Our View

 

Our View

 

Date: May 7, 2009
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

The one difference between making laws and making sausage is that there’s a lot less blood left on the legislative chamber floors than at the slaughterhouse. But they’re both an ugly, excruciating process.

Witness Monday night’s Town Commission meeting, which mercilessly plodded along for four hours. If you looked at the faces of the seven town commissioners most of the evening, which we observed, you might come up with such words as “glazed,” “catatonic,” “numb,” “lobotomized.”

And they do what they do for free!

Thank goodness someone wants those jobs.

The good news from Monday’s meeting is your water rates will be going down. But that’s about it. Garbage rates are going up 5.2%, and penalties for past-due water bills are going up, up to $20 a month.

Oh, this was good news for most of the residents who attended Monday’s meeting: The Town Commission yet again rejected a proposed cellphone-cell tower ordinance, an issue that, attendees were told several times, has been on the town agenda since 2003. One of the jokes in the commission chambers is that by the time the Town Commission adopts a new cell-tower ordinance technology will have made cell towers obsolete. One of the Verizon officials speaking at Monday’s meeting chuckled when she referred to a resident who worried to the commissioners that this issue was moving too fast and needed more study.

The resident got her way. The commissioners voted to “amend” a proposed ordinance at a workshop.

Then the chambers all but cleared out, except for those Town Hall insiders waiting (in pain) for the night’s drama — the commissioners’ appointments to the planning and zoning board, which, unfortunately, were the last item on the agenda.

See next item.

+ It’s personal
1) No good deed goes unpunished.

2) Communicate.

3) Corrollary to 2: Understand your role. Don’t get too big for your britches.

4) It’s personal, not business, especially in politics.

Those are a few of the take-away lessons from the results of Monday night’s Longboat Key Town Commission meeting. Specifically, the part of the meeting during which the commissioners did not re-appoint David Brenner to the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board for a second term.

For the record, as reported on page 1A, the commission re-appointed John Wild to the planning board, replaced Brenner with Patricia Zunz and filled the vacated seat of Sandy Gilbert with Phineas Alpers.

To a large degree, you could say the flushing is complete. Brenner’s beheading removed the third and final musketeer from the board. He, along with Gilbert and Jim Brown (who is now a town commissioner), most represented an activist faction of the planning board whose style and methods ran out of favor with their bosses, the Town Commission majority (Mayor Lee Rothenberg, Vice Mayor Bob Siekmann and Commissioners Hal Lenobel and newcomer Gene Jaleski).

With their Monday night appointments (and the earlier appointments of former Mayor John Redgrave and former planning board member Mort Siegler), Rothenberg, Siekmann and Lenobel signaled they want to go back to the planning board’s old way of operating. Which is to say show much less initiative, just do what the Town Commission asks. Don’t be proactive. You serve for the commission.

No good deed goes unpunished.
Being too proactive was one of Brenner’s faults. In most cases, that’s a virtue. But in the protocols of Longboat Key town politics, being proactive is a no-no. Remember Commissioner Bob Dawson? He lost favor among his fellow commissioners when he conducted his coffee-and-donut sessions with residents. Newcomer Jaleski says he has experienced similar bad vibes for wanting to communicate with voters via his blog.

When the Brown, Gilbert and Brenner took on the crafting and overt advocacy of charter amendments to permit rebuilding of existing densities and bringing back 200 tourism units two years ago, that was really, really three jacks jumping out of the box.

But to their credit, their advocacy for these charter changes was necessary. Had they not done what they did, those measures never would have been crafted, proposed or approved in the town election (70% voter approval). They performed a much-needed public service and showed civic leadership.

Brenner apparently went too far, though. His iniative to have the planning board review the town’s sign code and his efforts to keep businesses on the Key in his role as president of the chamber of commerce’s Economic Development Council provided the tipping point for Longboat’s many “againers.” He’s too pro-business! He’s too much in favor of the Realtors!

This, however, must be said: In the past 15 years on Longboat Key, no other public officeholder — elected or appointed — has shown as much initiative and expended as much effort for the economic good of Longboat Key than has Brenner.

