Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board Chairwoman B.J. Bishop learned she was no longer part of the Urban Land Institute Implementation Advisory Committee through a Longboat Observer story, and later, through an email Mayor Jim Brown sent through his personal account to her personal account Dec. 2.
The next day, Bishop forwarded Brown’s email to the town clerk’s office with an attachment that read: “In violation of Sunshine Law, this was sent to my personal account. Please advise your commission that town business cannot be sent there. I will not lose my personal equipment to such an error.”
Bishop also sent the following response to Brown that was also forwarded to Granger: “Jim: Please do town business on my town email only. A phone call telling me you were doing that and a call telling me of the action would have been appreciated. Finding out from the press was not pleasant, and it is certainly not how I treated volunteers when serving as mayor of my city.”
The email exchange stemmed from an item Brown added to the agenda at the Dec. 2 Longboat Key Town Commission regular meeting. He said he made a mistake last month when he voted in favor of forming a new committee to implement ULI recommendations. That committee consisted of himself or his appointee, Bishop (the planning board chairwoman) and five citizens.
Instead, he explained that after reconsidering, he believed the original committee that formed to prepare for the ULI’s visit — consisting of Commissioners Jack Duncan and Pat Zunz, PZB members Walter Hackett and George Symanski and citizens Tom Freiwald and Larry Grossman, both of whom are on the new committee — should continue.
He made a motion to continue that committee and add three new additional citizens — Roger Leibin, David Novak and Jered Whitehead — while removing himself and Bishop.
Bishop told the Longboat Observer that the only time an item should be added to an agenda “is if it were an immediate issue of health, welfare and safety.”
“The public has the right to know what the public agenda is that their elected officials are acting on,” she said.
Bishop said the committee should be a citizens committee.
“It’s unfortunate the makeup of the committee has taken a lot more energy than what the committee is going to do,” Bishop said. “When commissioners forget they are here to do the public business and keep them informed, they forget who they serve.”
Bishop also expressed concern with personal emails being sent from Brown.
“Town business should be done on town emails,” Bishop said. “If they are not careful, the taxpayers could get hit with a huge bill to pay.”
Bishop — who noted that she, Brown and the rest of the former ULI committee recently sat through a half-hour Sunshine Law video tutorial warning town officials to use town emails for town business — said she’s contemplated filing a Sunshine Law complaint but hadn’t done so as of press time.
Brown said he had a number of reasons “for going back to the original committee.”
“I really felt the original committee had a good rapport and was really built on a group that has very little in common,” Brown said. “Don’t fix something that’s not broken.”
Brown, though, admitted that he “made a couple of mistakes.”
“I should have waited and advertised the discussion for another meeting even though I was allowed to do what I did,” Brown said.
Brown also said he wished he would have asked the town manager to inform Bishop before the meeting of his decision to bring the discussion up at the meeting. Brown doesn’t believe his email to Webb, though, violated the Sunshine Law.
Brown said he also “doesn’t buy the argument” that the original committee is not a good representation of the Key as a whole.
“You’re still a citizen even if you’re elected,” Brown said.
The committee discussed its altered makeup when it met Tuesday.
But Brown questioned why the discussion was continuing.
“I think you’re making a political football of it,” he said.
The new committee members agreed they could work together. But planning board member George Symanski, one of the committee’s new appointees, took issue with Freiwald serving as the committee’s chairman.
That’s because when Commissioner Lynn Larson, who voted against committee changes, asked Freiwald for his opinion at the commission’s Dec. 2 meeting, he opposed the changes, although he described the original committee as a “terrific group.”
“It seems to me you were putting your personal stuff out there,” Symanski said. “I don’t know how you’re going to represent the four of us if you don’t want to be on the committee.”
But Commissioner Jack Duncan and other committee members defended Freiwald.
“A commissioner asked you, and you gave your opinion,” he said. “I think it was probably inappropriate to ask you that question.”
Members — including Freiwald — agreed unanimously that the first committee that was formed to prepare for the ULI study functioned well without a chairman or chairwoman and agreed to proceed without the role.
The committee also discussed the potential for Sunshine Law conflicts, with Grossman suggesting that Freiwald’s involvement in the independent Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force could pose conflicts because that group isn’t subject to the Sunshine Law.
But as discussion about potential conflict continued, Bullock told them he didn’t see conflict.
“I think this is a world we’re inventing,” he said.
He offered this suggestion:
“I wouldn’t spend any time on this, guys. Here’s the advice: Get to work.”
Urban Land Institute Implementation Advisory Committee members agreed to prioritize a town center, along with possibilities for Bayfront Park, at their meeting Tuesday. Members will ask citizens what they’d like to see at each site and report back to the committee at the Dec. 17 meeting.
At next week’s meeting the committee will also discuss beautification of the entryways to the island.
For more information on Tuesday’s meeting, check yourobserver.com.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org