Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Slow Government Locally Produced

Last night's commission meeting was dull.  Seriously, it was dull and I'm a guy who can watch people debating the merits of curb colors for hours.   That's not to say it wasn't contentious.  This is North Bay Village after all.  

The mayor is frustrated.  She's frustrated at how long the meetings take, at how detailed the questions are, at how the same issues come up endlessly and at how every issue seems to get the same consideration, regardless of how trivial.  

The commissioners are frustrated.  They feel they don't get answers.  The most trivial issues are either more complicated than any rational person would expect them to be or that their most pressing issues appear trivial when brought into the light.  

They're not good at hiding their frustrations.  The mayor's body language was clear when she found the discussion tiresome.  The commissioners fought to get their points across and were frustrated at lack of answers.  Not a good show.  

It's doesn't have to be that way.  There's not much you can do about it being slow.  The structure of government is such that it impedes quick decision making and Florida shackles our elected officials with a poorly conceived Sunshine Law that requires any conversation between elected officials to be held in public, which eliminates shady dealing but also eliminates informal learning and cuts off information.   

There are things that can be done though to make the meetings and the process more productive.  One idea last night was to add an additional commission meeting per month, with a loosely segregated agenda such as P&Z in one meeting along with non budgetary items and the second meeting for budgetary items and policy issues.  It was rejected not because it was a bad idea but because it came from Richard Chervony who is currently on the outs with the other four.  

The point is the mayor and the commission can reorganize the agenda and meeting times as they see fit.   They could for example start the meeting with Additions and Deletions, then bring up Good and Welfare, then get to work on all time sensitive items, and put the others to the end of the meeting. 

The mayor brought out that some ongoing issues could be Workshops, that is held and chaired by the commissioner who introduced the item, soliciting community input, discussing without resolving the issue and then bringing back the information to the commission.  

One example is the security concerns on Treasure Island.  Some people want gates, some want CCTV, some want more police, some want a crime watch.   Pull all of these and make a meeting on a weeknight to discuss and create a recommendation.  

The boards are a big issue.  Each board has a theme and one in particular, the Community Enhancement Board, has at least three people eager to reconvene.  So hold a "Community Enhancement Workshop", develop an agenda, develop recommended procedures  and recruit members.   

The mayor has broad latitude in setting the agenda and convening these workshops.  When she is frustrated with a commissioner's remarks about an ongoing situation, then she can suggest and calendar a workshop on the subject.  Here's a simple one.  Harbor Island is filthy.  There are ideas out there about cleaning more often, about recruiting condo maintenance staff to clean up, crime watch groups.   Pull a meeting together at a condo, chaired by Eddie Lim and invite the residents and businesses to give their best ideas and then propose the supporting legislation.   

The mayor noted several times that we needed to be "positive".  I'm not a big fan of enforced cheerfulness but I get it.  We do need some positive things going on but that's what the commission is there for.  Give us something to lean forward and we will.  

Let me just close with two pieces I think are very positive.  The commission voted down spending any time or money on the ill conceived dock notion at Vogel park.  And after a truly surreal conversation, the commission decided to increase the pay of the interim village manager while she takes on additional duties.  That was good but even that reflected the dysfunction, Chervony proposed that the monthly salary be based on $8,000 per month ($96k per year) but the others summarily rejected  that notion and instead presented a 15% increase which came out to about the same amount.  But they didn't want to play with Chervony.   Seriously.  

It's not encouraging.  

Kevin Vericker
April 10, 2013  

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