Mount Dora City Council – April 19 Meeting (with Video)


With council members Rolfson and Rich absent, the five voting members of council had another smooth night of city business almost to the finish line.

During public comment Chief O’Grady made note of the Relay for Life t-shirts draped on every council member’s chair. The May 6 event will be jointly held for Eustis, Tavares and Mount Dora in Ferran Park in Eustis. “Several of you will be getting a warrant to participate,” he joked.

Mayor Girone read two proclamations, first designating the second week of May as Women’s Lung Health Week and encouraging all residents to learn more about the detection and treatment of lung cancer. (The week-long awareness week is sponsored by Lung Force, a national movement led by the American Lung Association.)

In the other proclamation, Girone recognized Mount Dora resident and retired Mount Dora police officer Mike Coffman, who recently donated to the W.T. Bland Library a replica he had crafted of the HMS Victory. The HMS Victory was commissioned in 1778 during the Seven Year War and was one of the most powerful warships of its ear. Coffman spent 1,500 hours assembling the three and a half foot replica, using wood from the original ship to make several parts for the model.

Mayor Girone recognizes Mike Coffman for his gift to the W.T. Bland Library while information officer Megan Glass takes a pic
Mayor Girone recognizes Mike Coffman for his gift to the W.T. Bland Library while information officer Megan Glass takes a pic

Council heard a presentation on the audit of the comprehensive 2014-15 annual financial report (CAFR) prepared by Moore Stephens Lovelace, PA. The good news is that the General Fund had its first positive net change in years, with a modest .49% increase in expenditures over the previous year. The utilities funds cash balance dropped significantly as major water and wastewater projects began to roll out. The auditors noted that a self-insurance monitoring report was missing (the city has hired someone to get that done), had concerns about IT security and made note of a number of smaller concerns. Councilman Slaby pressed finance director Mark Sheppard on what could be done to increase IT controls and councilman Crail recognized the efforts of Sheppard and his department for “a great piece of work.” Council then voted 5-0 to accept the audit.

Next up was the second public hearing on whether the city should apply for a Community Development Block Grant.  The grant would approve up to $750,000 in state money for flood and drainage improvements in the Northeast community. The city would also kick in $50,000 in seed money to improve the status of the request and help pay for administrative costs.  This would be the fifth grant of its kind for Mount Dora.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Mr. Crail. ” We spend fifty thousand to get seven hundred and fifty thousand. It’s not sexy but its absolutely necessary.”

“When you’re on the business end of having your water shut off, it gets sexy really fast,” said councilwoman Tillett. There was no public comment and council voted 5-0 to process the grant application.  Jordan and Associates, who have been working with the city on the block grant request, will deliver the application to the state next week, and if all goes as expected, work will begin in June.

Next up was the second reading and adoption of the ordinance to amend the City’s Land Development Code for Public Arts, removing the artwork requirement for both commercial and residential projects and re-establishing the Public Arts Commission in the Code of Ordinances. This was discussed at length by council through the spring, and received feedback from the Public Arts Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission and from a report from then-city attorney Cliff Shepard.  There was no discussion amid council and no public comment, and the ordinance was approved 5-0.

Council then took up the second reading of the ordinance to amend the Comprehensive Plan, changing the Employment Center/Innovation District land use category so that only limited multi-family residential would be allowed as a conditional Land Use Permit and/or Planned Unit Development (PUD); prohibit single-family development, and allow hospitals as a permitted use. Back in September 2015, council heard of a request to the county to increase the amount of residential development in the planned Employment Center/Innovation District; wishing to keep commercial development as a priority in that area, it moved to change the Comprehensive Plan to stop this from happening. Limited multi-family residential (e.g., apartments) were seen as more in keeping with the commercial development.  With no discussion among council and no public comment, council then voted 5-0 to approve the ordinance.

03 full council IMG_7126 copy

Moving on to new business, council considered a request to approve the 2016 Mount Dora Half Marathon, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 18, 2016. The event, which will include a 5k as well as half marathon foot race, is sponsored by Mount Dora Road Runners Inc. The race will begin at the Mount Dora city limit, follow a course through Lake County and end in Elizabeth Evans Park.  Vickie Blate, Mount Dora resident and coordinator of the event, made an impressive speech to council about the event, saying that it has been astoundingly successful—888 are already signed up for the 2016 event, with an eventual field that may surpass 2,500 participants. “Mount Dora is a special place for these events,” Blate said. “And with such an emphasis on wellness, it’s a great attraction for companies considering opening for business in Innovation District.” Council agreed, unanimously approving the request.

