The amount of public input in South Pasadena remains unchanged, at least for now.
But momentarily, during discussions on a new marina expansion plan, it appeared that the South Pasadena City Commission was moving to reduce the time that individuals could speak at its meetings from five minutes to three minutes.
That’s just a couple of minutes. No big deal, right?
Not so fast, says resident Marj Lorand, whose home sits 500 feet from the marina at Causeway Village, a mobile home park where the number of boat slips may increase from 11 to 35, explains.
“It’s a complicated issue, and people had a lot to say about it,” she said. A commission meeting on the issue held on April 13, 2021 ran late into the night.
It ran so late that the developer in charge of expanding the marina, Hans J. M. Wilson, President of Hans Wilson & Associates in Fort Meyers, expressed his frustration in an email message sent to the City Clerk for South Pasadena, Carley Lewis, on April 16, 2021.
“I would really like to thank the commissioners for their patience and for their ability to see through the hysteria and focus on the facts,” Hans Wilson wrote, adding, “Do you always have that type of comment on such simple things?”
Lorand believes that the expansion of the marina is anything but simple. Among her concerns with expanding the marina include the disruption of the seagrass beds where manatees forage in Boca Ciega Bay. The commissioners are “oblivious to what’s happening in this bay,” said Lorand, who notes that maintaining the current amount of public input is critical, especially because “we have so little impact anyway.”
Another resident of South Pasadena agrees. According to Sandra Chiappetta, “The number of slips is obscene and a hindrance to the environment.” The removal of sand in the bay – known as maintenance dredging – to allow easy access to the proposed additional 24 boat slips would damage the seagrass beds that serve as the primary food source for manatees, she said.
Environmental concerns regarding the marina expansion intersect with other issues, the residents say.
“People are going to lose their homes,” Chiappetta said, echoing Lorand, who thinks the residents of Causeway Village are “being led by the nose” into allowing the marina to be turned into a so-called “regional attractor” of business intended not to enhance Causeway Village, but to broaden the tax base.
Then there is the question of the proper procedure for changing the time limits for residents to address the commission, either by revising the city resolution that has been in effect since 1995 or by making modifications to the city code itself or both.
Noting that “three minutes is generally the norm” for speaking to governmental bodies in Tampa Bay – the City of Gulfport has a three-minute limit on public comment – the attorney for the City of South Pasadena, Julia Mandell, said that it was she, rather than the city commissioners, who brought forward the recommendation to reduce the public input time limit from the current five minutes. Mandell later rescinded the recommendation pending further study of the issue.
“My job as city attorney is to give my best advice” in bringing South Pasadena in line with other nearby cities, Mandell said. Addressing those who oppose reducing public input, she added, “This isn’t ‘hide the ball’; this isn’t trying to ramrod anything. There’s no gotcha here.”
The city clerk told the Gabber that, because reducing public input at meetings of the city commission is not on the agenda at this time, the city commissioners would have no comment.
However, both Lorand and Chiappetta fully expect the issue of reducing public input to resurface.
“If they can legally do it, they will,” said Lorand.
Whether that objective could be achieved via the city resolution or the city code or both, limiting the public’s ability to respond to the ramifications of the proposed redevelopment plan is “a really big deal,” said Chiappetta.
“The city is us,” she said. “The city is the people.”
An administrative workshop with the city commission is scheduled for September 21. It was originally intended to explore the possibility of reducing public input during meetings of the city commission, but Mandell now says her own “workload issues” prevent her from raising the issue again as she had planned.
Anyone is allowed to observe administrative workshops, either in person or on Spectrum Channel 643, but for the most part, members of the general public are not allowed to speak during administrative workshops given that they are exploratory in nature.