A trenchant exchange at the Tuesday, July 19 Gulfport City Council meeting between members resulted in the scheduling of a new August budget workshop to increase the opportunity for residents to express their thoughts and ask questions regarding the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017.
When Councilmember Yolanda Roman, Ward 3, announced the date of her own informal town hall gathering to discuss the budget and possibly other topics with residents outside the realm of officially scheduled city meetings, other members took exception citing a lack of solidarity or the use of city resources for an effort that went beyond the scope of her ward.
“This is the first I’m hearing about this,” said Mayor Sam Henderson. “My understanding from our protocols that anything that a ward specific meeting to be approved by council.”
Said Roman: “I’m announcing it. So, approve or disapprove.”
“I hoped we’d all be in on the August meetings,” said Henderson, adding that the two council meetings would be an “opportunity for people to speak out.”
“I don’t understand either why it needs to be a separate meeting” without the full council, said Councilmember Christine Brown, Ward 2.
“I think if you want to do it, it’s a private matter,” said Councilmember Dan Liedtke, Ward 1.
Roman replied, “I will go to a hotel and I’ll pay for it if the issue is about cost or resources.”
“I don’t understand why we can’t work as one council and have the meetings that we already have scheduled,” said Henderson. “We’re going to have public comment at both the August meetings. I don’t know what you hope to accomplish.”
Replied Roman, “It’s not time limited. People can talk as long as they want. The way I do my workshops, on forever.”
The mayor and Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich suggested an alternative that would allow all council members to hear citizen comments at the same time in addition to ensuring that the exchanges would comply with Florida Sunshine laws. The final idea, in collaboration with the city manager, resulted in the full council agreeing to schedule a budget workshop independent of council meeting nights.
During official council meetings, the format for citizen comments means people are usually limited to three minutes. Contributions during workshop sessions can either be timed or be more open, as in a charrette with white boards, said O’Reilly.
“By consensus, council members can also change the comment format for individual council meetings,” he said.
The exact format for citizen comments during the August 11 workshop will be presented at the August 2 council meeting.
“We don’t want to limit interaction,” said O’Reilly. Council members may also choose to have public comment on the proposed budget during the council meetings on September 6 and 20.
The official budget workshop is scheduled for Thursday, August 11 at 6 p.m. at Gulfport City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S. An additional workshop may be scheduled, if warranted.
To view the 276-page proposed budget, released July 15, click here. The first seven pages of the document consist of an executive summary memo written by City Manager Jim O’Reilly to the members of the council.
Citizen and council discussion of the proposed budget will also be the main focus of the regular city council meetings on Tuesday, August 2 and Tuesday, August 16. Both meetings start at 7 p.m. at city hall.
Millage Rate Increase Approved for Upcoming TRIM Notices
The council approved a resolution providing for a proposed millage rate increase for ad valorem tax revenue for fiscal year 2016-2017 at a rate of 4.039 mills. Public hearings will be held during city council meetings on September 6 and 20.
This information will be included on the annual Truth in Millage (TRIM) notice sent to all property owners by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office.
Former Councilmember Memorial Set for Saturday, July 23
Mayor Henderson expressed condolences to Brown on the death of her brother-in-law Bob Worthington on July 13.
Brown announced a memorial ceremony will be held on Saturday, July 23 at the Gulfport Senior Center, 5501 27th Ave. S. A special tribute by the fire department will be included.
Worthington served two terms on council from 2004-2008 and was a member of the Gulfport volunteer fire department for 27 years.