The Mount Dora city council meeting began with several feel-good moments and presentations on May 17th. Controversy, as usual, came later.
As has become common, the unscripted, off-agenda moments proved the most interesting and controversial. The manner in which the new City Attorney is billing the City of Mount Dora was of concern to several council members and the interim city manager, Kim Leinbach.
During public appearances the organizer of Mount Dora’s blueberry festival, Joseph Steed of Clermont, spoke of the great success of the blueberry festival. He acknowledged the hard works of parks and recreation and the efforts of Chris Carson, in particular.
John Tucker spoke about parking and traffic on Alexander and Baker Streets. He claimed it is “a mess,” based upon his observations. Mr. Tucker (newly filed candidate for city council district 3 seat) says something must be done about it. Tucker requested a professional come to look at the traffic patterns downtown. He said he has pictures of cars waiting to get around trucks, and has seen several near-accidents. He suggested perhaps that Baker and Alexander should each be made one-way streets.
After Mr. Tucker spoke, the mayor asked for approval of the evening’s agenda. It was approved after Mr. Slaby asked for clarification about when he could add items to upcoming agendas, that clarified by Mr. Leinbach, (at the end of the meeting, under council comments was probably the correct time) the agenda was unanimously approved.
There were two presentations.
The first was a request by retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Gearing (on behalf of Lake and Sumter Counties’ Military Officers Association of America), Major Andy Scott, and ROTC Sergeant major Alexis Wallace that a prominent parking space in downtown be reserved for, and specially marked for, combat-wounded veterans. The organization Wounded Warriors Family Support Group, provided a sign to be used, if council accepted. The council agreed by general consensus to honor the request. Mayor Girone suggested that an appropriate spot would be by the war memorial downtown on Baker Street and Fifth Avenue. The designated parking spot would not be something that would require enforcement, as it is to be used based upon the honor system.
Though there was general consensus to place the sign near the memorial, if staff agreed it was appropriate, Mr. Slaby slowed that momentum down a bit, saying, “Parking spots are at a premium and I want it to be in the best spot. I would rather have the staff study it a little bit more. If they come up with that spot, fine. But frankly, I am going to put the digs to you, (turning to the mayor) just like I did in the election. That mayor spot, it sure would be nice for someone else having [use of] that, rather than just the mayor.”
Mayor Girone shook his head, laughed and said, “It ain’t gonna happen.”
Mr. Slaby went on to explain that he thought people who objected to veterans may deface the sign or “do something wrong” to it. He explained he believed more thought should go into the decision. In the end, there was consensus to place the sign at the memorial, pending review by the City’s Public Works Department.
Police Chief John O’Grady then introduced Detective Pat Thomas and announced that she had just been named the Lake County Officer of the Year. Her efforts, last October were instrumental in saving the life of an infant who who was brought to the police and fire station. The baby was not breathing, but Detective Thomas’ swift response had a positive result for the infant. Her action in that situation was the catalyst for the resulting award and honor. After Chief O’Grady explained the circumstances, the council and audience offered Detective Thomas a standing ovation. Mr. Rolfson pointed out that there have only been two Mount Dora police officers awarded Lake County officer of the year – the other being now Deputy Chief Robert Bell.
An introduction on the update on the Wekiva Trail Project was provided by TJ Fish of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). He explained that in conjunction with Lake County, the project is moving from the study phase to the design phase, if council approves. David Graeber with Inwood Consulting and Engineering took over the presentation, explaining that the purpose of the presentation was to share findings from their study to that point, then to ask for council’s permission to move on to the design phase of the trail project.
Graeber explained that the right-of-way acquisition and construction of the first part of the trail from Tremain Street out to SR 46 into Sorrento are still not funded. He explained that the key issues with that first segment include, “Public outreach and historic resources. We’ve addressed those issues in detail – the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, the Tremain Street bridge and the US 441 bridge at our last presentation to you.” Graeber explained that the estimated costs for design and right-of-way study are estimated at $1.8 million, and construction is estimated at $5.9 million. The cost of right-of-way acquisition has still not been determined.
In March, a meeting was held to take public input on the project. There were over 500 invitations sent out to officials and 400+ property owners, as well as advertisements on local online publications. There were 52 attendees signed in at the meeting, which was an open house and trail presentation.
