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2.5 hours and 25,000 words later, Apopka City Council still treading water

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It's been five days since the Apopka City Council took on public comments. That should be enough time to take a breath, separate the emotion from the details and fully digest Ordinance 2931 and Resolution 2016-16. It should give all interested parties time to view the presentations, debates, public opinion, and Council discussions during the May 4th and 18th meetings.

I took the time to listen, record, and transcribe both meetings. And to give you a little perspective, I'll start with a few statistics:

  • The two presentations on 2931 (May 4th and 18th) were nearly 2.5 hours
  • The word count of the two transcriptions for those presentations/discussions went over 25,000 words.
  • The average word count of a novel is 80,000 words.
  • The May 4th and 18th meetings combined went over 10 hours in length - two of the longest on record. The presentation/discussion about 2931 took up about 23% of those two meetings.

The Return on Investment

 And what did the Apopka residents get for their time? What did a 25,000-word transcript tell us about conducting public comments sessions in the future? A held-over first reading, that led to a stalemated 2-2 Council vote that didn't move the needle an inch. 

But here's the rub... Resolution 2016-16 and Ordinance 2931 were so similar that they would have only moved the needle an inch - by design.

"The ordinance before you is a codification of the City's current rules and regulations, which are currently stipulated and provided in Resolution 2016-16," said City Attorney Michael Rodriquez in the very words of the 25,0000 spoken by him, the City Council and public speakers over the next two weeks. "What this ordinance does... it's not reinventing the wheel. It's not creating new rules and regulations. It's codifying it into an ordinance... there are no substantive differences that have been added."

In his own words, Rodriguez made the case that the transition from resolution to ordinance was minor. It only includes subtle changes that only help the public speaker experience while making it harder for non-speakers in the audience to disrupt the proceedings and allowing Council members (not just the mayor) to intervene and stop the unruly individual.

Rodriguez talked a lot about codifying the resolution and making it more accessible to would-be speakers. But let me ask you a few questions:

  • What percentage of the individuals making public comments need better access to the rules?
  • If a person intends to create a disturbance at a City Council meeting, will these nuanced rules likely stop them?
  • Is it likely a person hellbent on creating a disturbance will read Ordinance 2931 and say, 'Aw...damn! That City Council upgraded Resolution 2016-16 with Ordinance 2931. Now I can't disrupt the meeting today... curse you, Michael Rodriguez!'

I guess the point was that the new ordinance would make it easier to stop disruption, but doesn't the resolution do that already?

The Cost of Doing Business

I've covered City Council meetings for over six years now. I've seen a mayor remove an audience member from the audience for causing a disruption. I've seen a commissioner call for a point-of-order to stop a person from personal attacks on an individual City Council member. These outbursts are uncomfortable for everyone in attendance, whether you are in the audience, watching on youtube, or sitting at the dais.

But we all get through it, take action if necessary, and move forward.

 I could probably write 25,000 words on the wild and crazy history of public comments at Apopka City Council meetings. I wish people would follow decorum and be reasonable during their four minutes before the Council. I wish no one would ever cause a disturbance in the audience for any reason.

But maybe we need to just chalk it up to the sometimes messy cost of doing business in a municipal government. 

The "will of the people" is what politicians strive to follow. Well, no one ever said the will of the people would be eloquent and follow Robert's Rules of Order. Sometimes they might be crass, frustrating, long-winded, and adversarial.

I can't entirely agree with those that found sinister plots in Ordinance 2931. I take the City Attorney and the document he drafted at his word. I question the timing and, ultimately, the need for the ordinance, and I hope it does not return in the future.

But about those 2.5 hours and 25,000 words that we aren't getting back...

2.5 hours and 25,000 words I'd like to see...

Here are just a few issues in Apopka I wouldn't mind the City Staff, Administration, the public, and City Council taking on for 2.5 hours or investing 25,000 words on:

At the May 4th meeting, Commissioner Alexander H. Smith called for commissions/committees to study/research issues related to diversity, inclusion, annexing South Apopka, and the current housing crisis. Two weeks later, at the May 14th meeting, there was no mention, except for this brief back and forth discussion between Commissioner Nick Nesta and Mayor Bryan Nelson:

Nesta: "The Apopka annexation workshop... was that ever in the talks?"

Nelson: "We're going to try to get some information together so we can have an intelligent discussion."

Nesta: "Do we have a tentative date?"

Nelson: "I'd like to get Edward [City Administrator Edward Bass] back."

Nesta: "Got ya'."

Nesta: "Commissioner Smith, at the last meeting you spoke about affordable housing. We need a "right now" fix and we need a future fix. Is there anything we can do about that?"

Nelson: "We're working on that. We've got a couple of things."

Nesta: "And also there was a mention of an inclusion commission. I don't know if we're jumping on that."

Nelson: "We're working on that."

The investment in those three subjects? 57 seconds and 105 words.

The summer of 2021 was perhaps the most discussion there has been about annexing South Apopka for many years. That was followed by a political cycle in which annexing South Apopka became a core issue. That was followed by Nelson telling The Apopka Voice that late May or early June would be a good time for a workshop on annexation - before the budget workshops.

The budget workshops are scheduled for July, but the annexation workshop is still not on the books. I assume those two variables mean there are no contingencies to create a down payment for a potential annexation of South Apopka into the FY2022-23 budget, or even a plan outside of collecting enough information to have an intelligent discussion.

I wouldn't mind 2.5 hours and 25,000 words on ideas to attract affordable housing to Apopka. I know that sort of development can't go anywhere near the crowned jewel of Apopka - the City Center, but like Nelson said in that discussion:

"This is the only property in the city of Apopka that has this kind of an agreement.  The only one that you could pick where we could turn you down. If it's zoned for apartments, you can put affordable housing anywhere in the city of Apopka. We only have one place in Apopka where affordable housing is not permitted under the developer's agreement."

Let's help these developers find those parcels where affordable housing would be effective. Let's stop using the term "affordable housing" as a warm and fuzzy political phrase and actually create housing in Apopka that is affordable to middle and lower-income residents.

And speaking of the City Center...

Can we spend 2.5 hours and 25,000 words on a plan for economic development in Apopka? I know there won't be an economic development department under this administration, but can a plan be discussed to take advantage of the growth Apopka is experiencing and not leave it to market conditions, developers, and private businesses to build our city? It's okay if the mayor wants to act as economic development director for Apopka, but can we all agree that a plan for Apopka's future needs to be in play no matter who is planning Apopka's future?

I'm not against long discussions on City Council, but let's take on the subjects that move Apopka forward. It's time to stop treading water.

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  • MamaMia

    One public comment rule that has not changed, nor will be changed, if the ordinance is revamped, and brought back, is that any public comment by a speaker at the podium, is that he or she, is to give their name and address first, then give their comments, no matter if the speaker assumes that everyone already knows them, they are to give their name and address for the record. Watch the last council meeting, of May 18th, 2022, see what I am referring to. Some speakers don't know about the rules, then there are those who do know about them, and are very familiar with the rules, and ignore them. Just saying.........

    Tuesday, May 24 Report this