A couple items from the Jan 17 City Commission meeting:
First was the decision to help fund the move and restoration of the two historic buildings (Crocker Church and Bidwell-Wood House) on the CityPointe property. This was a decision applauded by those of us that believe preservation of our local history is important.
The second item was very disturbing. This was a discussion concerning a possible Commission policy on rescinding previous decisions. The commissioners had asked the City Attorney to prepare a possible policy to determine whether there should be some control on rescinding certain decisions made previously by the Commission.
This was an issue primarily because of a recent quasi-judicial hearing in which the commission voted 3-2 to turn down a request by a developer to vacate a street. Following this decision, the developer went to work on those commissioners that voted against his proposal.
The developer was able to get 2 commissioners to reverse their votes. Thus the original decision was rescinded and a new vote was taken that approved the proposal.
The significance here is that many citizens testified at the public hearing, as did the developer, and the Commission made their decision upon the testimony given. However the developer didn't like the decision and he began a lobbying effort to have the decision reversed. This lobbying was done behind closed doors and the developer was successful in getting two commissioners to change their decision. No citizens had the opportunity to speak to the Commission about this. There was no public discussion of the reasons for the reversal. (It should be noted that prior to the Commission voting on this rescission, one commissioner called this writer and asked what I thought of the developers comments and another commissioner called and told me she was reversing her decision).
When citizens see this happening they ask what happened here. The appearance of undue influence is very strong when this happens. This is not the way our system should work.
All of us, including the commissioners, have heard citizens complain about the undue access that developers have with commissioners. Commissioners respond by saying "my door is always open, just call." This particular decision and how it happened is a prime example of why citizens believe developers have undue access and that the process is not open and fair.
The Commission had the opportunity to correct this when they briefly reviewed the City Attorney's suggestions. Unfortunately 3 of the Commissoners (Atkins, Bilyeu and Shelin) decided that no new procedures were required.
Apparently business as usual is the order of the day. A message has been given to the developers though: if you don't like a decision we made, feel free to knock on the door and somehow convince me to change my mind.
This is very unfortunate for the citizens of Sarasota.
On Jan 23, at a special City Commission meeting, the decision was made to remove the option of building arcades over the public sidewalk. We have applauded the commission for this decision.