A shorter lunch break and more agenda flexibility in store for future County Commission meetings

Board members had requested changes

The County Commission sits in session on Nov. 2. News Leader image

With a unanimous vote on Nov. 15, the Sarasota County commissioners agreed to reduce their lunch period on their meeting days from the usual 90 minutes to an hour.

Additionally, they all voted to change the advertising of their regular meetings to make it clear that even public hearings scheduled for afternoon sessions may be moved to the morning sessions, if time allows.

In bringing up the first topic, Chair Alan Maio referred to his colleagues in noting that the lunch period change was “based you your comments to [county administrative personnel], staff and the Office of the County Attorney.”

Typically, the board members have adjourned as close to noon as possible on regular meeting days and then returned at 1:30 p.m. for their afternoon business.

On days when they have conducted long public hearings, they usually have adjusted that schedule to allow for just one hour for lunch. They took such action, for example, when they recently conducted the hearings on two high-rise hotels proposed for Siesta Key. In both of those cases, Maio reported that more than 30 cards had been turned in by people wishing to offer public remarks. Although the chair in times past has exercised the prerogative to reduce the time limit per person from the county standard of 5 minutes to 3 for a hearing, Maio did not take that tack on Oct. 27 and Nov. 2.

Each of those hearings lasted close to five hours.

On Nov. 15, after Maio noted the plan for reducing the time allowed for lunch, Commissioner Michael Moran made the necessary motion, and Commissioner Ron Cutsinger seconded it. No one offered other comments before the 5-0 vote of affirmation for the change.

Then Maio pointed to the desire to allow for more flexibility in the scheduling of items on the afternoon agendas

On days when they found themselves wrapping up their morning business faster than expected, the commissioners have directed staff to go ahead with moving discussion items to the morning sessions. However, board chairs routinely have had to explain that, because public hearings were advertised for a 1:30 p.m. start, the commissioners were obligated to wait until that time to begin those hearings.

Before asking for a motion on the hearing change, Maio cautioned on Nov. 15, “There will be a period of time … when we can’t [move items from the afternoon to the morning]. However, he added staff had informed him that few such situations are expected, based on recent advertising.

Again, Moran made the motion to approve the change, and Cutsinger seconded it.

Finally, Maio talked about a decision to eliminate the “Board Conversation” item from the agendas that include reports from the commissioners. Traditionally, those reports are scheduled on the first day of meetings during a week when the commission will conduct two meetings.

This is the section of the April 20 agenda showing ‘Board Conversation’ after the commissioners’ opportunities to offer reports. Image courtesy Sarasota County

He called it “an attempt to streamline things.”

The first time The Sarasota News Leader found “Board Conversation” to be listed on a regular meeting agenda was on April 20. Even after that new line item was added, commissioners routinely launched into discussions about topics, prompted by their own reports or requests of staff.

On Nov. 15, Maio pointed out to his colleagues, “You can start any conversation you want and any chair will always acknowledge that.”

Maio also indicated that a commissioner had requested that the “Board Conversation” item be placed on agendas, though he was not sure who that commissioner was. He acknowledged that it could have been he.

Instead of a vote on that change for future meetings, Maio said he would consider that item removed from future agendas, if his colleagues approved of that decision. No one offered a comment. Glancing at the board members on either side of the dais, he indicated that he had consensus for the decision. He then made a notation on the document in front of him and moved on to another issue.