Saturday, July 9, 2011

Say it ain’t so Brian! Restricting the public to one public workshop to speak on our Village Charter? Where is the Public Participation? How can any elected official call significant public input abusive? What a shame. Let’s work to make sure that public participation is not a thing of the past in Palmetto Bay.

          In my opinion: Let the people speak. The present Charter Review Commissioners and the Mayor can’t seem to recognize the value of public participation.   Our entire council was elected under campaign slogans of inclusion and public participation, yet their post election actions on the council speaks louder than their campaign promises.  The vice mayor wants to restrict public input in the Charter Review Process to a single Public Workshop to be held sometime in the Fall - one chance for the public to speak, saying publicly that under these conditions, this “… is not a closed process.” The current Mayor publicly states that at a single meeting, “…the COURTESY was extended to the public and ABUSED.” Abused? How, by providing input?  The Charter Revision Commission should not only listen at each meeting to residents, but it should be actively involved in bringing the public to each meeting to PARTICIPATE.

            Did you know there was a Charter revision process going on?  If so, you are one of the informed ones.  Too few, however, appear to know it’s happening.  Fewer know how important our Charter is and those who do, and who want to participate, appear to be shut out.  Shut out that is, until the council decides what single day the public can speak.

            In all likelihood the Commission members will hear some great ideas or real concerns.  Set some time aside at each meeting to listen, it won’t hurt, I promise. Shutting out those who do want to participate will hurt the integrity of Palmetto Bay government.  It is far more difficult and certainly not worth the public scorn to prevent input or push off public participation by restricting it to a "public workshop" set for a date far into the future, far too late to have any quality or effect.  I strongly take issue with Vice Mayor Pariser’s statement that a single public workshop prevents the Charter Revise process from being a “closed process.”  To the contrary, a single night, date yet to be set, turns the “public night” into a meaningless cattle call where the public only gets to view or object to any work done by the Commission.  A single public workshop is a presentation, a show, but it certainly does not represent authentic public participation.  The real potential here is relegating residents to the back burner, saying their concerns are not valued.  You cannot pick and choose where and when public input is taken.

            Each meeting should be run like the May meeting where the Charter Review Commission Chair recognized founding Councilman Dr. Ed Feller and allowed him to present in great detail an item that he would like to see included in the charter.  I also attended this same May meeting and provided historical background input on several items in response to questions asked from the Charter Revision Commission members (only one topic though is cited in the incomplete minutes).

            Equally puzzling is why the Commission permitted a person not part of the Commission to sit with them at the Commission table providing comments as if he were a member. Simply being related to a Palmetto Bay Council member does not grant access to an appointed Commission. The oddity of it all continues when the comments by this person failed to appear in the minutes of the meeting. Add to that, the unsolicited comments of Mayor Stanczyk.  She is certainly not a member of the Charter Revision Commission, yet she trumped resident input by speaking when she should have been listening. By Stanczyk's own words, was she and the "extra" commission member "abusing the courtesy" of public input?

            Interestingly, the minutes reflect that Dr. Feller and I both spoke, but there is no mention of comments made by the spouse of the Council member, who challenged me on the physical boundary descriptions of Palmetto Bay as spelled out in the charter.  You can read the official minutes of the Charter Revision Commission for the April 25, 2011 meeting by CLICKING HERE. Mayor Shelley Stanczyk also spoke at this meeting, though she is certainly not a Charter Revision Commission Member. Did she abuse the “courtesy” or was it the council member’s spouse who sits at the commission table?

            In short, I am asking the council to stop a practice of a double standard in voicing opinions.  The Charter Review Commission should be going out of its way to involve the public, to garner public input, not limit it to a single “Public Workshop.”

            For these reasons, and due to the past public comments accepted, I was shocked to read what occurred at the June 23 commission meeting as contained in Grant Miller’s last column, “Charter Committee working for council not taxpayers”, published online and in the May 31 to June 13, 2011, edition of the Palmetto Bay News. (Click on the headline to view the actual article).

