City commissioners spar over comments in May 2 minutes

City auditor and clerk defends characterization of board discussion in one case and promises to review public remarks in the other

The City Commission lsits in session on May 16. File photo
The City Commission lsits in session on May 16. File photo

It might be said that a local government body’s approval of minutes of its meetings is a routine affair. Occasionally, an elected official will offer a correction. Even then, discourse over those records of board action rarely takes more than a couple of minutes.

On May 16, however, the Sarasota City Commission engaged in approximately six minutes of discussion over its May 2 minutes before finally reaching consensus to approve them.

Commissioner Liz Alpert brought up the first point of debate: “I don’t think the last two paragraphs [in one section] really need to be put in the minutes.”

As board members looked through their agenda material for the comments Alpert had referenced, City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini addressed Mayor Willie Shaw, “It’s not so much an effort, Mayor. It’s a preference, so I do believe it would probably be in the best interest if it was read, so it’s clear … and there’s consensus about it.”

Then Shaw read the paragraphs, which dealt with the May 2 public hearing regarding a request to rezone property encompassing about 7.9 acres at 2211 Fruitville Road and 300 Audubon Place to Downtown Core, so developer Harvey Vengroff could construct five, six-story buildings with a total of 393 apartments he has said he plans to rent for a range from $650 to $950 per month. The square footage of the units would be between 350 and 842 square feet.

City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini. News Leader photo
City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini. News Leader photo

City Manager Tom Barwin had voiced staff’s appreciation of the proposal for affordable housing in the community. However, city staff had recommended that the commission include a stipulation that the city be allowed to undertake annual inspections of all or parts of the units.

Vengroff was opposed to that addition, the minutes showed, saying he felt “that to inspect every apartment is probably a violation of somebody’s privacy and is silly,” the minutes read.

Atwell made a motion to approve the rezoning, but she called for the stipulation about the inspections to be removed. Alpert disagreed.

Ultimately, the board directed staff to discuss the conditions further with Vengroff and his team, and the item was continued.

On May 16, the two paragraphs in the minutes to which Alpert objected were the last regarding that public hearing:

“Vice Mayor stated that her parting words is she has never seen so much sand put in the machinery as she has seen at the current meeting; that the hope is this will calm down since the project is too important, and Mayor Shaw stated that the discussion of a continuance did not go any further.

“Commissioner Alpert stated that the belief is sand is put in the works is when someone gets up and rushes out because they do not want to listen to the discussion which could have gone in a different direction.”

(Vengroff walked out of the meeting before the discussion ended on May 2.)

After Shaw finished reading the passages on May 16, Alpert said, “I don’t think it’s necessary to have that in the minutes. It’s not part of a vote. It was just comments that I don’t think was relevant to the whole issue.”

City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. File photo
Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell. File photo

“I think they’re highly relevant, and I meant what I said and I’d say it again,” Atwell responded. “Whether you take [them] out or not, [they are] going to be up there,” she added, waving her arms in the air. “Correct?” she asked Nadalini.

“You’re correct about that,” Nadalini replied. “If I may, Mayor,” Nadalini continued, “I think the concern is if we’re going to start wordsmithing about who says what in the minutes — this is a reflection of a very contentious discussion, and it appeared to be [the] Vice [Mayor’s intent to use] this phrase. … She’s used it before. … But it’s the will of the commission [regarding] what you would like to do.”

Atwell pointed out that the board members “say all kinds of things,” and she felt the comment “was very important.”

“I’m not going to push it,” Alpert responded, though she repeated her assertion that the paragraphs did not need to be in the minutes.

“I take both of your points,” Shaw told Alpert and Atwell, adding that perhaps the situation should serve to remind all the commissioners to be cognizant of what they are going to say before they say it. “I also realize this is part of the public record,” he noted. “It being so, we don’t want to change the record.”

Atwell is entitled to make her comments, he pointed out.

“I don’t disagree,” Alpert replied.

When Shaw asked for the board’s consensus, Alpert told him, “I said I’m not going to push it.”

When Shaw looked to the other commissioners — Susan Chapman and Shelli Freeland Eddie — Chapman said, “I’m not going to get in the middle of that one.”

“I would hope not,” Shaw told her. When he again asked for consensus, no one offered another comment. “We have consensus,” Shaw told Nadalini.

Yet another concern

Commissioner Susan Chapman. File photo
Commissioner Susan Chapman. File photo

Then Chapman brought up a couple of simple corrections before telling her colleagues, “So as not to throw too much sand in the works,” she wanted to suggest a more significant change regarding another section of the minutes. It included remarks by Valerie Guillory, who operates the Trinity Without Borders nonprofit organization that provides a camp for homeless people on North Washington Boulevard. Guillory also addressed the board during the Vengroff public hearing.

The minutes said Guillory indicated “she used to have families staying on her property and even received calls in the middle of the night about mommies and babies sleeping in cars,” which resulted in her “having nightmares about what could happen to them …”

“I was wondering if we could reflect that she did apologize to the City Commission for the drama that she created [in talking about] her tent city,” Chapman told her colleagues.

“Was that after the fact?” Shaw asked.

“She apologized during her comments,” Chapman replied.

“Do we really want to say, ‘Because of the drama she created?’” Nadalini asked.

That was what Guillory said during the meeting, Chapman responded.

“We’ll look at it,” Nadalini told her. “We’ll review the tape. If that’s what she said, we’ll reflect that.”

“Anything further?” Shaw asked. With no more comments offered, he said, “Then the minutes will stand approved.”