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Town Manager Dave Bullock said citizen inquiries "are a large part of what we do here" at Town Hall.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 4 years ago

Private push or public interest?

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Public Works Director Juan Florensa is getting calls and emails from lighting vendors interested in partnering with the town for a turtle-friendly lighting program for the Key.

Florensa and Planning, Zoning and Building Director Robin Meyer are being asked to research the town’s beach accesses and the easement that goes along with a specific access.

Town Clerk Trish Granger has to edit the town’s emails to make sure what she deems “campaign or personal interest” emails aren’t making their way through the town email system.

Financial specialist Rita Mazza has had to provide detailed bid information for past consultants the town was reviewing to help revamp its codes and Comprehensive Plan.

Budget specialist and interim Finance Director Sandi Henley has provided detailed beach budget information, among other budget-crunching numbers.

Usually, the town manager’s office or the Longboat Key commissioners would assign this type of work. In this case, two of Town Hall’s most active residents, Larry Grossman and Gene Jaleski, created the work.

The two residents, who lost their bids to unseat Mayor Jim Brown and Phill Younger in the March 12 municipal election, are more active than ever.

Although being an activist at Town Hall isn’t prohibited by any means, some town directors and town commissioners are grappling with the level of service the town can and should be doing for these two residents, and, if the town needs to start charging for services that suck up a lot of town staff time.

Directors sound off
Florensa said he receives phone calls or emails on an almost daily basis from vendors trying to set up appointments with him to sell their lighting equipment to the town.

“Mr. Jaleski wants to help with turtle-friendly lighting, and I’ve informed him we are working on that issue,” Florensa said. “But, now I’m reading emails and taking phone calls from vendors that Gene is passing along my information to.”

Florensa, who said he spends a few hours a week addressing people whom Jaleski has set him up with, calls the issue “frustrating.”

Grossman, meanwhile, has asked Florensa and Meyer to research the town’s beach easements and is questioning why a beach access next to the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort is 11 feet instead of 10 feet and why the easement isn’t registered solely for the residents of the Key.

“I’m getting easements from Manatee County now that are being questioned that have nothing to do with Longboat Key,” Florensa said. “It’s starting to take a toll on my department. The beach easements have been here forever, and we don’t have time to research them for no apparent reason.”

Meyer, meanwhile, said his planning department is used to providing information for citizens.

“It’s part of our job to provide it,” Meyer said. “But there have been a couple instances where they (Jaleski and Grossman) have asked for things and I have told them we need to start charging staff time to provide the information.”

Most recently, Grossman sought property appraiser information about the accesses, and Meyer said he was willing to provide that at a cost. He suggested Grossman get the information from the property appraiser’s office.

“We treat everyone the same whether you come to see me once a week or once a year,” Meyer said. “But being more interested than the average citizen doesn’t mean you are going to get special treatment. They ask more questions and take up more staff time, but I can’t treat them any differently.”

Meyer’s rule is, if it requires his staff to perform research, staff service time will be billed.

Granger said her office charges for public-records requests “as part of the town’s normal operating procedure” and notes Grossman was charged recently for information regarding easements and deeds for the beach accesses.

“Lately we have been dealing with them more than the average citizen,” said Granger, who was in a meeting with Grossman when the Longboat Observer first contacted her for this story Monday. “They are just very active right now, but we haven’t stayed late or done anything extraordinary for them.”

Jaleski, Grossman respond
Jaleski said he is just an active citizen and “Town Hall is just trying to shut me up.”

“I am charged for copies now that I was never charged for before,” he said. “The town clerk has sequestered my emails, and I am taking up that issue with the state election office.”

Grossman, though, said he doesn’t perceive Town Hall as trying to quiet him. The work he is doing now with beach accesses, Grossman said, is to make sure the town has the right information on file and to preserve a beach access at 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive that Grossman believes is unsafe.

Brown, however, said both Jaleski and Grossman are using staff resources to perform tasks that aren’t needed.

Brown said it’s difficult to respond to either citizen.

“Once you try to respond to them, you are stuck to them because they won’t leave you alone,” Brown said. “I don’t know what their reasoning is for all this stuff, but we have real work to do and, quite frankly, it’s a big waste of town staff time.”

Brown said he has urged both Town Manager Dave Bullock and his staff not to respond to Jaleski or Grossman’s requests, either in person or through emails, unless it’s something important that requires attention.

“I think they are bitter about the election, but it’s time to move on,” Brown said. “They have good ideas sometimes and should stay active but don’t ask for things for no reason.”

It’s not the first time this has become an issue, according to Brown.

The commission notified town attorney Dave Persson two years ago not to respond to emails from Jaleski unless he had the town’s permission to do so.

“We had Persson stop responding because he was eating up the time of the town attorney and making his bill rise for taxpayers,” Brown said.

For now, Bullock said he doesn’t feel a need to do anything and the level of staff time needed for Jaleski and Grossman hasn’t risen to an extreme level.

“I pay attention to the level of staff resources needed, and nothing is causing me concern at this time,” Bullock said. “Citizen inquiries are a large part of what we do here.”

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