The next item of new business was perhaps the most disturbing to the council.  The City of Eustis recently adopted a resolution asking Lake County, the City of Leesburg, Tavares, Umatilla and Mount Dora to begin negotiations on an Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement (ISBA) that would greatly extent Eustis’ boundaries (among other directions) toward Mount Dora’s planned Innovation District. The request from interim city manager Kim Leinbach to Mount Dora council was to allow staff to proceed with negotiations of the ISBA.

Council response was sharply critical of the proposal from Eustis.

“This is a blatant land grab,” said councilman Crail. “Everyone needs to understand how this will cut into Mount Dora’s potential for growth. We should take that stance that every square inch they want to include (inside their boundary) we should ask for ourselves.”

Councilman Slaby asked if the city had been contacted in any way prior to the Eustis resolution. (Mr. Leinbach: No.) “I am not pleased with this,” Slaby continued. “We are investing our hearts and souls into this Innovation District. Everything we are fighting for they are taking away.”

“This is going to be an issue the whole city needs to get behind and fight,” said Mayor Girone.

During public comment, Josh Hemingway asked if the land in question will need to be purchased. Mr. Leinbach: This boundary extension provides an area for services and would allow Eustis to annex it.

Council voted 5-0 to authorize staff to begin the negotiations.

The third item of new business was the consideration of several plans to re-configure city hall chambers in way that would allow council members a better view of each other and provide for more seating in the room. Public works director John Peters submitted several plans to place council on a reconfigured dais and expand seating from 72 seats to 82 and 90 seats respectively. The estimated cost is $18,750. (Council had also expressed concerns about increased security in the room, but Peters said that would require an outside consultant to assess.)

Reaction from council was lukewarm. Councilwoman Tillett was concerned that the new layout would make some presentations more difficult in other city board meetings held in the room. Councilman Rowlett thought simply putting 30% inserts between the tables would fan them out enough and that the money would be better spent “on streets and sidewalks.” Councilman Slaby, who had made the original comment back in December, was surprised.  “I just wanted to see if current table configuration could be moved around a little,” he said. Mayor Girone thought they should wait until the full council was present to decide. Council voted 4-1 to table the discussion until then.

The final item of new business was a request to have council approve city street sweeping in gated communities on the condition that those communities hold the city harmless for any damage to their streets. The primary benefit of street sweeping services is that they eliminate any trash or debris from getting into Florida waterways. “To not do it everywhere just defeats the purpose,” said Mr. Leinbach. Councilman Crail pointed out that the Waterman Village community could especially benefit from the service since so many older trees line its streets. Council approved the request 5-0.

In his city attorney update, city attorney Groot informed council of three litigations the city is currently contending with. In the most significant, he said that Medallion Home is expected to file a motion for summary judgment next Tuesday. (In a motion for summary judgment, there is a request for the court to rule that the other party — Mount Dora — has no case, because there are no facts at issue).  He also urged council to take a half day of training in a variety of legislative issues not covered in available online training, such as quasi-judicial and open meetings.

In his city manager update, Mr. Leinbach suggested council also get team-building training which could be combined with a planned goals and objectives workshop.

In his other item, Mr. Leinbach said that he’d been hearing so much about the city’s parking issues that he wanted to see if an outside consultant could be hired to gather all of the research the city has done (including the recent kiosk parking survey) and develop several proposals, “one cheaper and faster, the other more expensive and longer-lasting.” Councilwoman Tilllett wondered if the CRA committee should put the request to council, and interim planning director Sandersfield it was the CRA committee was ready to turn over all their research to a consultant.

Finally, council comment. Starting off, councilwoman Tillett mentioned Mayor Girone’s recently-released State of the City 2016 report, praising its format, hopeful outlook and  inclusion of comments from the various citizen boards. (You can read it on the city’s website.)

Councilman Slaby asked for an update on the city manager hiring. According to Mr. Leinbach, the ad went out this week, resumes have begun coming in, and Slavin Management Consultants, the city’s employment contractor, will select qualified candidates for review.

