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EDITORIAL: Cutbacks may mean double duty

By Staff | Feb 26, 2010

Like it or not, times have changed. The manner in which we used to conduct our daily lives – personally and professionally – has been altered to at least some degree over the past few years. Some of these changes can be linked to technology, others to human evolution, and still some due to economic conditioning.

Case-in-point: At the last meeting of the Sanibel City Council, a resolution to make an adjustment – from the current first and third Tuesday of each month to a new once-per-month format- was unanimously approved. Local leaders said that they made the change in an effort to cut city spending while managing their time more effectively.

“At this time, staff recommends that in the interest of controlling costs, City Council establish a meeting schedule for the upcoming year which will convene City Council once per month, except for the months of September 2010 and March 2011,” said City Manager Judie Zimomra in a memorandum dated Feb. 10. “Two meetings will be necessary in September to comply with the statutory budget schedule and the staff is recommending two meetings in March 2011 to accommodate the annual election of Mayor and Vice Mayor.”

Zimomra speculated that the switch could save the city “a minimum of $1,000 per month in labor and materials. That figure sounds a bit inflated, in our opinion, but we’re willing to give her “guess-timate” the benefit of the doubt.

The approved resolution, which will take effect this April, is the latest in the city’s ongoing effort to think “outside the box” and trim expenses, following last year’s 15 percent salary reduction giveback (offered by Zimomra herself, by the way) and council’s move not to raise the annual millage rate.

True, other expenses were trimmed via staff reductions and through attrition. However, nobody in Lee County government can deny that the City of Sanibel is one of the most ardent budget “watchdogs” anywhere in Southwest Florida.

Responding to criticism that by making the change, the City Council will be shirking their duties in operating city business on a one-meeting-per-month schedule, Mayor Mick Denham defended the move during Tuesday’s Land Development Code subcommittee session, noting that he and his fellow councilors will not be negligent in addressing Sanibel’s needs on a timely basis.

“The rationale is that meeting once a month, there will be a cost savings,” Denham said. “The amount of paperwork that has to be done and the amount of time that it takes each council member to prepare for a meeting certainly adds up.”

We agree, although squeezing all of the city’s business matters – without cutting any presentations, staff reports or public comment – into a single meeting every month may seem like the council will be doing “double duty.”

The new schedule may take some time to get used to. Even Denham admitted that instead of meetings that last three or four hours, those meetings might take up to eight hours to complete. Not only is that a long time for our volunteer councilors to commit to, but for residents who regularly attend these gatherings – or those who wish to speak on a particular issue – it may be a long wait until that topic comes up during a particular agenda.

The council also offered that should the new meeting schedule be prohibitive to conducting their duties, they could add additional meetings to the calendar, or return to the original twice-per-month deliberations. Given that the public will now have less opportunities to have their voices be heard, that might become necessary.

Only time will tell if this change will work, but we are willing to let the city give it a go.

– Reporter editorial