Wednesday, January 19, 2022

City Committees: A Few Key Changes and A Special Magistrate



By Danielle Dodder

“Another avenue for citizen input shut down.” The chair of the city’s Beach Advisory Committee found city management’s proposal to consolidate city committees into four bodies plus a magistrate, distressing at the December 20 meeting and workshop.

From city inception, volunteer committees have been a cornerstone of citizen input and oversight in local government. City council members agreed, passing on the proposal that would have merged seven committees down to three: a cultural advisory committee, environmental advisory committee and a financial advisory committee. The Planning Board would have been renamed the Quasi-Judicial Board.

The Beautification Committee has six volunteers on the application list, one short of a full committee. It would have been merged with the Beach Advisory and Waterways Committees. Member Syd Mellinger expressed outrage at the charge that the committee’s purpose overlapped others and needed strategic guidance. “We work all the time…we are so proud to see our plantings [in public areas]. We have job descriptions… We look to our goals and objectives and we were very successful until we lost funding.”

The other two committees which failed to draw a full list of applicants by December 13 were the Arts Advisory Committee and the Utilities Advisory Committee.

Councilman Larry Sacher and Chairman Joe Batte both disagreed with management’s assessment that some committees lacked public interest, adding that they both observed enthusiastic public interest in serving. One new proposal that was unanimously taken up for further consideration was the possibility of a special magistrate to replace the existing Code Board.

A special magistrate could potentially be a benefit if it could collect all fines for the city. “If you’ve ever tuned into a Collier County meeting with the Special Magistrate, you’ll see that it’s quick and professional,” observed Councilman Larry Magel. “If you watch our Code Board meetings you’ll see that it’s very long…it’s a negotiation process instead of an adjudication.”

County Magistrate Barbara Garretson will make a presentation on the issue at a future council meeting.

Council directed staff to leave the structure of city committees as is but to make the following changes to member terms:

• Appointees’ terms will mirror those of the appointing council member, automatically staggering them. Newly elected council member’s appointees will serve four years and remaining council appointees for two.

• Terms will be limited to eight years.

• The Utility Advisory Board is no more. “Council is the utility board,” observed Batte. He also pointed out, “These committees serve us [the council] not the staff.”

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