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Sarasota City Hall
Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 2 months ago

City commissioner questions new time limits

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Mayor Hagen Brody said he's working to add structure to commission meetings, but at least one board member is unhappy with the new rules.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Since the City Commission selected Hagen Brody to serve as mayor last month, there’s been a new wrinkle to the format of commission meetings: stricter time limits.

Although the commission has regularly limited the time allotted for individuals to offer public input or for applicants to make presentations at some public hearings, Brody has implemented more comprehensive rules. The new time limits apply to outside parties, city staff and the commission itself — drawing the ire of at least one of Brody’s colleagues.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who preceded Brody as the city’s ceremonial mayor, has at least twice run into the time limit Brody has allocated for her to ask questions about an item on the board’s agenda. On both occasions — once during a discussion of the Unconditional Surrender sculpture, once during Monday’s hearing on a zoning text amendment related to the Selby Gardens master plan — Ahearn-Koch expressed frustration about her inability to get all of her questions answered.

“I really highly object to this time limit situation,” Ahearn-Koch said at Monday’s commission meeting. “I think it is impeding me from doing my job.”

Brody said he worked with city staff on creating time limits in hopes of creating a better sense of predictability for those following commission meetings. Brody said that when individual agenda items stretch on for hours, it makes it harder for the public to engage with their government.

“I think it dissuades a lot of people that may want to come to the commission meetings and voice their opinions,” Brody said. “The unpredictability of it causes people to come once and never come back.”

Brody noted that the 20-minute time limits placed on individual commissioner questions during the public hearing still allowed for up to 100 minutes of questioning from the board, and that other legislative bodies place time limits on their members. During this week’s meeting, which adjourned after 12:30 a.m., Ahearn-Koch was the only commissioner to object to the time limit.

Brody said he was still working to improve the timing system, including getting the limits for each item to each commissioner earlier ahead of the meeting. Still, he stood by the change as an opportunity to improve the efficiency and structure of commission meetings.

“There’s zero public participation happening at midnight,” Brody said.

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