Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert gave an overview of the state’s extensive Sunshine Laws at the Council workshop on Monday morning, where members also discussed funding requests from the Tourist Development Council, how to deal with Estero Boulevard construction issues relating to the annual Fourth of July parade and agreed to consider adopting a lobby log ordinance similar to Lee County’s.
During public comment, Joe Stockton said ‘we need to be open and participating with residents’.
“I feel it is necessary that all lobbying efforts are recorded before the item comes up so the public can access it,” he said.
John Heim, speaking on behalf of the SW Florida Clean Water Movement, said his group supports the new Council – “especially Summer Stockton” – and they look up to Tracey Gore and her family.
“We’d like to create a relationship with you on discontinuing the discharges from Lake Okeechobee,” he said. “This Sunday at 5pm, we will be on the Matanzas Pass Bridge and we invite you – the new Council – to join us. We will also return to the bridge every day until Council agrees to put QR codes at all beach accesses.”
Crescent Street resident Doris Grant asked that public comment be included at the end of work sessions like they do at the end of meetings. She also asked that the farmer’s market be brought back under the bridge.
Lehnert then gave an overview on the state’s Sunshine Laws.
“This applies to all elected officials as well as appointed advisory committees,” she said. “Reasonable notice – typically seven days – is required, and minutes must be taken. A meeting is a gathering of two or more members to discuss a foreseeable action. This doesn’t have to be formal – if you’re passing each other in the hallway – or even text messaging – and talk about an agenda item, that’s a violation. You can attend a meeting of another board, but if two members attend it must be noticed. You are required to let the public speak in regards to any proposition coming to the board. There are some exemptions – such as for litigation and for competitive solicitation meetings – which must be recorded but the public isn’t invited so that other firms don’t see what the soliciting firm is offering. Violations can make anything done void. If you are cited and brought to court, you could be fined up to $500, go to jail or even be removed.”
As far as public records, Lehnert said that – even if it’s on a private phone – if it’s about town business, it’s open to the public.
“You can also not use a third party to talk to each other,” she said. “I would tell you to not use social media period to talk about town business. The records act requires us to simply comply with the records requested – not answer questions or give out additional information.”
Councilmember Rexann Hosafros asked if two members could talk about something that won’t ever be voted on or action taken, and Lehnert replied yes.
Councilmember Tracey Gore asked about advisory committees, and Dawn replied that they must adhere to the same laws.
Next up was a discussion on the Fourth of July parade.
“The information I received was that the center of the road is going to be blocked,” said Mayor Dennis Boback. “I started the parade and ran it for 5 years to help the businesses in the summer and to give residents something fun to do on the Fourth, so I’d like to see it continue.”
Chamber President Bud Nocera reported that a recent poll conducted by the Chamber showed that over half of the local businesses that responded considered the parade to be important to them.
“It brings people to the beach early in the day and they spend money all day,” he said. “We believe there are ways to work with the construction – such as combination of golf carts and marching units in lieu of floats.”
Kaye Molnar, PIO for the project, said that the concern is that there will be a grade change in the road.
“There are some options – if we could stage (begin) the parade at Key Estero Shops, then Chris-Tel could work to keep the area north of that clear, and extend the parade past Time Square instead,” she said. “Keep in mind that any delays to the project will extend the time and the cost.”
Boback suggested staging the parade at Topp’s instead.
Chris-Tel’s Darin Brown said that – at the time of the parade – there will be a two-foot grade difference from the center turn lane to the edge of the road and that for one 700-foot section there will be no room for parade watchers. He said he would work with his sub-contractors to come up with something – including the cost – and have an answer for the Town by the end of the week. Council agreed make a final decision at their next meeting on April 18th.
Opening the discussion on the Town’s TDC funding requests, Gore said she spoke to Nancy McPhee at the TDC, who told her that the Town incorrectly submitted demolition costs for the Hercules dock and that the Town now needs to repay it.
