When Marathon City Manager Clyde Burnett was hired last May, he attempted to continue individual meetings with each council member prior to the regularly scheduled meetings, as had been the practice of the previous manager.
What he found was that Monday mornings around City Hall were incredibly busy and individual meetings were not a very effective or efficient use of staff time and taxpayers dollars.
So, he decided to bring council members as well as department heads to the table every other Tuesday morning prior to the evening meetings.
This past Tuesday, Councilwoman Ginger Snead brought her fellow council members’ attendance at those workshops to the forefront of a heated discussion during their regular meeting.
Snead said when she decided to run for a council seat, going to the workshops at the Marathon Fire Station really helped her comprehend the operations and inner workings of her local government. The open dialogue at the workshops, she added, has been an important educational tool since winning the seat.
“These meetings are open to the public and also allow for open discussion amongst the council that you might not want to have in front of God and everybody else and feel like a fool,” Snead admitted.
Councilman Pete Worthington, now in his third term on the council and having worked with five of the city’s previous managers, said the Tuesday morning workshops add an additional 26 meetings to his schedule.
As a commercial fisherman with a crew that depends on him to make a living, Worthington said he preferred the individual consultations between the city manager and council that in the past had happened on Saturdays or even in his kitchen at his home.
He challenged what he called the loss of one-on-one contact between the manager and his council as well as the ability to field comments from the public, alleging that though no official action is taken during the workshops, the outcome of council votes is already determined prior to the evening meetings.
He went on to admit that though he’d missed the past three workshops, one of his fellow councilmen – “I won’t mention the councilman’s name,” Worthington said – had opted not to attend the workshops for the last nine months and it “hasn’t been an issue.”
With Mayor Mike Cinque and Vice Mayor Don Vasil’s seats up for grabs this November, Worthington went on to say that positions on the council need to be available for anyone in the community who wanted to run, “not just retired people or independently wealthy people that don’t have to work.”
Cinque, prior to a motion to make workshop attendance mandatory, expressed his support for the meetings that he said helped the council have a unified voice and play as a team.
“If those meetings aren’t important, why do councilmen who don’t attend the meetings need to be briefed afterwards?” Cinque asked.
Vasil defended the overt attacks by saying that it was important for him to hear the opinions of his constituents before he made a decision on issues.
“Too much comes out of that meeting already quasi-decided,” Vasil said of the workshops. “I want things discussed out in the open, not at some staff meeting where nobody shows up.”
City Attorney Jimmy Morales confirmed that the only way to make attendance at the workshop mandatory would be to amend the city’s official charter, and the heated discussion quickly came to a close.
In other business:
• A representative from the Florida Department of Transportation was unable to attend the council meeting as planned to hear citizen concerns regarding the need for a traffic light at the intersection of Aviation Boulevard and U.S. 1 at 72nd Street. Councilman Dick Ramsay proposed drafting a letter to FDOT expounding upon the need for a signal at the dangerous intersection. He also suggested including the emails in support of a light that had inundated the council as part of a package to FODT before the next meeting.
• The council agreed to allow Earthmark Properties one final chance to convey a parcel of property necessary for construction of a wastewater treatment plant on Knight’s Key. A representative from Earthmark said he has been told my the owner that the property transfer issue will be “resolved any day now.” Several councilmen expressed concern over beginning lengthy and costly eminent domain proceedings.
• Council approved the proposed site of the Service Area 3 Wastewater Treatment Plant. Planning director George Garrett said though the planning commission did not approve the site because of its proximity to the Community Park, it was his staff’s opinion that the site plan was in compliance with the city’s Land Development Regulations and Comprehensive Plan. Joe Goets of the American Legion Executive Board appeared before the council and reminded them of a proposed land swap between the Legion and the city his organization had proposed. “I can’t imagine why you’d want to put a sewage treatment plant on U.S. 1 and still talk about attracting tourists,” Goets asked. Garrett said he was familiar with the property and unfortunately, the parcel is a mangrove area that necessitate filling and tie up valuable time obtaining permits from DEP and the Army Corps.