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Live broadcast becomes issue for new budget board

By Staff | Jul 17, 2012

The Budget Review Committee has yet to hold one meeting and already it faces a controversy.

The BRC, created to replace the defunct Financial Advisory Committee, was loudly criticized during City Council’s workshop meeting Monday at City Hall after it was discovered the time and place for the meetings were going to be changed, and those meetings would not be televised, just audio.

An item that was not on the agenda soon turned into a hot-button issue when it was learned that the BRC meeting time would be changed from its usual Monday 9 a.m. time to Tuesday at 2 p.m.

Councilmember Lenny Nesta, who serves as liaison to the BRC, said the move was made to accommodate the volunteer board, whose members said Tuesday would be a better day for them.

The problem was that the room they traditionally used, Room 220A, was not available. So, Nesta found an alternative in the conference room in the Annex, the old council chambers.

More infuriating to some members of council would be the lack of TV cameras there, which they said would eliminate the transparency they believe is necessary.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes Leetz questioned the latitude Nesta took in making that decision, saying the meetings should be held in chambers, where the cameras are.

“Would I have the latitude to change the P&Z meeting time?” ChulakesLeetz asked. “You’re taking away the public access by moving the meeting.”

“We looked for an alternative in the building but couldn’t find one to hold a large group,” Nesta said. “We looked for a non-TV agenda so when we give them direction, they won’t worry how they’re being looked at.”

Nesta got an ally from former FAC member, Councilmember Rana Erbrick, as well as from Councilmember Kevin McGrail, also former FAC member.

“I was on the board for two years and when we made our presentation we got our faces slapped,” Erbrick said. “It was prudent of Nesta to do this. I’m all for taking the TVs off. This is an advisory committee.”

“There is a great problem with people using the microphone to put forth an agenda,” McGrail said.

Chulakes Leetz was further distressed when Nesta said he spent time educating and training the new committee.

“How does this educational seminar fit into our budget,” Chulakes Leetz asked city manager John Szerlag, who has not worked with such a committee.

“This sounds like indoctrination to me,” Mayor John Sullivan said. “You need to be able to look at budgets and take them apart. I don’t get it.”

Lyndia Bradley, a BRC member, was at the meeting and was asked to share her thoughts as the workshop concluded.

“This committee represents Cape Coral. I don’t need training. Tonight, you’re going to penalize us before our first meeting,” Bradley said. “Before we even got our budget books, you’re telling us to waste time for training.”

Nesta was apologetic as the meeting drew to a close.

“I thought I was doing the right thing. Since it was a new committee, we came up with that,” Nesta said.

Nesta had no comment. However, McGrail smoothed things over after the meeting.

“They’re trying to iron out the format they want to see. My experience was they always met in Room 220A and taped their meetings,” McGrail said. “The only presentation televised was the one they gave to council.”