Mount Dora City Council – May 3 Meeting (with Video)

Mayor Girone recognized city clerk Gwen Johns and deputy city clerk Misty Elder in his proclamation of City Clerks Week.

Once again, council moved smoothly through its regular business, saving the bumpy ride (again) for the end.

Questions about who pays for what, how high standards should go and how far to go in striking a balance between rules of order and smart governance became controversial near the meeting’s close.

Along the way council took action on stormwater improvements for the Northeast Community, gave the green light to staff to negotiate new city boundaries with Lake County and its neighboring cities and replaced traffic lights.

There were also questions about a lunch Mount Dora’s mayor had with the mayor of Eustis, and who authorized and analysis of the city charter asking what powers the mayor has in a “council-manager” form of government it specifies.

Opening the meeting, Mayor Girone recognized city clerk Gwen Johns and deputy city clerk Misty Elder in a proclamation decreeing May 1-7 Municipal Clerks Week. “The Office of the Municipal Clerk provides the professional link between the citizens, the local governing bodies and agencies of government at other levels,” he said, adding they are pledged “to be ever mindful of their neutrality and impartiality, rendering equal service to all.”

During public comment, Irene O’Malley of Lake Cares Food Pantry addressed council. According to their records, 37% of their patrons come from Mount Dora, where poverty has increased in the past four years from 13% to 17-1/2%. “When there’s poverty in the community and it’s increasing,” she said, “it affects the entire community. It’s our responsibility to reduce it.” She announced that Dr. Donna Beegle, a nationally-recognized authority on the crisis of poverty, will speak on “Break the Iron Cage of Poverty” at Lake Receptions on Thursday, May 19. Tickets are $30 for the event, which includes dinner.

Also during public comment, Lt. Hunter of the Mount Dora police made another pitch for Relay for Life, this Friday from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m. at Ferran Park in Eustis. Mount Dora is currently seventh in fundraising for the event (out of 23). Council members have been issued “warrants” by police; they can “get out of jail” at the event by making a donation.

On to their business, Council passed the first reading of an ordinance providing stormwater drainage provision for the Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency (NECRA), including needs assessment, planning, design, construction, permitting and other related activities. The city has applied for a $750,000 community block grant from the state, and this ordinance provides a master plan for much-needed stormwater improvements in the Northeast Community once the grant monies come in. (The city has also kicked in $50,000.)

Council next took up resolution that gives staff authority to be begin negotiations with the City of Eustis on an Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement (ISBA). Back in March, Eustis requested that Lake County and the cities of Leesburg, Tavares, Umatilla, Mount Dora enter into the negotiations on a revised boundary map (initially for the express purpose of providing fire and rescue service, but would eventually include the right of annexation). The bone of contention for Mount Dora is that one boundary for Eustis reaches all the way down to the northern edge of Mount Dora’s proposed Innovation District.

Here’s a comparison of boundaries between the Eustis proposal and Mount Dora’s own conception, as presented on Tuesday night:

 Eustis ISBA
Eustis ISBA
Mount Dora ISBA
Mount Dora ISBA

During council discussion, Mrs. Rich asked Mr. Girone if he had recently lunched with Eustis Mayor Michael Holland, and asked him what they discussed. Girone responded that while he had intended to talk about the Eustis ISBA proposal, instead they discussed personal matters and never got around to the ISBA.

Mount Dora’s proposed boundary was revised to include the Thrill Hill water reclamation site north of state road 44, and the the resolution was adopted 7-0.

On to old business, council took up a proposal tabled from the last meeting to re-configure council chambers. This would allow more visibility between council members as well as provide more seating in the room. (There is also ongoing concern about security in the room, but that will be handled separately.)  Public works director John Peters had drawn up several room configurations and gotten preliminary estimates. Work alone on the dais would cost an estimated $18,000, with the bill increasing to between $60 and $70 thousand in order to change out seating in the room along two configurations, as well as other improvements.

Discussion on council went back and forth (again) over the necessity of the expense, with Mr. Slaby reiterating that he had only meant moving tables around when he made the request last December. Assistant city manager Leinbach pointed out that work on the dais could come of out of now-available operating funds, while the rest could come from capital expense planning later this year. Ms. Rich complained about spending citizens’ money on things like this when they’re already feeling the pinch of increased water and wastewater rates. “We have other things we need to be spending money on,” Mr. Rowlett said. In the end, Mr. Girone directed interim city manager Leinbach to put the whole project into the capital budget process later this year.

For new business, council took up a staff recommendation to replace the traffic lights at 5th and Alexander and 5th and Donnelly. According to Mr. Leinbach, both lights are old and have serious maintenance issues. The $86,000 cost will be offset by a reimbursement of $26,000 from the county, which owns Old 441 (5th Avenue). Mr. Peters added that the city plans to do a timing study on each light since currently there are significant conflicts between pedestrian traffic and traffic turning in the intersection. (The idea is to add a 20-30 second pedestrian-only flow at each intersection.)