            Councilman Howard Tendrich appears to also have been shocked by this and attempted to allow for the clarification that people could publicly address the Charter Revision Commission members at meetings.  Surprise enveloped the council chambers as Councilman Howard Tendrich was advised that he would be required to bring forth a ordinance that would provide for public input at Charter Review Commission meetings.  I am saddened that a simple request by the Councilman was actually met with what was described as an angry exchange and challenge by current Mayor Shelley Stanczyk.  The tape is more telling, but you can read the brief summary minutes of this exchange posted in the proposed minutes from this June 6 council meeting by CLICKING HERE (page 17 of a 187 page agenda)

            Why can't those interested enough to attend the proceedings speak before the committees where the work is being done?  Why doesn’t the present Charter Review Commissioners or the Mayor recognize the value of public participation?  Our residents have a lot to offer; if they are sought out for input.  Why does input require an ordinance allowing them to speak?  We need to continue to move forward and set new positive standards, as we all worked together in the first eight years of this village rather than recede into an informational dark age.

            As the founding Mayor, I strongly take issue with the allegation that a new ordinance is required as allegedly stated by the current Mayor.  The storied reason is that the Charter is silent on public input.  I do not understand this anti-public participation interpretation.  The Charter specifically protects the right to public comment and it is time for the Mayor and council to immediately reopen all committee meetings to public input, not just the charter revision commission, but Art in Public Places, tree board and historic preservation committee. There is no right provided in the Charter for the government to exclude public comment from any proceeding.  Palmetto Bay has always worked to be inclusive and allow public input.  This is a precedent set even before incorporation when public comment was welcomed at each and every Municipal Advisory Committee, which I chaired.  Ed Ludovici chaired the original Charter Committee.  Each and every Charter Committee meeting was run as a public hearing

            The Charter is silent on many things, but it is not silent on public input.  Check out the Village Charter (CLICK HERE)– (see page 4 of 38 for the start)

           After you read the charter provisions, (including the excerpts posted at end of this article) I am reasonably certain that you will agree with me that this charter is cannot be interpreted any other way than the citizens has the absolute right to address the Council and any agency, board (a/k/a Charter Revision Commission), or department.

            I strongly suggest that Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and council read and familiarize themselves with the current charter and attempt to discharge their duties of the offices of Mayor and Council in compliance with the Charter.  Many could justifiably view continued suppression of public input at Charter Review Commission meetings as violations of the Village Charter that could subject offending council members to discipline including, but not limited to removal from office.

            Thank you Howard Tendrich for continuing the 8 year mission of the original village government by sponsoring an ordinance to further protect transparency and accountability of our village government; as well as the right of our fellow citizens to continue to participate.  I have argued that this ordinance is not needed, but it will certainly protect the citizens from any ambiguities or outright misinterpretations of the village charter that would infringe upon citizen’s rights.


(A) This government has been created to protect the governed, not the governing. In order to provide the public with full and accurate information, to promote efficient administration management, to make government more accountable, and to insure to all persons fair and equitable treatment, the following rights are guaranteed:

[sub-sections (1) through (4) omitted]

(5) Right to be Heard. As long as the orderly conduct of public business may be maintained, any interested person has the right to appear before the Village Council or Village agency, board or department for the presentation, adjustment or determination of an issue, request, or controversy within the jurisdiction of the Village. Matters shall be scheduled for the convenience of the public. The Village Council shall adopt agenda procedure and schedule hearings in a manner that will enhance the opportunity for public participation. Nothing herein shall prohibit any governmental entity or agency from imposing reasonable time limits and procedures for the presentation of a matter.
(Emphasis added)

            Finally, section (B) of the Citizen’s Bill of Rights provides for the sweeping power of the citizens over the dictates of the mayor or council:

(B) The foregoing enumeration of citizens' rights vests large and pervasive powers in the citizenry of the Village. Such power necessarily carries with it responsibility of equal magnitude for the successful operation of government in the Village. The orderly, efficient and fair operation of government requires the participation of individual citizens exercising their rights with dignity and restraint so as to avoid any sweeping acceleration in the cost of government because of the exercise of individual prerogatives, and for individual citizens to grant respect for the dignity of public office.

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