ANNA MARIA — Emotions ran high at a special meeting of the city commission last week. Under the city charter, any sitting commissioner can call a special meeting with 24-hour notice. Last Wednesday, Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus called a special meeting for the next day, Thursday, Jan. 21, raising the ire of at least one commissioner and the mayor.
Stoltzfus said he called the meeting to address the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on Pine Avenue where he says they are in danger from vehicle traffic, which must cross sidewalks to enter and exit parking spaces.
Stoltzfus wanted to see the city expedite the reworking of the parking and site plan regulations for the residential/office/retail district.
“We dodged a bullet the other night when the site plan presented to P&Z was disapproved,” Stoltzfus said.
He was referring to the site plan for 216 Pine Avenue, which was continued until next month after a hearing at the Jan. 19 planning and zoning board meeting.
Fran Barford, speaking for the city administration as mayor and city manager, said she wanted to make her position clear.
She said she and the administration are encouraged on the work the staff, planning and zoning board and city commissioners are doing to clarify language and definitions in the city codes and ordinances so everyone will get fair and equal treatment.
Barford defended the staff’s work to date in “administering the codes and ordinances and administering the will of the commission as they intended and directed by the laws they created.”
Barford said she met with Stoltzfus on Tuesday of last week and agreed with him that many of the city’s codes and ordinances need to be clarified and that the city staff is committed and willing to work with elected officials to make those changes.
“I want to point out and remind the commissioners that we have a very small staff and it is troublesome to stop in mid-week on Wednesday, and interrupt our regular work in order to have a special meeting on Thursday on short notice,” Barford read from a prepared statement. “This is very cumbersome and time consuming on the staff and, in my opinion as the mayor/city manager, this agenda doesn’t seem to be an emergency item.”
Commissioner Chuck Webb objected strongly to the special meeting, calling it ridiculous.
“I don’t know why we’re having this meeting with short notice at this time of day,” he said. “I think it’s rude and discourteous to the other commissioners.”
With that, Webb moved to adjourn the meeting. Commissioner JoAnn Mattick seconded that motion, but the motion was voted down by a vote of 2-3 with only Webb and Mattick voting to shut the meeting down.
At that point, Webb, a practicing attorney, left the commission chambers, calling Stoltzfus’ action in calling the special meeting obscene and stating that he had appointments that he hadn’t been able to reschedule because of the short notice for the meeting and the time of day.
Stoltzfus has worked to change the parking regulations and site plan process since before he was elected to the commission last November.
Shortly after his election, he established a parking safety committee that was disbanded at the request of the mayor, since the usual procedure for forming committees was not followed.
At the first and only meeting of that committee, the city attorney, the building official, the administrative assistant and the commanding officer of the Anna Maria substation of the Sheriff’s Office were all on the payroll and present at the meeting. The city attorney’s fee is $145 an hour.
Subsequently, a parking safety committee was formed with one member proposed by each commissioner and the mayor. It has held one meeting to date to work on its charge of coming up with recommendations to make the parking in the ROR district safer.
That committee is slated to meet again on Jan. 29.
The commission and the P&Z board have already held one meeting to discuss parking and site plan regulations in the district. At that meeting, there was consensus to return final approval of all site plans to the city commission. The city attorney is at work on the documents to make that happen.
The committee is also beginning to consider action to address safety concerns with the parking regulations. It is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 11.
The city attorney, who was on the payroll and present at the special meeting, reminded Stoltzfus that ordinances take some time. First and second readings are required as well as proper advertising.
Stoltzfus contends that the city staff is not interpreting the codes correctly and that the land development regulations and comprehensive plan are not in agreement.
He made a motion for the immediate removal of Planner Alan Garrett from the city’s employ. That motion died for lack of a second.
Several members of the audience, including Tom Turner, Jim Conoly, Robin Wall and Robert Hunt agreed with Stoltzfus.
Ricinda Perry, an attorney representing the Pine Avenue Restoration Project whose site plans are a problem for Stoltzfus, had some comments.
She objected to Stoltzfus’ move to change the regulations mid-stream in her client’s plans. She also stated that the codes should be applied uniformly and without a personal vendetta.
“I hate to bring this up, but, unfortunately, we have been forced to seek court intervention on this problem,” Perry said.
A court reporter working for Perry and PAR was on hand to make a verbatim transcript of the special meeting.
In the end, the commission voted to continue to work on the issues in the way that’s already underway.
That vote was 3-1 with Stoltzfus voting no.