Monday, November 14, 2016

Stop private meetings in SAB Commission chambers -- Maggie Kostka letter

Commissioner-elect Maggie Kostka's eloquent letter on the abuse of St. Augustine Beach Commission Chambers for private group meetings. I agree.

Dear Commissioners,

I was very pleased on Saturday, November 12, to read in The Record who was quoting Commissioner O’Brien, “…I think we have the commitment to the community…and we have to keep the community and the benefit of the community in mind with every decision we make.” I certainly hope this comment was sincere as other Commissioners have been heard expressing the same sentiment, which gives great hope to the people living and working in our beautiful city.

The Commission has a great opportunity to do just that at Monday evening’s meeting concerning Item 3 on the agenda under Old Business: Use/Rental of City Facilities. I ask to please consider the following when making a decision concerning this agenda item:

We currently have a population in our city of slightly over 6,200 residents. The Commissioners are obligated to serve and protect our city including the residents, infrastructure, properties owned by the city, resources and its facilities (buildings owned by the city). The Commission should keep in mind what is in the best interest and safety of the greater community (those 6200+ residents) when making all decisions. Consistent policies, clear ordinances and consistent enforcement should be paramount. Particular attention should be given to situations and practices that are inconsistent and unclear and should be a primary objective for the Commission to change them to avoid any problems in the future.

I believe very strongly that use of Commission Chambers in City Hall should be limited to Commission meetings and meetings by other governmental groups only (Planning/Zoning, Beautification, etc.) and every and all meetings conducted inside Chambers should be videotaped or recorded. To allow any other entity to use the Commission meeting room creates a double standard, gives the appearance of special treatment and puts the safety and security of our city at risk. There are several reasons the Commission should consider and act to secure the Commission Chambers. Renting the Commission Chambers to non-governmental groups is a risk we should not be entertaining. There are other meeting rooms available to conduct meetings requested by groups within our community.

As an example, at a courthouse, courtrooms are not used as meeting rooms, they are used to conduct court- trials and hearings. Meetings are conducted in meeting rooms. This same respect should be shown at city level, especially to protect the function of government, its effectiveness, security and transparency.

I would also like to bring to your attention that the budget you are about to approve clearly shows our city is spending $37,310 on equipment purchases, maintenance and repair for the Commission. That’s an enormous investment and should be protected by limiting use of the Chambers.

The only position the Civic Association gives to wanting to use the Chambers is that it has been allowed to do so for 20 years and they have not changed their meeting date during that time. Further, it appears that after the new building was completed, the practice of using Chambers continued and should have been corrected at that time. Although the Civic Association does good things for our community, it is not enough reason to continue to allow use of the Commission Chambers for their regular meetings. This is NOT an issue about being “fair” to everyone, or that there has been an established use. This is an issue about correcting a situation that has been allowed to continue for a very long time. The Commission now needs to make the difficult decision to correct this situation in order to protect and preserve itself. Further, it should NOT take an entire year and 2 months to change a meeting location to across the hall. This is NOT a “grandfather” issue. This is a situation that has been allowed to continue which should have been corrected when the city moved into the “new” building. It has not even been identified exactly how many of our 6200+ residents are members of the civic association. The wants of the few should not take priority over the obligations by leadership to the greater community.

To continue allowing use of the Commission Chambers by other non-governmental groups opens our city to potential problems in the future. Poor decisions lead to issues that can be costly both in finances and security and should be seriously considered in making decisions about our city including the residents, infrastructure, properties owned by the city, resources and its facilities.

I strongly request you consider:
1) Limiting use of Commission Chambers to governmental groups only, beginning January, 2017.
2) Mandate any/all meetings in Chambers be recorded for safety and security reasons.
3) Require an officer at any/all meetings inside of Chambers.

This is not an issue about being “fair”, it’s an issue about doing the right thing to protect our City. The Commission has an opportunity to show the community that their interests are important and their public facilities will be protected. I would further recommend Commissioner Samuels recuse herself from this item due to her and her husband’s direct involvement in the Civic Association.

Maggie Kostka

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