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Date of Issue: February 24, 2010

Lack of meetings is seasonal occurrence

In the past four months, there have been four canceled Holmes Beach commission meetings.

But this is not uncommon in the winter, according to Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens.

“People have family plans and stuff, and it just so happens that we worked harder to get things done earlier in the year,” Haas-Martens said.

The city schedules commission meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. The cancellation of meetings prompted Holmes Beach resident Andy Sheridan to write a letter to editors at local newspapers. Sheridan ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Holmes Beach City Commission last November.

In his letter, Sheridan wrote, “Many part-time residents are now in the area and may have concerns they would like the commission to address. I always encourage other residents to become active participants in city government by attending these meetings. I am concerned that the abundance of cancellations discourages citizen participation. Since 50 percent of the meetings have been canceled during this period, I think the commission chairperson owes us an explanation.”

Haas-Martens said there was nothing to discuss at the time of the cancellations.

“There was nothing on the agenda and no requests to be on the agenda, so why have a meeting?” she said. “To me that’s running sufficient government.”

But neither Sheridan nor Commissioner David Zaccagnino agree with Haas-Martens.

“One of the things that is at every public meeting and work session that follows is time for the public to have comments, and bring issues before the city commission,” Sheridan said. “Not hearing those kinds of comments could discourage people from participating in local government.”

Zaccagnino said he knows other people who are concerned about canceled meetings.

“The (public) is expecting the meeting to be there, and they show up and the parking lot’s empty and the doors are locked,” Zaccagnino said. “That’s not good service for us and our community.”

Zaccagnino thinks the meeting should be held even if the commission has nothing on its agenda.

“We don’t need to have the city attorney there,” Zaccagnino said. “It’s always good to have the meeting open for the public comment for people who have an issue. A lot of times, if someone has an issue, they talk to a commissioner about it, and we generally tell them to come to the meeting and talk to all the commissioners at once. If we keep cancelling meetings, then they don’t have the opportunity to do that.”

Haas-Martens said before a meeting is canceled, she consults the city clerk, building department, police department, treasurer and mayor.

“Understand that there are times in the past where we’ve had three meetings in a month,” Haas-Martens said. “Sometimes we have a ‘shade’ meeting. A shade meeting is where if we have a lawsuit going on, and call a shade meeting, we meet in private with attorneys, and maybe work out settlements.”

She added that the holidays were a factor, and that it’s unrealistic to hold a meeting and pay the expenses that come with having a city attorney and clerk present under the assumption that there are citizen complaints.

“Our charters only say we need to have one meeting a month,” Haas-Martens said. “So anything beyond that is good.”