Last week, BocaWatch made a simple inquiry to the City Administration concerning the timely posting of the agenda content for this week’s CRA and City Council meetings. The result was anything but simple and worthy of comment.

Attached to this article is the email string tracking the original communication and ending in an invitation directed at the one responsive elected official to enter into a public conversation on the subject matter raised; an invitation that remains ignored.

From this interchange, additional concerns are raised; these question the ‘agenda review’ process and the utility of a City Council workshop, the day before a Council meeting.

Posting of agenda items is critically important. These postings are the only means for the citizen to become informed; to wit: An informed citizenry is an asset to the Community. Empirically, the BocaWatch experience has been that these postings are generally a week in advance of the scheduled Council meeting. However, the pattern of late has had the agenda postings much later in the week.

The response to the BocaWatch inquiry was a memo from the city’s information officer stating that City Code Section 2-27 requires that the City Clerk receive all agenda items 28 hours prior to the meeting. The email further states that the agenda is generally finalized the Tuesday prior to the meeting date and subsequently posted on the city website for the public to view.

Regardless of the cited code provision and the disputed timeline protocol, a 28 hour notice period is simply inadequate for residents to prepare and participate meaningfully in an informed manner.  This should not even be in question!

Let me give you a for instance….

If I, a resident, have an inquiry about an agenda item and make that inquiry to the responsible city department, that inquiry is required to take the form of a ‘Public Records Request.’ Public Records Requests, in BocaWatch’s experience, take a minimum of two to three weeks, with one recent request taking in excess of five weeks; a demonstrated futility for timely participation at any week’s CRA or City Council meeting.

Per the communication officer, the Clerk is to receive all agenda items by noon on Thursday prior to the Tuesday meeting. No explanation is offered as to why a listing of agenda items cannot be posted on the city website well in advance of this timeline; staff knows what items are being prepared, thus the listing is certainly available.

A closer reading of the cited City Code section suggests that the section is not responsive to the inquiry of an earlier posting. Instead, this section is relevant to the timeline for the complete agenda package being readied for the Clerk to distribute to Council members for their participation in the agenda review process with the City Manager.

To be cynical, not posting the listing of agenda items well in advance of 28 hours is a means to delay public awareness and to thwart meaningful and informed public participation; to wit: The Stacked Deck

An egregious example of this ‘stacked deck’ behavior was recently seen in the administration’s scheduling of a crucial public meeting evaluating ‘The ‘Mark’, the  Interim Design Guideline downtown rental building; the late Holy Thursday afternoon posting before the high holidays of Easter and Passover for a meeting taking place the following week. But for the inquiry of a local reporter to BocaWatch, residents would not have been aware of this crucial and controversial review.

What is ‘Agenda Review’?

After the Clerk delivers the prepared packets to the Council Members, one-on-one meetings are scheduled with the City Manager to review the agenda packet and address concerns that the Council member may have.

Let me begin here with my conclusion:

These meetings may be Sunshine Law violations and should be discontinued.

Does it bother anyone that at a City Council workshop, Council members are asked if they have any question concerning items on the agenda, and, often respond that he or she did have questions but these were resolved by the City Manager in the out of the ‘sunshine’ meetings; to wit: The Agenda Review.

How is addressing their concerns in private helpful to the resident?

It is not….

Residents should be afforded the opportunity to observe what concerns Council members raise and what responses are provided by the City Manager.

The Attorney General’s Office has spoken on the question of a non-board member acting as a liaison for board members. The published opinions on this subject clearly prohibit such activity. In one AG opinion, a reviewing court held that a series of scheduled meetings between the school superintendent and individual members were subject to the Sunshine Law.

The City Manager is the chief executive officer and the head of the administrative branch of our city government with delegated duties defined within the City Charter. The City Manager is not a member of the City Council. Meetings between the manager and the members are not in and of themselves violations of the Sunshine Law unless the manager is acting as a liaison for the Council members and circulating information and thoughts of other members on the Council. Here in Boca Raton, these one-on-one meetings are by their very nature out of the public view, out of the ‘sunshine’, with no memorializing of the interaction. There is little way to insure that the city manager is not acting as liaison; the prohibited act.