Mr Slaby was annoyed that the ad had not been voted on by council before being posted, taking issue with two items: that the city manager needs to be a resident of Mount Dora, and that master’s degree was required. He felt neither were necessary.

Council went around on the issue of residency. Some felt “skin in the game” (including paying Mount Dora taxes) was essential; others felt that residency was less important than proximity (that they live within a certain distance from the city). Council voted 3-2 to keep the residency requirement.

They also went around on the issue of deleting the master’s degree requirement. Mr. Leinbach said that the ad specifies that equivalent employment experience could suffice in place of a master’s degree. Councilman Slaby felt that requiring the degree would limit the field; councilman Crail felt that the best candidates would of course have both the experience and education, and so the degree requirement should be kept.

As it kept going around, tempers began to heat up. Councilman Crail called all the back-and-forth on minutiae in the ad “stupid stuff,” to which councilman Slaby took offense, saying, “I have never called any idea stupid.” He added, “”I have people asking me about those qualifications”—a statement oddly resonant of the attempt to lower the qualifications of the city attorney hire earlier this year. (What is it about lowering the bar for city staff?)

One has to also wonder about these “people” are whose concerned presence usually shows up at council’s worst moments of dysfunction.

Councilman Crail later apologized and Mayor Girone appealed for council to move on, adding that Mr. Leinbach had asked council to review the add and give their input. “We need to get on an even keel,” he said.

City attorney Groot that changing the ad about qualifications wasn’t necessary, that council could simply advise Slavin of the clarification. Council took no action on the education qualification in the ad.

For his next comment, councilman Slaby repeated a request from the previous council meeting, that as the city is moving into an intense period of growth and change, a consultant should be brought in “to help structure the government as best as possible.”

“We can do that,” Mr. Leinbach replied, “but I do want you to know that it’s going to be expensive.”  He had gotten a preliminary quote of $92,000.

Mayor Girone felt that there wasn’t a need to hire a consultant, that the skills to do accomplish such a task were in-house.

Councilman Rowlett suggested going to the Florida League of Cities for advice.

Councilwoman Tillett wondered if that assessment should instead grow out of their planned goals-setting workshop.  She also said she had Googled for similar consulting services and found one used by a city in California for less than $50,000. Mr. Leinbach commented that the bid could have been for a far less comprehensive analysis.

Councilman Crail felt it important to engage in that process, but since the city is only four months away from having a permanent city manager, he felt they should wait until then.

Mayor Girone felt that Mr. Leinbach could and should begin the process, and provide that information to the next permanent city manager.

No one mentioned the assessment former city manager Vince Pastue provided in his SWOT Analysis memo last year, but hopefully Mr. Leinbach will review it as a starting point.

For his third and final comment, councilman Slaby brought up once again the continuing concern about the danger of buildings downtown raising over 35 feet due to a C-3 zoning decision for EPIC Theatre on the 441 commercial corridor. (At the last council meeting when he asked this, interim planning and zoning manager Sanderfeld had said they would revisit the concern.) This time, councilman Slaby asked if city attorney Groot would look into any possible loopholes that need closing.

Mr. Sandersfeld addressed council saying that no such loophole could exist due to the layers of restriction that keep building heights downtown to 35 feet (and 25 feet within 100 feet of Lake Dora.)

Council kept questioning Sandersfeld, asking about “wiggle room” and loose language that might open the door to taller buildings downtown, with both Sandersfield and Groot reiterating that comprehensive plans are strictly construed.

Sandersfeld added that comprehensive plans are reviewed every seven years according to state law and would be coming around soon for Mount Dora, and the city could look closely at the issue then.

“We want to be sure the language is precise,” repeated councilman Rowlett before council moved on.

In his comments, Mayor Girone said that a presentation was being added to the June 7 council agenda looking at why code enforcement  in the city is complaint-driven and enforced by the police rather than a more proactive, compliance-driven policy handled by planning and zoning.

And finally, he said that he, Mr. Leinbach and Mr. Sandersfeld had met with the county about the proposed Fifth Avenue street plan, and results from that discussion should be ready to be announced at the May 3 meeting with work to begin in June. Councilwoman Tillett praised councilman Rowlett’s diligence over the years keeping focus on the necessity on this project.

And with that, council was done for the night.

David Cohea, Writer (