TARPON SPRINGS — Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, the Tarpon Springs City Commission has held 27 virtual meetings, including regular sessions, special sessions, budget workshops and Community Redevelopment Agency meetings.
Of those 27 meetings, seven lasted longer than four hours and five went at least five hours while a marathon regular session on May 12 ran a whopping six hours and five minutes, representing the high-minute mark of what has been a sustained flirtation with the midnight hour that began when the new commission was sworn in April 14.
During the latest meeting Oct. 27, the four commissioners in attendance (Vice Mayor Jacob Karr was absent and excused) spent the final 10 minutes discussing the issue, as Mayor Chris Alahouzos said many residents have complained about the length of the meetings.
“As I said a couple of meetings ago, I’ve received several phone calls from people saying that the BOC meetings are too long and we take too long for our discussions,” Alahouzos said. “And that’s when I asked if it’s possible for our comments to be more direct and to the point whenever we can.”
The mayor also noted the commissioners could get the agenda backup information from city staff earlier so the meetings don’t last as long because “many people can’t wait all night to be able to listen to the meetings and be able to participate, as well.”
Commissioner Costa Vatikiotis said he agreed with the request and he made some suggestions to help shorten the meetings, including rearranging the agenda and/or eliminating or reducing certain items, including staff presentations.
“Is there some format that we follow, is there a requirement that we do presentations first and ordinances and resolutions towards the end, and then discussion items?” Vatikiotis asked City Clerk Irene Jacobs.
After Jacobs noted the meeting format was dictated by city code, Vatikiotis said he’d “really like to do something formally to cut down the number of these staff informational presentations that we have when we have complicated agenda items,” a process City Manager Mark LeCouris said they’ve already started.
“I pretty much heard ya’ll say that when it happened and that’s why you’ve seen these recent agendas not have those,” LeCouris said, referring to a recent special session that featured a couple of complex items.
“That’s why you’re seeing agendas more scrutinized closely with those issues not on there.”
Indeed, the Oct. 27 agenda featured 17 items and no presentations and was over in a brisk two hours and two minutes, a stark contrast to the previous four meetings, which averaged four hours in length.
The commissioners ultimately agreed to revisit the issue during a workshop designed to address meeting policies and procedures scheduled for January, and afterward Alahouzos spoke about the commission heeding the wishes of residents who have grown weary of being bleary-eyed after commission meetings.
“This was the second time we talked about this issue based on phone calls I’ve received from residents who say they can’t stay up for these long meetings,” Alahouzos said. “So, I asked the commissioners to make direct comments and not speak as long and also, they can get the backup information from Mark earlier, and this week’s meeting was a good example of that. It was a very good flow to have.”
With the city planning to go to in-person meetings beginning with a public workshop about the Sponge Docks on Monday, Nov. 9, the plan to curtail the length of the meetings comes at an opportune time, according to the mayor.
“We plan to meet in person while practicing social distancing and we’d like to keep them normal meetings,” Alahouzos said, noting they are preparing for the City Hall auditorium to accommodate roughly 50 attendees.
He then used an analogy to drive his point home.
“When you’re talking about a bicycle you don’t need to know how the wheel was made,” he said. “You just need to know how it’s going to get you from point A to point B and what time you’re going to get there!”