Everyone was happy with the idea to replace the lights with traffic modications (Mr. Rolfson called current conditions “an accident waiting to happen”), but when it got down to how to pay for the work, debate sawed back and forth over whether it should be paid for out of the electric fund (which is only paid for by residents receiving city electric) or the general fund. While the money had been budgeted in the electric fund, some members of council felt it was “more honest” to move the money over to the general fund, making sure that the reimbursement from the county got from the electric to general fund as well.

Council at odds
Council at odds

After a while of this, Mr. Rolfson spoke up. “I fear we’re getting into management issues that none of us (council members) are skilled to oversee,” he said. “As much as I want this, I don’t want to presume I know more than the city manager or finance manager.”

Mayor Girone agreed that what the council was doing was “micro-management,” to which Mr. Slaby took offense. “We recently had to transfer half a million dollars between funds,” he said. “Don’t drop the ‘micro-management’ bomb.'”

Mr. Leinbach pointed out the hoops that would have to be jumped through to allow for the lights to be paid for out of one fund rather than another. He said, “I’m fiscally conservative. I like to keep budget amendments to a minimum. Let’s go ahead as proposed and we’ll fix the funding at budget time. We’ll just have to bite the bullet this time.”

Council agreed, and the staff was given authority to proceed as they requested with only Mr. Slaby dissenting. (“It’s a great idea, but there still needs to be better laws of accounting,” he said.)

In his city attorney update, Mr. Groot told council that motion for summary judgment put forth by Medallion in their suit with the city had gone before the judge but nothing else had happened.

Ms. Rich asked Mr. Groot about a memo he had sent out to council analyzing at length the city charter, particularly exploring the role of council, mayor and city manager under the charter’s stated “council-manager” form of government.  She wondered who had authorized the memo, and asked if Mr. Groot had been paid for the work.

Mr. Groot said he had been asked by several council members—including Mayor Girone and Mr. Crail, “as well as others”—and yes, he did bill for the work, though at a reduced rate.

“I don’t understand why taxpayers had to pay for that review since our charter review committee just finished looking at it in 2015,” Rich said. She and Girone then had several testy exchanges with Ms. Rich pressing for more information and Mayor Girone saying her time was up.

In his city manager update, Mr. Leinbach again mentioned council attending a goal-setting session which should help clarify their work. Mr. Rolfson said he hoped they would include former city manager Pastue’s “SWOT” memo as part of that process. “I’m not sure how that fits in,” Mr. Girone said, “but we can.”

Mr. Leinbach also said that staff had been discussing improvements for 5th Avenue between Tremain and Alexander with the county, and that an agreement should be announced at the next meeting. Work should begin in June or July, with night or weekend work to minimize the impact on local business.

During council comment, Ms. Rich complained about council’s decision at the previous meeting to eliminate the master’s degree requirement for city manager applicant. “Our city deserves the very best,” she said. She moved that council reconsider the issue. (According to procedure, council members who did not attend a meeting in which a decision had been made can move that the decision be reconsidered; neither Ms. Rich or Mr. Rolfson were in attendance at the previous meeting.) Mayor Girone pushed her motion back until the rest of council comments could be entertained.

Mr. Rolfson submitted a thank-you letter from a neighbor who had been impressed with the efforts of Josh Kramm in public works.

Mr. Slaby asked that the city manager search process include success measures. He also said that citizen committees like CRA, NECRA and Parks and Rec have similar standers of performance.

Mr.Girone reminded council that the Wekiva Parkway process is moving up, and that council had better keep this in mind as the budgeting season comes around. “We can sit here with blinders,” he said. “Do we want other cities to take the land we’ve staked out?” He also said that additional questions were coming in about the recent water and wastewater rate increase which council would need to soon address.

Council then turned back then to Ms. Rich’s motion. (It will be remembered that council argued this at length at the last meeting, voting to eliminate the requirement.) Some of the resistance was on the point (Mr. Slaby preferred “casting as wider net”), while others debated the matter of resurrecting old business. “We should go with the decision that was made,” said Mr. Crail, who had voted in the minority last time. “We seem to revisit these things over and over.”

Ms. Rich wondered why council hadn’t waited for full attendance to decide the issue. Mr. Girone said he accepted fault for that. (He didn’t’ mention that with the job posting already having gone out by April 15, no changes to the qualifications could have been timely after that.)

Mr. Rolfson wasn’t as troubled by dropping the master’s degree qualification as the decision by council at that meeting to require city manager to reside within city limits. “If the goal was making sure we get as many candidates, why have the residency requirement?” he asked.

In the end, Ms. Rich’s motion was defeated.

Finally, Mr. Slaby complained about the slow process in which items that come up in council discussion get on the agenda, calling it “dysfunctional.”

Mr. Leinbach suggested if something during council appears to be a candidate for adding to the agenda, the mayor can ask for a consensus. “You don’t have to change the charter,” he added.

Council seemed to agree with that, but then sought no consensus for adding anything from the night’s discussion to future meeting agendas. Soon after the meeting adjourned.

David Cohea, Writer (