Graeber went on to explain some of the history on the proposed project, going back to the plans from 2008. He discussed the issues with which the MPO and Inwood have dealt concerning the company that operates the train; saying there is more to be done there. TJ Fish said it was important that the City drive the portion of the project that directly concerns Mount Dora.
Council voted unanimously to proceed with the design phase.
Under Public Hearings:
There was a final reading of Ordinance 2016-18, a proposed amendment to the Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency (NECRA) plan to add a new Section 2.10 for a current stormwater drainage needs assessment, planning and design, construction, permitting and other related activities for the Mount Dora Northeast Community Redevelopment Area.
Cal Rolfson moved approval, saying, “This is the final stop to doing the job.” Ed Rowlett seconded the motion. The motion to approve the final reading of ordinance 2016-18 passed unanimously.
Under New Business:
Council approved a “Food for Fines” program at the W.T. Bland Public Library.
Staff asked the council move to approve the JPS Subdivision Re-plat to include the dedication of a new driveway to “Public,” subject to engineering requirements and The original plat for the City’s Waste Water Plant No. 2 was approved by City Council in October, 2015 and was recorded November 2015 under the name “James P. Snell Subdivision.” The existing SR 46 access point will be eliminated due to the planned Wekiva Parkway (S.R. 429)/S.R. 46 Realignment improvements. When the original plat was forward to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), their legal counsel determined that the dedication block language was not sufficient for the driveway. FDOT requested the dedicated for the new driveway (Tract A) be to the “Public.” The original plat stated the dedication of the driveway was to the “City of Mount Dora.”
Ed Rowlett moved approval and Mr. Crail seconded. The motion passed unanimously.
The meeting included much more discussion among council after the items actually included on the agenda had been addressed.
Mr. Colbert was present in City Attorney Lonnie Groot’s absence. Mr. Colbert introduced his wife, in the audience, who is the office administrator.
City Manager Update:
Interim City Manager Kim Leinbach is working with the County on an interlocal agreement to pave the section of Fifth Avenue in Mount Dora between Tremain and Alexander Streets. Leinbach acknowledged the road is in need of major repair. The County and the City would participate in paying to pave the road. He will bring the agreement back for council approval when it is complete. Mayor Girone explained timing issues may make it necessary to hold a special meeting to approve the agreement, once the document is prepared.
Vince Sandersfeld explained that the Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency (NECRA) is proposing a market analysis and study for the Northeast Community within Mount Dora. The study should include surveys and an open house to revitalize the neighborhood. It will cost under $25,000 to complete. Cal Rolfson said the NECRA chose a firm they would like to move forward with (RMA). Mr. Rolfson asked that the council allow the council support their recommendation, and he moved that they go forward. Marie Rich seconded the motion.
Ozell Ward, a NECRA board member, encouraged council to approve this plan. He said it was vital to the community to prevent re-gentrification of the area, among other things.
The motion passed unanimously.
Kim Leinbach explained that steps are being made to do more online applications and permitting through the building department.
A couple who live at 12th and Tremain, who are gardeners, have asked to be allowed to extend their garden into the right-of-way. The suggestion was supported by council, with the provision that the city attorney review the conditions to provide protections to the city and an understanding that if the city needed the area, the garden would be removed. The agreement, when reached will come back to council for approval.
Ms. Rich expressed concerns about the city attorney’s bill. She said there were elements she did not understand. She wanted a better explanation of the billing. She asked who oversees the billing, she asked the council review them before the bills are paid.
She brought up several instances documented in the bill that she felt were confusing. She indicated the city manager was also questioning the detail within the bill. She asked for more accountability.
Mr. Rolfson said, as a retired attorney, he understood “learning curve,” but he also has questions about the billing, he has never seen billing like it is done by Mr. Groot’s firm. He plans to meet with Mr. Groot at his office to ask questions, “individual to individual.”
Ms. Rich said she would like that done in a meeting, as she also has questions. Mr. Rolfson said he thought it was a good idea. Mayor Girone says those questions can be asked at a meeting or by making an appointment – remembering that there will be a bill for it. He reminded council there is a difference in how this firm bills compared to the last firm. The mayor said to remember that the attorney is looking out for the city and council’s interests.
Ms. Tillett recommended that the city manager discuss what he needs from the attorney to track the bills, and make a recommendation to the attorney, saying, “He (the city manager) has financial oversight, which is one of his responsibilities. I guess I’m not sure whether it’s in the purview of the council to get into the weeds of whether this charge is appropriate or whether that charge is not appropriate, but I don’t have an issue with Mr. Rolfson having a meeting.”
