Jim Eatrides wanted 20 minutes.
He asked the Longboat Key Town Commission last month to put him on the Thursday, June 21 workshop agenda so that he could respond to TE Connectivity Networks Inc.’s study of island-wide wireless communications.
Eatrides and his business partner, Kevin Barile, of Ridan Industries II, who want to develop a 150-foot cellular tower on the Longboat Island Chapel property, disagreed with the report’s conclusion that a Distributed Antenna Solutions (DAS) network would be a viable choice for the Key.
Commissioners put Eatrides on-hold, saying they wanted town staff to draft policy recommendations first. They discussed the possibility of a single-subject workshop to address the issues.
Eatrides still appeared before the commission June 21 and asked to speak during the “public to be heard” portion of the meeting — the time when any person can speak about virtually any subject for three minutes. Four people accompanied him, each of whom signed up to speak and wanted to give him their three minutes.
That request raised other policy issues.
Even Mayor Jim Brown wasn’t sure if members of the public were allowed to give their time to another speaker.
Town Attorney David Persson said that, historically, the commission hasn’t allowed one person to amass time but suggested that, if it were “the will of the commission,” commissioners could be “liberal” in their interpretation of three minutes.
“What’s the will of the commission?” Brown asked.
“No,” several commissioners said.
Attorney Michael Furen, representing residents Gus Sclafani and Doreen Erickson, who oppose a cell tower and own a home adjacent to the proposed site, described the requests as an “attempt to subvert the open-to-the-public comment process and concept.”
“This is opening, I think, a very bad door to this commission to allow, effectively, presentations that this commission had previously determined would not occur … ” Furen said.
Eatrides wanted to address the report before the commission took its two-month summer hiatus.
Eatrides spoke for his three minutes and took issue with technical issues, saying that he believed a DAS network would require more nodes and money than depicted in the report and that the visual impact of DAS equipment wasn’t shown to scale in the drawings.
Then, Tom Giacomo, manager of performance and design engineering for Verizon, told the commission that the company conducted a NextG study of a DAS network on the island last year. He described a tower as “the most viable solution.”
Furen objected to Giacomo’s reference to pending applications, leading Persson to ask speakers to avoid site-specific references until the town could have properly noticed meetings.
The commission then heard from attorney Mary Solik, who represents Ridan Industries II; Barile; cell-tower opponents Ron Platt, Gene Jaleski and Bob Craft; and attorney Charlie Bailey, who represents Grand Mariner owners Ralph and Sheri Trine.
Furen spoke again, saying it was inappropriate for the discussion to take place without other stakeholders, including a TE Connectivity consultant to defend the report.
Commissioner Jack Duncan asked Persson to return to the commission with comments about the process that unfolded.
“I feel like a lot of taxpayers never saw an agenda item about this discussion and they’re not here,” Duncan said, describing himself as “very uncomfortable” with the process.
Persson said that a single-subject workshop made sense because it would allow the commission to make an informed decision on policy and put it into writing with the public notified in advance.
The discussion got more than 20 minutes — 43 minutes, to be exact.