This practice calls into question what may be prohibited conduct and suggests that alternative means be developed to accomplish the agenda review objective. Perhaps the one-on-one meetings between council members and the city manager can be replaced by holding the agenda review in the ‘sunshine’ at the council workshop.

This, in the ‘sunshine’, alternative may be structured in a way that allows public observation of the City Manager’s interaction with Council members where all Council members hear the concerns of the others.   Even if the public is not provided the opportunity at agenda review to comment, the public can comment at the Council meeting the following day.

Finally….in the email string attached, the difference between a ‘politician’ and a ‘statesman’ is raised.

A politician finds justification while a statesman seeks solution.

As seen in the BocaWatch inquiry of last week, citing a prohibitive, albeit irrelevant, city code section rather than have staff merely publish the agenda item in a timelier manner attempts justification while avoiding solution. The information officer’s response, if condoned by the City Council, supports the proposition that there are no statesmen present within our elected body.

For crying out loud, it would be much easier to develop solutions to the resident’s concerns than it is to simply find justification for the behavior that effectively raises the concerns.

Let’s take this real time opportunity to see our elected officials begin ‘unstacking this proverbial deck’

NOTE: It was suggested that the 28 hour notice be a matter of explanation/ discussion at the next City City Council Workshop on September 8, 2015 at 1:30 pm (following CRA meeting). There will be time for public comment.

 

For your interest, the following is email thread between Bocawatch and City, to be read from bottom up..

Subject: RE: COMMUNICATION WITH CITY STAFF

Dear Deputy Mayor…
Thank you for your comment….
I did not say Ms. Biagiotti was arrogant….I said the tone of her
communication was reflective of the Council and Administration’s arrogance
towards residents.
A statesman would look for solution to concerns raised by constituents.  A
politician merely looks for justification.
There are no statesmen on the city council.  If there were, we would not be
having this interchange.  
I will gladly limit my interactions to you, the elected official, and
welcome an ongoing dialogue addressing resident concerns.   
Just name the time and place for a public conversation and debate and I will
be there….
Al Zucaro

