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City Council schedule plan causes heated debate

By Staff | Nov 20, 2012

While City Manager John Szerlag waited for one of his consultants to arrive at City Hall to discuss financial sustainability Monday evening, City Councilmember Rana Erbrick took the time to talk about changing the way council does business.

And it brought some heated debate between Erbrick and Mayor John Sullivan, who said it would put a damper on citizen input.

Erbrick bemoaned that with 38 meetings, half of them workshops, it leaves five months where there is only one voting meeting.

She wants that changed.

“We should go back to all voting meetings. We can do the business of Cape Coral and get rid of duplications of presentations,” Erbrick said. “It would provide more consistent length and more efficient ways to use staff and citizens’ time.”

She also proposed that instead of no meetings on weeks where there’s a Monday holiday, they could hold it on Tuesday, and said that perhaps the hiatus periods were too long.

She also presented a new agenda for the city to use that would introduce ideas such as one public input on the consent agenda and ordinances, unfinished business and another citizens input toward the end of the meeting.

Councilmember Lenny Nesta said most cities use weekly meetings and that the city would run smoother by using them, but drew the line at eliminating summer break.

Councilmember Tom Carioscia also said weekly voting meetings would move the city forward.

Otherwise, the reaction was not exactly encouraging for changing the schedule.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail said the workshops have their place and that public input is essential. Merging two input sessions into one wasn’t the way to do it, he said.

“The week between the workshop and meeting is a valuable tool to gather information,” McGrail said. “The time change (from 3 p.m. to 4:30) and the ability of the citizens to contribute validates that Cape Coral has allowed transparency.”

Councilmember Marty McGrail said the hiatus is needed because staff plans vacations around it, and added that council members serve on committees on Tuesdays and there would be a conflict.

He also said with all the consultants and professionals who appear at the meetings and get paid to sit get in and out as fast as possible.

“What affects our city is that guy getting paid $400 an hour to sit there during public input,” McClain said. “Not giving up citizen input.”

Councilmember Derrick Donnell, the longest serving man on the dais, said it would bring things back to the way they were five years ago.

“I look at how those meetings used to be run. We used to be here until 11 p.m. or midnight,” Donnell said. “We’ve done an excellent job moving business. It’s working. It’s slowed down things for the city and provides transparency.”

“I remember waiting until 11 p.m. to speak at public input and get my three minutes. We may be on the cutting edge of how business is done,” Sullivan said before telling Erbrick she “hasn’t been paying attention as long.”

Erbrick took umbrage, saying she’s been going to meetings longer than Sullivan, and said transparency isn’t an issue.

“We’re as transparent as the day is long. You can watch meetings on the Web. If we weren’t transparent, we’d be in orange jumpsuits breaking rocks,” Erbrick said. “Things are happening in Cape Coral. Workshops slow things down. Major corporations don’t work this way.”

City Clerk Rebecca Van Duetekom said more voting meetings wouldn’t burden her office because packages are done whether there’s a workshop or regular meeting. The big problem is getting things in before the deadline.

The 2013 schedule and possibly the agenda could be voted on next week.