Tuesday, December 23, 2014
TOWN & GOWN SUNSHINE VIOLATION?: RECORD ARTICLE THIS MORNING -- WHAT DO YOU RECKON?
Town and gown committee restructured in St. Augustine
Posted: December 22, 2014 - 11:39pm
By SHELDON GARDNER
The Town and Gown Task Force for Flagler College and the community has been restructured to avoid having to operate under the Sunshine Law.
The town and gown process began as a way to improve the relationship between the college and the community. The task force was created after town and gown meetings began in September. These meetings brought together city residents and officials from the city of St. Augustine and Flagler College.
Residents raised issues during the town and gown public meetings such as the college’s plans for expansion, student behavior and off-campus housing.
The task force had two meetings, and the decision was made to restructure so the group would not have to abide by Florida’s open government laws. Under state law, committee members would have been prohibited from communicating with each other about possible task force topics outside of a formal, public meeting, officials said.
“We’re just trying to get something done in a quicker manner,” said Timothy Burchfield, assistant city manager.
Because city staff members were assigned to the task force to do work outside of their normal routine, the committee would have needed to operate in the sunshine according to case law, said City Attorney Isabelle Lopez. That would also mean the department directors who were assigned to the task force could not communicate with each other about issues that could come up at task force meetings.
“Which just made it not functional for us,” Lopez said.
Burchfield, Police Chief Loran Lueders, Public Works Director Martha Graham and Planning and Building Department Director David Birchim had been on the task force before the restructuring.
No city official is on the restructured task force, but Burchfield will act as a liaison between the committee and the city, said Laura Stevenson Dumas, college relations director at Flagler College.
Karen Selig, a local therapist, will act as facilitator and help keep the group on track, according to Dumas.
Judith Seraphin, of Lincolnville, is a community representative on the task force.
“I think it’s so important that the city, the residents and the college start a conversation,” she said.
One issue she is concerned about is the college’s expansion. The college should be more transparent with residents about what its plans are, she said.
She said there is no room for the college to keep expanding in the city while maintaining the quality of life in the area.
“We are going to have less for the residents and less for tax dollars,” she said. “This is a very delicate balance.”
The meetings will still be open to the public and noticed in advance on the town and gown Facebook page, Dumas said. The next meeting, which has not been set, will be in January.
Seraphin said the overall the goal of the task force is to improve quality of life in the city for everyone, including those at the college.
As far as the new structure, she said operating without the requirements of sunshine will help speed up the process because members will be able to talk more frequently.
If they were in the sunshine, members would not be able to send emails and share information between meetings.
“If we were in sunshine, I firmly believe we’d never get anything done,” she said.