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Council begins new meeting format Monday

By Staff | Feb 27, 2009

Starting Monday, the Cape Coral City Council will change its meeting format to allow for workshop meetings and voting meetings on alternate weeks.
Workshop meetings will allow council members more time to mull over resolutions and ordinances, and coordinate with staff members to make changes. Council members voted unanimously in January to change the format. Previously, voting meetings were held every Monday.
Some regular attendees of council meetings, however, are crying foul, saying the new format cuts the amount of public input time in half because workshops do not set aside time for public comments. During regular voting meetings, a span of 30 minutes is set aside for public input, with each person allotted three minutes.
“I’m not real happy about that simply because it gives us less access to the council on issues coming up for a vote,” said John Sullivan, founder of the Cape Coral Minutemen and a regular speaker at council meetings.
Councilmember Gloria Tate defended the switch, and said the format has been used before. Tate was reappointed to the council in December, having served on the dais before from 1996 to 2005.
“When I started on the council we did that,” Tate said.
The council changed to weekly voting meetings, according to Tate, because of the vast amount of new building projects that needed the council’s sanction.
A sputtering economy has dried up building permits, making weekly meetings less urgent, and Tate said the council can call special meetings to accommodate issues that need a vote sooner rather than later.
“If there are projects that are time sensitive, we have the ability to call a special meeting on a Tuesday,” Tate said.
Mayor Jim Burch, who pushed for the change in format, said the workshop meetings will allow council members to build consensus, and give city staffers an extra week to answer the council’s questions.
“We will be able to discuss everything prior to everyone voting. It gives us flexibility to first learn everything we can about an issue, and second, if there’s more information, we need to get that information during the next week,” Burch said.
Money and time will also be saved, Burch said, because staffers will not waste time on an issue that will not move forward.
“We’ll probably save money on those instances where we found something we don’t really want to do,” Burch said.
Sullivan, however, isn’t convinced the new format won’t drown out the public voice.
“I think people are going to have less influence on the council before they vote, and I think that’s a bad thing. It’s very easy to take a letter or an e-mail and throw it in the trash. It’s harder to ignore someone who’s standing in front of you,” Sullivan said.