Mr. Slaby said he wasn’t clear who was engaging the attorney in some instances – the staff or the council.
Mr. Leinbach agreed that, for clarity’s sake, they needed a better breakdown on the bill, but added there is a matter of trust that is involved in the relationship.
Mr. Rolfson noted that he was aware that some work done for council had not been copied to the city administration, and he found that concerning.
Ms. Rich thanked the police department for coming to her house at 3:00am to help her with a mouse – much to the amusement of several council and audience members. The mayor suggested the mouse be trapped and neutered, as the audience laughed.
Mr. Rolfson suggested that the animosity was waning between the new and old councils after the last election. He believes it is time to give those outgoing council members the plaques/or public recognition that other members have received in the past for their service.
The mayor, in an awkward moment, acknowledged that he and Mr. Rolfson had previously discussed the subject privately, and then said, “I maybe shouldn’t have said that.” (That remark was obviously made in acknowledgement that he was aware council members are prohibited from privately discussing any issues that may come before them.) He quickly went on to agree that it was time for the past council to be recognized for their service.
Mr. Crail and Mr. Rowlett thanked staff for recent work.
Ms. Tillett said she attended advanced elected municipal training in Tampa. She felt she had learned quite a bit, and spoke well of Marilyn Crotty, who will be facilitating the council’s goal-setting workshops. She also said she was going on a fact-finding trip to look at the city of Stuart, Florida to look at their micro-transit system.
Mr. Slaby spent most of the last 15-20 minutes discussing concerns he has that have not yet been added to agendas. He asked about how the permanent city manager search was proceeding.
The interim city manager said there were not as many applicants for the job of city manager as had previously been seen. He suggested the council may want to change the wording on the advertisement to say, “Open until filled.” He suggested that may help them get more applicants.
Mr. Slaby said it is really important to him to bring up that Mount Dora’s practice of insisting on fully engineered site plans on the front end of the process, as opposed to places like Tavares and Apopka, is business-unfriendly. He said he has heard people don’t come to Mount Dora to do business based on that process. He said he has people from the business community who would be available to talk to council about it. He said he feels that may increase operating costs and says that should be reviewed.
Mr. Leinbach said he would be happy to look into this before it is further discussed by council. Council agreed.
Mr. Slaby asked that all information about all candidates for elected office in Mount Dora be posted on the City’s website. The city clerk agreed it would be something that could be done. Council agreed that should be done.
Mr. Slaby says the city agenda is confusing – and he has been studying lots of agendas. He has a minor concern with some wording on the agenda. Mayor Girone said he would talk to the city manager about it.
Mr. Slaby wants to do a presentation on ‘standards.’ He believes the city, much like Disney should have written standards for everything. He wants 10 minutes to present to council. Ms. Tillet said she agreed, and added “We need to take of our nice things, before we get more nice things.” She offered her experience with the ladies’ room at Gilbert Park, as an example.
Mr. Rowlett agreed.
Mayor Girone suggested staff be involved on the front end, before a presentation to council. Mr. Slaby said that was fine. He still wants to talk to council.
Mr. Rolfson said he doesn’t have a problem establishing standards, but the council needs to be careful that council is not encroaching on management of the employee base. Mr. Slaby insisted that he wants to do a presentation on ‘standards.’
Mr. Slaby then discussed the potential of the community building being run by a private management company. He thinks it needs to be discussed this budget cycle. Ms. Tillet is happy to discuss it. Mr. Slaby wants to discuss someone else taking care of it, so, “We are done with it.” He related that he knows it is a complicated discussion, but one that deserves attention.
Mayor Girone impressed upon Mr. Slay that the subject would take a lot of research prior to discussion.
Mr. Slaby says he expects to work all night long at council meetings. Ms. Tillett agreed, saying she does not care how late meetings go. Mayor Girone laughed and reminded council that there would be an 11:00 curfew, and they would not work beyond that. He said the council will never again stay at a meeting until 11:59, as they did at a prior meeting.
The motion was made to adjourn around 7:30.
Video Part 1: (27:14) can be watched by clicking below:
Video Part 2: (58:09) can be watched by clicking below.
Melissa DeMarco, Editor (email@example.com)