Sarasota City Commissioners Ahearn-Koch and Alpert object to Brody’s call for approval of proposed time allotments for Sept. 20 agenda items

Vice mayor makes motion that passes 3-2

Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo (left) and Mayor Hagen Brody participate in the Sept. 20 discussion. News Leader image

Turning to the very first item of business on the Sarasota City Commission’s Sept. 20 agenda, Mayor Hagen Brody acknowledged, “I know it’s been kind of a contentious issue for a while.”

He was referring to time limits for agenda items, explaining that, since his fellow board members named him mayor in November 2020, he has been working to try to keep the regular meetings from running so long.

Brody also explained that he meets with City Manager Marlon Brown and City Attorney Robert Fournier before each session to try to determine how much time to allot to each agenda item. Brody indicated that he relies on Brown’s and Fournier’s recommendations.

He added that he had asked City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs to send a copy of the resulting document for the Sept. 20 meeting to all the other commissioners in advance, with hope that they would adopt the proposed time limits that evening.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch responded that she understood the times allotted to be guidelines. However, she told Brody, the board members need to be flexible. She did not want the schedule “to be a constraint,” she added.

“This is the way we’ve been operating for the last year,” he replied, noting his goal of trying to end the meetings on time. (Since February, the sessions have been scheduled from 6 to 10 p.m. A board vote is necessary to extend the time.)

“If there’s something that needs further debate,” Brody continued, or a longer presentation is necessary, “I’ve given the flexibility in most cases.”

Commissioner Liz Alpert said she agreed with Ahearn-Koch. “I don’t think this should be a hard and fast rule, that we adopt these time limitations.” Alpert added that she did not agree with his proposal for the board to vote on the time limits or agree to them by consensus.

“Our rules of procedure allow for unlimited, really, questions by the commissioners,” she pointed out. After a motion has been made, Alpert said, Robert’s Rules of Order — the formal meeting procedures the commission follows — dictate how much time should be allowed for the board members to speak to the motion.

This is a section of the Sept. 20 agenda with markings indicating time allotments for various items. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Unlike Alpert and Ahearn-Koch, Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo thanked Brody for putting the item on the Sept. 20 agenda. Nonetheless, he said, “I see both sides.” The commissioners should have the opportunity to decide on the time frames, Arroyo added. Otherwise, the mayor, as chair of the board, would make the decision.

“The way we’ve been doing it, [with] a pretty rigid schedule,” Brody responded, has allowed the commissioners to end the meetings on time.

Brody again said he was making an effort to get “buy-in from everybody” on the commission for the time allotments.

Then Arroyo made a motion to approve the proposed schedule for that night.

Commissioner Kyle Scott Battie seconded the motion.

At that point, Ahearn-Koch said that she has been involved with City Commission business for the past 20 or so years. (She was elected to the body in May 2017.) “I could be wrong,” she continued, “but I don’t think that there have ever been time limits … on how long an item took.”

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch addresses the mayor on Sept. 20. News Leader image

She called the guidelines “a fine suggestion,” but she once more stressed the need for flexibility.

Ahearn-Koch asked whether a mechanism exists for all the commissioners to offer their thoughts ahead of time on the time allotments for the agenda items.

“Obviously, Sunshine makes it a problem … for us to get together … between meetings,” Brody replied, referring to the state’s open meeting laws. “I kind of rely on the city manager, the city attorney,” to say how long they think a particular item of business will take, he reiterated his earlier point.

“I have been here till 1 or 2 in the morning,” he continued. “I do think that the time limits are productive.”

Further, Brody said, “I think more changes could be made to streamline the meetings and just make them a little more predictable and efficient for everybody.”

“I see the times as aspirational,” Commissioner Alpert told him. “One of the things that’s been a little disturbing to me,” she added, is hearing a city staff member speak too rapidly on a topic in an effort to make a presentation within the time Brody had allotted. “I feel like, ‘Please slow down,’” Alpert said.

Arroyo reminded his colleagues that they meet with staff before meetings to discuss various topics on upcoming agendas. Yet, during the meetings, he said, commissioners often ask questions when they already know the answers. He indicated that it appears they do so for appearances’ sake.

Arroyo stressed, “A lot of the times, this will be the sixth time, probably … that staff will be presenting here in front of us.”

His motion stood, he added.

Battie told his colleagues that what he finds problematic during meetings is “the redundancy. … To talk about the same issue over and over and over again in the same sort of context … to me is kind of a waste of time. … A lot of times, it’s the same people going over and over and over again.”

Brody did say he felt the issue of the time periods “is ripe for a broader, kind of workshop-ish discussion,” especially after a new mayor is named this fall.

When Brody called for the vote, the motion passed 3-2, with Commissioners Ahearn-Koch and Alpert in the minority.