—–Original Message—–
From: Weinroth, Robert [mailto:RWeinroth@ci.boca-raton.fl.us
Sent: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 5:07 PM
To: Al Zucaro
Cc: Ahnell, Leif
Subject: COMMUNICATION WITH CITY STAFF
Mr. Zucaro:
Is it not enough that you feel compelled to take stabs at the elected
officials — you now feel it is your place to address a member of City staff
in this fashion? It’s not enough that you publish misleading posts
“reporting” on the number of complaints filed with the FCOE against
elected/appointed residents when, in fact, YOU were the one who is
responsible for most of those complaints?
Calling a member of City staff “arrogant” when she has taken the time to
provide you with facts, not opinion, and certainly not a procedure for which
she is responsible and, clearly, not the actual practice of our City is
beneath your stature as a former elected official who knows how municipal
government operates.
Indeed, the Coastal Star, in its most recent issue, went out of its way to
recognize the City of Boca Raton for going the extra mile in being fully
transparent (posting agendas long before the minimum required but for
instances where time is of the essence and a matter needs to have immediate
attention – as was the case at our last meeting, making video recordings of
all Council and CRA meetings available with online access to meetings from
several years ago without the necessity of making a public records request).
Your elected representatives should be your target and City staff left to do
their tasks. As an elected official I would not feel comfortable or
justified in sending the email you sent to Ms. Biagiotti and I believe you
owe her an immediate apology for your actions.
This is totally unacceptable. You have have five targets for your emails of
indignation — perhaps you can confine your attacks thereto. ~ rsw
ROBERT  S  WEINROTH DEPUTY MAYOR
[cid:06a4f3a7-876a-3359-09e0-66d3625adf3f]
201 W PALMETTO PARK RD STE 320
BOCA RATON FL 33432-3798
OFFICE:  (561) 393-7708
iPHONE: (561)  451-6331 (voice or text)
FAX:        (561) 367-7014
      RWeinroth@MyBoca.US<RWeinroth@ci.Boca-Raton.FL.US>
BOCA RATON:  A CITY FOR ALL SEASONS
________________________________
From: Al Zucaro [al@alzucaro.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 05, 2015 1:06 PM
To: Biagiotti, Chrissy; chris@bocawatch.org
Cc: Haynie, Susan; Weinroth, Robert; Singer, Scott; Mullaugh, Mike; Rodgers,
Jeremy; BocaCM
Subject: RE: Meeting Notices
Good afternoon Ms. Biagiotti,
Thank you for your communication.  With all due respect, the resident
experience is inconsistent with your comments.  Notice of CRA and City
Agenda items are the only source of information available to people wanting
to participate intelligently in these matters.
There have been times when public participation has been thwarted by late
posting of items having major import to the resident base.  I can cite these
if required but do not think it worth the effort here.
Regardless of what the City Code states, 28 hours in front of a council
meeting is simply not adequate for residents to prepare.  Moreover, you make
no mention of CRA agenda items which would receive even less notice based
upon your mathematics.
The often heard criticism made by council members and appointed board
members is that the residents are not educated on the facts..that may be the
case but perhaps one reason is because of a lack of advance notice to
develop the residents’ position.
Your communication reflects the arrogant attitude often felt by the
residents from the administration and the council.  I suggest that
addressing this in a more resident friendly manner is appropriate and
finding common ground is warranted;  I trust the elected officials would
agree..we shall see.
City staff works at the pleasure of the City Manager.  The City Manager
works at the pleasure of the City Council and the City Council work for the
residents..You should keep that in mind.
I am available to discuss this further with you.  I intend to write about
this in BocaWatch next week so if you would like meet this week and discuss
further that would be timely.
Thank you for your attention..My contact number is 561-644-1665
Al Zucaro, BocaWatch

From: Biagiotti, Chrissy [mailto:CBiagiotti@ci.boca-raton.fl.us]
Sent: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 12:23 PM
To: chris@bocawatch.org
Cc: al@alzucaro.com
Subject: Meeting Notices
Dear Chris (@BocaWatch),
In response to your email about posting agendas online, (a copy was
forwarded to me) there is no requirement to post the agenda, nor is there a
required time frame to post the agenda.   In fact, the City Code Section 2-
27 Rules of Procedure (Agenda 1.04) only requires that the Clerk receive all
agenda items 28 hours prior to the meeting (that would be noon Thursday
prior to the Tuesday meeting) and then that the City Clerk deliver the
agendas to the Council Members  “as far in advance as time for preparation
will permit.”
Typically, the agendas are finalized the Tuesday prior to the meeting dates
for CRA, Workshop and Council meetings.  On Wednesday, staff adds the links
to the agendas and they are posted to the City’s
Website.<http://bocaraton.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&e
vent_id=375> This has been the procedure for quite some time and the City
Clerk’s team works diligently to get all of the information prepared and
posted on the same schedule for each meeting.
The City’s Facebook<https://www.facebook.com/BocaRatonCity> and
Twitter<https://twitter.com/CityBocaRaton> accounts now announce that the
agendas are ready and post a link.  In addition, the City recently began a
campaign to let the public know that they can sign up to have the City
Agendas sent directly to their inbox.  We have also begun to create “Agenda
Item Focus Sheets” for issues and topics that have generated considerable
interest or questions from the public. Those, too, are available for direct
email, are posted on line and are available at the meetings.
We recognize the need for timely, accurate and accessible information and we
are taking steps to improve the methods of distribution. In my new role as
Communications and Marketing Manager, I will be assessing how we can better
communicate with the public, and we will be implementing some new practices.
In the meantime, I would encourage you to call or email me if you have
specific questions or concerns.  I would be happy to help you gather the
facts as I have been doing with other local reporters and writers.
Sincerely,
Chrissy Biagiotti
Communications and Marketing Manager
City of Boca Raton
561-393-7757
www.myboca.us<http://www.myboca.us>