Department staff includes one director, one urban designer, an intern, a vacant "planner" position and a vacant secretary position.

Just how dire is the situation now? Due to the lack of a secretary, our meetings have been recorded onto a CD as a record of each meeting. However, as of today, the last set of minutes available from the City's website is from October 19, 2005!! The heading "2006 Planning & Zoning Board Minutes" is empty! This is the main source of public information of what we do at each of our two-a-month, sometimes more, meetings and there is nothing available unless you wish to get a CD from the City Clerk's office, which is what some do I understand. This is just "unacceptable" given the high expectations that the citizens have for "open government" and the importance that we give to planning the future development of the City. I hope to, as time provides, help to fill in the blanks through this blog, but the ultimate responsibility for this should be through the daily activities of a properly funded City staff - not to be done by citizens on a volunteer basis. So the City is currently unable to do its job in communicating to the public the actions of one of the most important Boards in terms of actual impact to the citizenry. Argh!

And this is just one of the areas where the City cannot perform a basic function related to the regulation of development within the City. I maintain, and have said this publicly many times, that a City of our size and with the development interest we have, are and will continue to experience - we need at least two full time professional positions that handle "current" planning and zoning issues - applications that come through the door. We need two full time professional positions that handle "comprehensive" planning and zoning issues - up-dates to the Comprehensive Plan, changes to Future Land Use Plan designations and changes to the Land Development Regulations. I am convinced that if we had these positions, we would keep them busy all the time and, more importantly, not have to rely on consultants. And, we should also maintain our Urban designer position and our Director. Our Director currently is doing everything as it relates to processing development applications. If freed of these duties by a support staff, that person could be doing things that a Director should be doing - informing the City commission regarding current Planning and Zoning activities and Board actions and projects, attending regional planning meetings/County planning meetings, smoothing out problems with the development review process, responding to citizen's questions and inquiries, etc., etc.

We are no where close to that now. We have a system that is really set up to fail due to the inappropriate staffing levels and the inherent problem of things "falling through the cracks". This is not a reflection of the competency of our current staff - it is a reflection that the focus is only on getting out the reports for the next meeting and putting out fires.

This cannot continue of we are really going to emerge as the New and Improved Lake Worth we would all like to experience.

The preceding is just the situation within an area with which I am intimately familiar. Similar issues are found throughout the City departments - some which may have life safety (lifeguard issues, police, fire) implications.

We all need to come to grips with this and find a way to solve this crisis. Your comments on this are encouraged!

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