“I asked her why they couldn’t put a dock there, and she said it’s because there’s no parking,” Gore said, and Baker replied that the Del Mar Street improvements were approved due to it being a location on the Calusa Blueway – despite the fact that there is no parking there, either.
“As far as Time Square – we have to replace a water main there, so we’ll be tearing up that whole area,” Baker said. “So we are trying to do improvements at the same time. We got turned down through the Beaches and Shorelines funding program, so we’re trying to get funding through Attraction and Marketing – for which the applications open on April 20.”
Gore said she has ‘no desire to put an auditorium at Time Square’.
“If we’re going to be put up a permanent stage or band shell, we need to do it at Bay Oaks,” she said. “And who pays for it, and the maintenance of it?”
Councilmember Summer Stockton agreed, saying restoration should be landscaping, pavers and lighting only.
Hosafros said she’s spoken with Pete’s Time Out owner John Lallo – member of the Time Square Merchant’s Alliance who sponsors the Square’s Sunset Celebration each weekend – as well as the Friends of the Arts.
“This is not an auditorium – this is a small, elevated platform that bands can play on that Lallo won’t have to put up and take it down every weekend,” she said. “This could also be used by the public – kids could do their tap recitals there. As a performer, I wouldn’t want to go to Bay Oaks because there’s nobody there.”
Boback asked what size the stage would be, and Baker replied 10’ by 12’.
“The only way we’re going to get funding for the pavers and the rest of the restoration is if we have an attraction, so the stage needs to be part of it,” he said.
As far as Del Mar – where residents have complained that the improvements are too minimal – Town Manager Don Stilwell explained that a proposal for additional improvements will be on the April 18th agenda.
After a lengthy discussion – during which Gore strongly expressed her opposition to the stage – Council asked staff to return on April 18th with a clear rendering of what they intend to do in the Square, and for Baker – accompanied by Hosafros – to attend a TDC meeting on April 14 to plead the Town’s case for the Hercules dock.
Program Developer Kara Stewart gave Council an overview of each component of the Community Development department.
“Permitting – we have an interlocal with Lee County to provide for inspections,” she said. “Last year we had 2,700 applications so we’ve made things available online to reduce trips to Town Hall and we’ve worked to get more in sync with the county. The building department has been working on streamlining and unifying reviews. Also, we’re training Environmental and Stormwater Tech Rae Blake to do some inspections, and Principal Planner Matt Noble and Senior Planner Megan Will wear multiple hats as well.”
Stewart explained that – as far as code enforcement – the Town takes a reactive rather than proactive approach.
“Our code enforcement officer Molly Jacobs has been working with staff to compile a list of what goes on with the town,” she said. “We’ve been training staff to put together a process in how to deal with code violations. The goal is for us to get compliance…If an individual is cited, we get a finding from the magistrate, and even if that person abates it prior to magistrate, we can get a ‘finding of fact’ – meaning if they do it again, they get fined immediately.”
Stewart reported that Beach and Street Enforcement (B.A.S.E) has been given the responsibility of enforcement for chair vendors and Time Square.
Boback wanted to know if people could call in a code complaint and remain anonymous, and Stewart replied that emailed requests are public record, but phone calls or stopping into city hall are not.
“If we decide to go a little more proactive, should we hire a second code enforcement officer?” he asked, and Kara said yes.
Finally, Boback said he’d like to see the town adopt Lee County’s lobbying ordinance.
“This would put to rest any ‘coconut telegraph’ rumor spreading, like what happened when Councilmember Anita Cereceda met with developer Torgerson,” he said.
“The mayor asked for permission from Council to meet, it was done in public, there was nothing secret about it,” said Hosafros, and Boback agreed. Other Council members had questions about exactly what would need to be recorded.
“What if I’m having a beer at the Beached Whale with someone – do I need to log it?” asked Gore.
Council asked Stilwell to return with an ordinance for them to discuss – including options for how deep or intrusive it would need to be.
Keri Hendry Weeg