ANNA MARIA — Before the first meeting of Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus’ committee on parking safety in the city’s Residential/Office/Retail district was called to order, questions about the legitimacy of the group flew fast and furious.
The meeting was held last week and was supposed to address concerns about parking along Pine Avenue. But the safety issues initially took a back seat to questions raised about the formation of the committee itself and the conduct of the meeting. There was initial discussion, and then a comment, from Commissioner JoAnn Mattick, who was concerned that the meeting had not officially been called to order and thus was off the record. Florida’s Sunshine Law requires that meetings be officially opened so that all discussion takes place on the record.
“I’d suggest that you convene the meeting and get this on the record,” Commissioner Mattick said.
“We aren’t necessarily on the record yet,” Commissioner Stoltzfus replied.
At that point, City Attorney Jim Dye entered the commission chambers and the discussion was halted and the meeting officially convened.
There were further objections about the makeup of the committee, which consisted of residents Charlie Daniel, Larry Albert and Carl Pearman, Sgt. Dave Turner of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Anna Maria Building Official Bob Welch.
Pine Avenue Restoration’s Managing Partner Micheal Coleman questioned the composition of the committee, saying he thought a cross section of the community would be more effective.
Stoltzfus responded that there was not going to be any public comment allowed at the meeting, a position reiterated several times during the session as members of the audience attempted to participate in the discussion.
When Coleman took further exception, committee member Daniel confronted him then walked out of the room.
More questions came from Commission Chair John Quam, who pointed out that the practice of the commission in forming committees has been for each commissioner to suggest a member to the mayor, who makes the selection with the commission having the right of final approval.
“Most formal processes are set up by the commission,” said Dye. “The charter sets up the composition of formal committees and boards like P&Z and the charter review commission. I’m not sure about an informal committee.”
Dye also said that under the law, the public does have a right to speak in a public hearing (in quasi-judicial matters), but not necessarily at other public meetings.
“There’s a difference between a requirement and a tradition,” he added. “The commission never adopted a formal set of procedures, but here in Anna Maria, there’s a tradition for allowing public speaking.”
The chief safety concern for Stoltzfus and others is the fact that parked cars and trucks back out across a sidewalk to join traffic on Pine Avenue.
There was some discussion of moving the sidewalks closer to the buildings so that cars don’t have to cross it to get in and out of parking spaces.
Dye suggested that that would take major changes to city code, and Stoltzfus said he didn’t see moving sidewalks as a solution anyway.
As the discussion continued among the four remaining committee members, some of the ideas tossed around included putting stop signs along Pine Avenue at all the cross streets.
That was something that everyone appeared to agree would slow down traffic on the street and be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
When Stoltzfus asked for comment from other members of his committee, Pearman expressed some concerns about the tone of the meeting.
“I’m concerned about the atmosphere I’m seeing here,” he said. “I don’t know that I want to be part of it. I like to see the people involved sit down and work things out. There’s an adversarial air in here that I don’t want to be part of.”
Pearman resigned from the committee, but remained until the session concluded.
Stoltzfus then said there was time for public comment after all.
“I’m going to back off,” he said. “In my defense, I think I’ve got a target painted on me.”
Stoltzfus said there has to be attention paid to safety issues, and he didn’t want his committee to get bogged down.
A second meeting of the committee that was scheduled for Dec. 1 has been cancelled.
The issue is also slated for full discussion at the city commission work session on Dec. 3 at 6 p.m.