But for this, he gets “punished” — a word a commissioner said to Brenner to describe Brenner’s rejection for re-appointment. Brenner declined to name the commissioner.
No good deed goes unpunished.

• Communicate. Know your role.
Voters often don’t get to see what occurs in between the Town Commission and planning board meetings.

During the Joan Webster-Sandy Gilbert era — when Gilbert was chairman of the planning board and Webster was mayor, Gilbert and Webster often conversed about matters and issues that were coming before the planning board. Left-hand knowing what the right-hand was doing.

Subsequent to that, in the Hal Leneboel-Jim Brown term — when Brown (the architect, not former mayor) was planning board chairman and Lenobel was mayor, similar discussions were not the norm.

What’s more, you could count on one finger the occasions when the two boards conversed as a group and discussed strategies, objectives, missions or each other’s roles.

It’s easy for that not to occur. It’s work to bring 16 people together for such sessions (nine planning board members and seven commissioners).

But it must be done — especially to avoid the rift that has grown between the two boards. Indeed, it’s always worthwhile for any organization to remind its participants what the mission is, who does what and who’s in charge.

At the very least, the mayor and planning board chairman should communicate frequently. Such conversations contribute to everyone knowing his place and his role. To do otherwise, you get what we got: Some commissioners thinking planning board members were too big for their britches.

• It’s personal, especially in politics.
Go figure. In Brenner, the town taxpayers had a planning board member with the town and its residents’ best interests at heart. He served dutifully on the board for three years and put in countless extra hours on the 2008 charter amendments.

But when the town commissioners voted to select three planning board members out of a list of 13 applicants, the votes were peculiar:

• Seat 7: Four votes for Phineas Alpers, three for Brenner (Alpers won).

• Seat 8: Unanimous seven votes to re-appoint John Wild.

• Seat 9: Four votes for Patricia Zunz, three votes for Brenner (Zunz won).

Voting for Alpers and Zunz: Rothenberg, Siekmann, Lenobel and Jaleski. Voting for Brenner: Commissioners George Spoll, Peter O’Connor and Jim Brown.

There was no discussion about any of the 13 candidates. Commissioners made their judgments based on the resumes each candidate submitted.

And yet, the votes for Alpers and Zunz by the four majority commissioners were definitive. They didn’t hesitate, even though all they knew about Alpers and Zunz was they had served on the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and what they read on the resumes.

Zunz told us Tuesday none of the commissioners called her to talk about the planning board. (“That’s one of the things I fault this town for,” Zunz told us — that there’s no vetting process.) Alpers said a commissioner called him a month and a half ago to ask if he’d be interested in the planning board. That’s it.

Asked the morning before the vote if he would vote for Brenner, Jaleski said he didn’t know. Jaleski expressed some frustration that the town needs a better vetting system for town boards so the commissioners could get to know the candidates, rather than just read their resumes.

In other words, Jaleski didn’t really know Alpers or Zunz — nor for that matter did the other commissioners, at least not to much extent.

Brenner they knew. But Brenner, by the way, ran the election campaign for Jaleski’s opponent in the spring election.

Don’t believe it when they say, “It’s not personal.”

NEW REGIME AT PLANNING & ZONING

Here’s the list of Longboat Key Planning Board Members prior to the Town Commission’s flushing of the board Monday night:
Pre-2009    Post-May 4
Members    Members

Pat Ahrens (1)    Phineas Alpers (6)
David Brenner (2)    Walter Hackett
Jim Brown(3)    Al Hixon
Sandy Gilbert (1)    John Redgrave (4)
Walter Hackett    Mort Siegler (4)
Al Hixon    George Symanski
George Symanski    B.J. Webb
B.J. Webb    John Wild (5)
John Wild    Patricia Zunz (6)

Notes
(1) Ahrens and Gilbert resigned before their terms expired.
(2) Brenner was not re-appointed Monday night.
(3) Brown resigned from the board after being elected to the Town Commission.
(4) Redgrave and Siegler, in their 80s, previously served on the P&Z board
(5) Wild was re-appointed Monday.
(6) Alpers and Zunz were newly appointed Monday.


 

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