The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council discussed a reorganization of its advisory committees at a workshop Tuesday, Feb. 18, and one key point of contention was whether to allow non-residents to serve.
The council also discussed the number of allowable non-excused absences and other issues that have arisen among advisory committee policies.
Town Attorney Brian Shutt said he and Town Clerk Lakisha Burch reviewed these issues after the council asked for more information about advisory committee policies. He explained that any changes to the statutorily required Planning & Zoning Committee would require an ordinance, while changes to policies of other committees only need a council resolution.
“I know your direction was to modify the language to allow one person who is a landowner but a non-resident here in the town to be a member of the board,” Shutt said. “Once we started doing this, I started noticing they have different requirements for absences.”
He said Burch suggested making committee rules consistent at three absences. They also noticed that there was no clear-cut termination or replacement notice for some board members.
“Sometimes, it was on the exact date of the election of the council,” Shutt said. “The reason we moved it to May was in order to provide that after the council is seated, you all have at least one meeting if not two to make appointments to these boards, so it’s the new council making these appointments. We don’t want the board members expiring a month or two before the appointments would be made.”
Shutt also pointed out that there is no clear method for appointing non-resident property owners to committees, since each council member appoints a committee member.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said she felt the issue of appointing non-residents came up because there were not enough residents volunteering, and that residents should be given precedent over non-resident landowners.
Maniglia pointed out that giving residents precedence was a shift from when the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District was in control and gave precedence to property owners through the one-acre, one-vote method of electing supervisors.
Mayor Robert Shorr said he agreed in concept with appointing a non-resident landowner. Shutt asked for clarification what they meant by appointing one and only one non-resident, and council members agreed by consensus that a non-resident property owner could be named only if no residents have applied.
During public comment, former LGWCD Supervisor Simon Fernandez, a non-resident property owner who lives in Fox Trail, said he felt the board was going to extremes to limit participation by non-resident property owners.
“Somebody has put up the idea that we don’t want builders or something like that on our committees,” Fernandez said. “You have a double or triple tier of vetting a person.”
He added that limiting membership on committees would alienate equestrians who have bought property in town but don’t live there, yet have an interest in the future of the community.
“I would like to have the opportunity to reinvest in this town and give my opinion,” Fernandez said. “I’m just like you. I’m all over the place, and I can see what’s wrong and what’s good.”
Councilwoman Laura Danowski said she would like to change the number of consecutive unexcused absences from three to two.
“When I have a committee member telling me, ‘I can’t make the meeting because my family’s going to be in town that day.’ It’s two hours. You knew the date in advance; make the commitment,” she said.
Burch said she felt some confusion over meetings have been resolved since more specific times and dates have been established.
“Last year, we were all over the place,” she said. “It was stressful, and we have started to streamline this. I think when we have those certain things in place, it will help. If you sit on the [Finance Advisory & Audit] Committee, and you know second Thursdays of each month from six to eight, that’s where you’re at.”
Council members asked what constitutes an excused or unexcused absence, and Burch said that would be determined by the committee, unless the council deemed otherwise.
Councilman Dave DeMarois suggested that application forms for committees list parameters for excused and unexcused absences, so appointees know in advance.
Former LGWCD Supervisor Don Widing said he would put more weight on the candidate’s experience than on residency.
“The other thing you might want to think about, we’ve been on a steady path for committees since we’ve been a town,” Widing said. “It may be time to start rethinking a little bit on some of the committees being ad hoc. That can sometimes generate new energy… Set certain goals for the committee, give them a timeline, get them on a monthly schedule and get it done.”
He said that concept could open new opportunities and interest in community participation.
“What I’m hearing is the same people have this stuff locked up,” Widing said, adding that he believes that some of the committees have important issues to address, while others have questionable tasks. “The ones that are almost done with their work for now, consider the ad hoc. I’m not worried about a non-resident. I’ve got five filters right here to make sure that person is going to do their job.”
Council members said they felt ad hoc committees are good in concept, but that the existing committees all seem to get a lot of work done with no ending time in sight.
Burch said the documents on committees had been presented for discussion, and the finished documents would be presented at an upcoming council meeting for approval.