Suggestion to regulate volunteer board membership ruffles feathers

PORT RICHEY — An idea to regulate who may or may not be permitted to join one of the city’s seven advisory boards and committees did not go over well at last week’s regular City Council meeting.

Mayor Scott Tremblay placed the item on the Jan. 12 agenda to discuss concerns about residents joining the voluntary boards for personal reasons “as opposed to sitting for the general good of the community,” he said.

“We’ve been really fortunate in that we live in a community where we have a lot of active residents that volunteer their time for the betterment of the city,” Tremblay said. “As a result, we get a lot of boards and committees that make recommendations that are invaluable for council.”

Where problems can potentially arise, Tremblay said, is when an individual joins a board while an application is pending a resolution. This could be an application for the rezoning of a property, a variance, new project construction, etc.

“There was a person that applied for a board or committee that came just before us recently,” Tremblay stated, providing an example. “There was already a pending application. The person that had applied lived directly across the street and was adamantly opposed to the project.

“If I was aware of that when I voted that person on the board that there was a pending application, that they lived across the street, that they were adamantly opposed, I probably wouldn’t have voted for that person to be on that board at that time,” he continued. “I would have wanted them to come on after that application had been cleared.”

While fellow council members agreed it’s undesirable to have individuals joining boards for their own self-interests, the idea of setting a new policy requirement for appointment was not well-received.

“It seems like we’re putting an extra layer of difficulty to get on to a board that we’re trying to get people involved with,” said Councilman Todd Maklary. “Right now, it seems like we’re trying to solve a problem that we haven’t encountered yet, really. I just don’t want to put a lot additional burden on boards and committees when we’re trying to fill them as it is to fix a problem that we don’t have.”

Councilman Tom Kinsella, participating telephonically, asked if the city has had problems like this, and no additional instances were provided.

“I’m OK with disclosure if somebody has an open application,” said Councilman William Dittmer. “That seems fair to say. But I would assume like any other board they would recuse themselves if it applied to them.”

“I think the chairman of each committee or board is the one that’s going to be aware of who’s applying to that board or committee and whether or not they have an interest,” Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell said, while also suggesting instead that new committee members make a brief appearance before the council before being appointed.

The discussion got somewhat heated when it opened to public comment. Lisa Burke, a sitting member of the city’s Citizens Advisory Committee and Planning and Zoning Board, explained that she is the resident Tremblay was referring to and the impetus for the agenda item.

“The mayor is speaking about me,” Burke said, stating that she applied for the Planning and Zoning Board last fall and was appointed by a 5-0 council vote on Oct. 13. “There was an opening and I put my name in. At the time I didn’t know that there were any applications. I had heard rumors about a project but I myself did not know about an application. The mayor said he did not know there was an application, so how would I have known?”

Burke said she first became aware of an application near her residence after she joined the board.

Burke also stated that Tremblay first mentioned the idea to create new board appointment policies during the Dec. 8 regular council meeting.

“As I was the only one recently added to a board that dealt with an application, it was apparent to anyone that pays attention to city functions that Scott Tremblay was referring to me,” Burke said.

“Tremblay made a claim that I was getting on a committee for the purpose of my own personal issues,” Burke said. “I would like an explanation for that statement as he has no idea of my thoughts as none were ever expressed to him.”

Three other Port Richey residents addressed the council on the matter — Kenneth Burke, Sheri Sharer and Pat Rogers — and expressed their opposition.

“To put stipulations on one person when they’re just part of a group doesn’t seem quite right to me,” said Sharer, who sits on the Board of Adjustment.

“I don’t see any reason to go forward with anything like this,” said Rogers, current chairwoman of the Board of Adjustment. “It just makes it that much more difficult to get citizens to help. We have rules, we have laws, when you’re the board or committee, you have to follow those.

Rogers concluded by describing the discussion a “waste of time.”

The mayor did not directly address any comments from the public.

“I just took in some of the comments that we’ve received, and I think we have to put a certain level of trust in our citizens overall for this,” Maklary said, “that they’re working for the betterment of their city by being on a board. Holistically, we have to trust our citizens, they trust us. Without that, we’re not going to get very far, even as a small city.”

“At this point I’m disappointed that this is even being discussed,” Kinsella said. “I think we need to stop this issue and move forward.”

After about 40 minutes of discussion, the board made a motion that new board and committee applicants shall apply to the city clerk and those applications will be sent to the board chairperson. Prior to appointments being voted upon, applicants will now appear before council to introduce themselves and explain their interest in joining. The board approved the motion 4-1, with Maklary dissenting.