The Longboat Key Town Commission has decided not to allow the town’s other advisory boards the ability to meet virtually using technology like Zoom.
During the commission’s Sept. 27 workshop, Planning and Zoning Board Jay Plager advocated for members of the P&Z Board to have the same ability that town commissioners have to virtually participate at their respective meetings.
“All we’re asking is that you provide us with the same degree of flexibility you provided yourselves in order to encourage the volunteers to continue to come, and then come in person if they possibly can,” Plager said. “You set that up for yourselves. All we’re asking is that you permit the Board of Planning and Zoning to have that same degree of flexibility to support their volunteer participation.”
The Longboat Key Town Commission itself is allowed to use virtual technology such as Zoom to participate in meetings as long as a physical quorum of four commissioners is met.
A resolution passed in June provides a series of situations that would be considered “extraordinary” and approved before Town Commission meetings. The circumstances include:
- Illness or disability
- Caring for a recovering or ill family member
- Attending an event on the town’s behalf
- Travel related to health reasons
- Family obligation (i.e., family wedding, or funeral attendance) or
- A declared local, state or national emergency
During a consensus vote, Mayor Ken Schneier, District 4 Commissioner Debra Williams, District 5 Commissioner Maureen Merrigan and At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop indicated they were in favor of keeping Longboat Key’s virtual meeting rules in place for only the Town Commission.
Vice Mayor Mike Haycock, District 1 Commissioner Sherry Dominick and District 2 Commissioner Penny Gold were in favor of allowing virtual participation for the P&Z Board at its respective meetings.
“I still think that the higher purpose is to have the participation of other volunteers who are giving their time to the town, and if that if once in a while somebody needs to be out of town and still can participate, I think it’s to the benefit of the town to have them do so,” Gold said while participating in the Sept. 27 workshop meeting via Zoom.
Haycock, Dominick and Gold’s support of using virtual technology did not extend to the town’s other advisory boards. It includes the Citizens Tax Oversight Committee, the Consolidated Retirement System Board of Trustees and the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
“I don’t see all the committees the same,” Haycock said. “Frankly, I see (the) Planning and Zoning (Board) as the most important committee that we have that gives us advice and guidance, and so I would just offer this to Planning and Zoning.”
Because Gold was out of town and did not meet one of the extraordinary conditions, she could participate in the discussion of the Sept. 27 workshop, but could not participate in the subsequent budget meeting.
Throughout the pandemic, Longboat Key Information Technology Director Jason Keen helped the town livestream its Town Commission and P&Z Board meetings using Zoom. The town has three people in its IT department: Keen, Dan Shtuka and Barry Gaines.
Town Manager Tom Harmer said the commission meetings are the only town meetings that are typically livestreamed under normal circumstances.
“We don’t have the staff support or whatnot to do that,” Harmer said. “If there’s a particular need to… ‘Zoom’ someone in because they’re testifying remotely or consulting remotely, and that’s set up on a special-circumstance basis, and it would require one of our three IT staff to be here for that entire meeting.”
However, as recently as the P&Z Board’s June 15 hybrid meeting, Vice Chair David Lapovsky and member Margaret Nuzzo used Zoom to participate.
“The budgetary consideration and the physical limitation that we put on our IT system is not something to be discounted,” Bishop said.
Bishop pointed to her experience on both the Town Commission and the P&Z Board, stating the volunteers for both bodies typically show up in person for meetings.
“I don’t think any of the people who have submitted to serve on any of our boards and commission do so thinking they’re going to do it from the comfort of their sofa or they’re going to go on vacation, and maybe they may or may not have adequate Zoom coverage,” Bishop said. “I can tell you the quality of Zoom and the quality of Skype does not allow the citizens of this community the quality of discussion that they deserve on important issues.”
If a member of one of the boards cannot make a meeting, the town does provide audio recordings afterward.