Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Commission Watch

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 Thus the original decision was rescinded and a new vote was taken that approved the proposal.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.


Anonymous said...

this is a big surprise to you? citizens of sarasota should be very concerned with this situation.
As members of a lay public- including myself- we find it hard to believe the influence being exerted on our public officials is within the norms of public discussion.

Only problem is we asssume too much. This is no longer a government ruled by the people- at least in the literal meaning- rather it is a Government ruled by those that can exert the most influence (money and otherwise) on a bunch of straw eating political neophytes that are in awe of any carpet bag idea that comes to town.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for keeping us posted.

Shouldn't th people that were notified of the first public hearing on this be notified again, if they are revisting this?

Mary Anne Servian said...

I would like to comment to the statement anonymous 10:56pm asserts about those of us in office.
I have dedicated myself to this City first as a neighborhood leader and now as a Commissioner because I love Sarasota.
I have never been influenced by money or power I have been blessed in life and neither are important to me. What influences me is what is right and best for Sarasota.
I tried to get the recision process changed as did Commissioner Palmer and we could not get the support of others.
I don't like the way the recision process works. I was one of the Commissioners that recinded a vote recently and it was because I was given incorrect advice from our City Attorney. Once I became aware of that I changed my vote and I notified the neighborhood leaders.
Your Commissioners are totally accessible to anyone who wants to call or visit us. I am in City Hall everday in the afternoon and my cell phone is 400-8521 for anyone to call with any issue.

Gretchen Serrie said...

I am a member of one of the neighborhoods affected by the rescission vote. Mayor Servian, realizing her vote had been based on inaccurate information, not only changed her vote, but immediately arranged to meet with the affected neighborhoods to discuss the situation. We are grateful that she was both candid and very concerned about the issue and the process.

It is obvious the rescission process needs to be revised. City Attorney Fournier has drafted an excellent policy in this regard. We are grateful to Commissioner Palmer for her strong support of the commission’s addressing the flaws in their rescission procedures and to the mayor for her support. We hope the other three commissioners will reconsider their votes on discussion of the rescission policy. As currently constituted, the procedures give the citizenry no voice in a rescission consideration, and there is not even a mechanism for notification of affected parties that rescission will be considered.

I hope this will be an issue that will come back to the commission table with a request for reconsideration (possibly through CCNA?).