Flexibility in handling County Commission agenda items made a formal part of ‘Rules of Procedure’

Meeting schedule no longer includes afternoon separator

The County Commission sits in session on Dec. 7, 2021. County Administrator Jonathan Lewis is at far right. File image

On Nov. 15, 2021, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to make a couple of changes in the handling of its regular meetings.

First, the board members agreed to reduce their lunch period from 90 minutes to an hour. The second change, however, is the one that has sparked public comments — directly and indirectly — to the commissioners: They agreed that staff should advertise the fact that public hearings scheduled for the afternoon sessions could be moved up to the morning sessions, if time allows.

As a result of that latter change, speakers on several recent occasions — including former Commissioner Jon Thaxton — have shown up for board discussions they believed would be taking place in the afternoon only to find out that the business already had been conducted.

As a result of the scheduling decision, recent board agendas no longer have included a figurative dividing line between the morning and afternoon business. The May 10 agenda for the commission’s regular meeting is the last one on which The Sarasota News Leader found the inclusion of “1:00 p.m.” to show items that were planned for the afternoon.

Commissioner Alan Maio. News Leader image

During the November 2021 discussion, Chair Alan Maio talked about the fact that it would be preferable to have more flexibility in the flow of meetings. Some days, the board members had wrapped up their morning sessions well ahead of the expected timeline, but the advertisement of public hearings after 1:30 p.m. those days constrained the commissioners from finishing all of the business early.

Finally, on June 7, with unanimous approval of their Consent Agenda of routine business items, the commissioners formally made the shorter lunch break and the shifting of items on the agendas part of their Rules of Procedure.

A staff memo included in the June 7 agenda packet pointed out that that modification provides the commission “flexibility to expeditiously conduct [its] business …”

The section of the Rules of Procedure dealing with public hearings was revised to read as follows: “Public Hearings will be advertised for 9:00 a.m. or soon thereafter, or evening (generally commences at 5:01 p.m.). In no event will Public Hearings be heard prior to the advertised time.”

Previously, that section noted that hearings would be advertised for 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m. or 5:01 p.m.

Additionally, the Rules of Procedure has been modified to say, “The Reports Section is generally scheduled for the Tuesday meeting,” adding that that part of the agenda includes reports from the clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, the county administrator, the county attorney, and the commissioners, along with outstanding board assignments and a review of the board meeting schedule.

This is a section of the County Commission’s March 29 agenda. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is a section of the May 24 County Commission agenda, reflecting the scheduling change. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Previously, that section of the Rules of Procedure said, “The Reports Section is scheduled for the morning session of each Tuesday meeting, but may be heard later in the day, or the next day, at the Board’s discretion.”

Although the commissioners in years past often have met on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during a given week, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis this year has noted a number of occasions when the Wednesday sessions needed to be cancelled because insufficient business made them moot.

That situation also is addressed in the revised Rules of Procedure. Section 1(c) says, “The County Administrator is authorized to cancel meetings due to a lack of scheduled business.”

These are additional modifications in the Rules of Procedure. A June 7 staff memo in the commission agenda packet explains these changes thus: ‘Formalizes the procedures for ceremonial recognition that were previously available only on the County Commission section of the County website. Provides mechanism for individual
Commissioners to request Board approval for recognitions that fall outside these guidelines.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County

Yet another change in the Rules of Procedure that the commissioners formally authorized last week is the fact that the agendas for each set of meetings are to be “finalized no later than the Tuesday preceding regular Board meetings …” Previously, the agendas were released on Thursday evenings.

Last year, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger asked for acceleration of the release of the agendas, pointing to the fact that the board members typically have thousands of pages of backup materials to review. Having more time to read them thoroughly would be a benefit, he added.

In response, County Administrator Lewis directed staff to start those Tuesday advertisements early this year.