Town will solicit ideas from community groups individually instead of during the annual meeting's forum-like setting.
Longboat Key is making preparations to hold certain public meetings electronically because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Town Manager Tom Harmer said Longboat Key is preparing to hold April 6’s commission meeting using a remote conferencing service called Zoom.
“We're all trying to maintain strong public input and participation into our public processes,” Harmer said. “At the same time, we're trying to protect the commission and the public and follow the direction of the CDC on minimizing the interaction between individuals, so I think this is a fair way to receive the information and make sure the commission has it."
Harmer, newly selected Mayor Ken Schneier and town attorney Maggie Mooney have had discussions on how to inform the public of the electronic meetings and receive resident feedback on issues even though the meetings won't be in person for the foreseeable future.
“Is it as good as a public meeting where everyone can show up and talk? No, but it's pretty close,” Schneier said.
Longboat Key has already canceled several meetings and events, including the Planning and Zoning Board's regular meeting on March 31 and the one planned for April 21 as well. The town's Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Code Enforcement Special Magistrate will not meet until May at the earliest. The Town Commission's April workshop has also been canceled, as has its planned retreat on April 24.
The town has also closed its offices to the public. Residents can contact town staff by calling (941)316-1999, sending an email or by scheduling an appointment.
Longboat Key on April 1 published the instructions on how the public can provide input and participate in the April 6 town commission meeting.
Harmer said the town canceled its annual Goals and Objectives meeting scheduled for April 20. Each year, the meeting provides the community a chance to provide ideas, thoughts and recommendations to the commission as they plan for the next budget year.
“Our intent will be to cancel that public meeting, and instead, we would go out to the organizations and ask them to submit their ideas and recommendations in writing, which we will then compile and distribute to the commission,” Harmer said. “We'll utilize that information in a follow-up meeting with the commission when they set their goals in the budget process.”
Harmer said the town is planning to send its distribution list to groups and area organizations to submit their recommendations and ideas.
“We're just going to send it out to them and say, ‘in light of the precautions that are out there, and we're asking you to please still submit your recommendations that we will not have those publicly presented at this time,’” Harmer said. “We will compile them and share them with the commission so that they can use them in their deliberations as they look at the goals for next year.”
Harmer and Schneier said the town would continue to function, even if some of the public meetings aren’t in person.
“Nothing is ideal under these circumstances, but it’s not a bad solution,” Schneier said.
In March, the town commission unanimously approved a resolution that grants Harmer the authority to cancel public meetings because of the threat COVID-19 poses.
The decision came after several executive orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis and guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to prevent large gatherings to protect against the spread of the virus. One of DeSantis’ executive orders suspends a requirement that municipalities hold in-person meetings.
“You can hold meetings like our commission and telephonically, but you need to meet all the other Sunshine Law requirements as best you can,” Schneier said. “So the issue for us has been how to set up a call-in system that will work and allow the public to participate.”
Schneier said he’s seen the town deal with traffic and red tide issues in the past, but he couldn’t recall a spring break period quite like this year due to the coronavirus concerns.
“I think this is the weirdest probably in anyone's memory and hopefully for the foreseeable future,” Schneier said.
Harmer said the town is encouraging people not to panic.
“It's so different than most disasters and, but I will say, I've been impressed with the commitment and the employees to do whatever necessary,” Harmer said. “I've been generally pleased with the community response in these difficult times.”