LARGO -- The much heralded and advertised town hall meeting of the Charter Review Committee August 7 strained to come up with four citizen participants.
The meeting was designed to draw comments, suggestions and whatever from citizens. It got about as much response as it deserved, given the totally incompetent performance of most members of the 15-member committee.
Those commentators who did come forward all are or have been associated with the city and could accurately be termed "insiders." Their suggestions were duly noted by the committee members but with scant indication that any of the suggestions were being taken seriously.
Jim Hannon, who is an alternate member of the committee, said he saw in attending charter committee meetings power struggles in the committee.
"It looks like the city attorney is running the meeting," he said. Hannon also added that he thought a court should resolve disputes on charter interpretations instead of lawyers.
As to the city attorney, Alan Zimmet, an inquiry to the city as to whether he is billing extra hours for these charter committee meetings went unanswered. As it is, he is paid more than $2,000 a week for his part time job.
An example of how the city's legal department is being managed -- Zimmet's responsibility -- was demonstrated at the City Commission meeting last week when the it was necessary to authorize an additional $70,000 to cover a shortball. That is about 35 percent over the budget.
When invited by the charter group chairman to ask questions of the citizens volunteering their comments, J.B. Butler, a committee member, naturally jumped at the opportunity to talk and donned the robes of Her Majesty's High Prosecutor (he loves to play lawyer) and tried to cross examine Hannon, completely contrary to the idea of having citizen input at this meeting.
Marty Shelby, a former member of the commission and currently counsel to the Tampa City Council, said he favored the city manager-commission form of government, but urged that the city's lawyer be put under the jurisdiction of the commission.
He also thought that meetings between the city manager and individual commissioners be memoed to other commissioners. "It puts the commission at a disadvantage on any issue when members do not know what has been said to individuals," Shelby said, pointing out that ‘vote shopping' puts the commission at a disadvantage.
Another citizen participant was John Atanasio who attends virtually every meeting held by the City Commission.
Atanasio wondered if members of the committee had been given as much information as necessary to carry out their mission. He said he was referring to ordinances and resolutions.
That was a good point because currently several commission members are not aware of their own rules and violate them for the sake of convenience in their own agendas.
Atanasio also pointed out that the Charter Review Committee was legislating rather than laying down broad principles. He cited the group spending 42 minutes discussing what pay the mayor and commissioners should get. "This is a matter of legislation, not a charter matter," he said.
"Instead of rewriting the whole charter you merely need to update it," he said.
Later, Shirly Craig, a committee member, wisely adopted Atanasio's advice and allowed as to how matters of pay for elected officials is a matter of legislation, not a charter matter. One good example is to be found in how the U.S. Constitution handles it.
Butler found this notion baffling and spun the meeting off into a sail around the lagoon that had the net effect of wasting time.
The interminable discussion got into the consumer price index and other sundry matters. Of course, an increase in pay based on the CPI is not a raise, it merely keeps an individual even, accounting for inflation.
One individual spent a lot of time praising all and sundry and then went into total confusion as to what the Sunshine Law is all about, thinking that the televising of meetings equates with requirements of the Sunshine Law.
That person was also all at sea on how meetings are legally noticed and in general displayed a stunning lack of knowledge. "She should be on the committee," one wag said.
Another person, after confessing that she never read the newspapers complained about a lack of getting information out. Huh?
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