TARPON SPRINGS – Last summer members of Turn the Tide for Tarpon, a local sustainability group led by Dory Larsen, asked Tarpon Springs officials to form an official sustainability advisory board or hire a dedicated sustainability coordinator.
In January, the City Commission agreed to honor the request, and last week the BOC outlined the parameters of the city’s first official Sustainability Advisory Committee, which would be composed of five regular and two alternate members who must be city residents and have qualifications including expertise, training, education, interest or experience in fields related to sustainability.
While some details of the draft resolution, including how often the committee would meet, still need to be hammered out, several Turn the Tide members who waited more than three hours for the agenda item to be read said they were thrilled that the city listened to their concerns and took action.
“I want to thank the board for the time and consideration that you’ve put into this issue,” former Commissioner Jeff Larsen, Dory’s husband, said during the May 14 City Commission meeting. “This obviously is something that we’ve been working on for a number of months and I’m super excited to actually have it on the agenda this evening.”
Larsen said he sent the commission an email with a few recommended changes to the draft proposal, including meeting frequency.
“I think it is very important for the committee to meet monthly, or more, but not less,” he said. “We really are running the risk of saying we have a sustainability committee just to say we have one if they don’t have the opportunity to actually meet on a frequent enough basis to get the work done that they need to do.”
Other requested changes concerned the ability of committee members to place items on the City Commission agenda as well as the committee not receiving credit for goals they set to accomplish.
While the five commissioners agreed to the latter points, they were split on the meeting frequency issue. Connor Donovan and Rea Sieber agreed monthly meetings were necessary, while Mayor Chris Alahouzos and Commissioner Jacob Karr believed quarterly meetings, with the ability to add extra work sessions, was the way to go.
“You could always schedule additional meetings, if needed, and that would give staff time to prepare,” Karr said.
City Manager Mark LeCouris, however, said staff planned for the committee to meet monthly and he had no issue with that schedule.
“There were three times discussed: monthly, quarterly and every other month,” LeCouris said of his collaborations with Larsen and the group. “But we were pretty much realistic this board was going to (meet) once a month, and we have no issue with that.”
LeCouris also thanked Turn the Tide for Tarpon members for all their hard work and, in the wake of some negative social media and public comments, reminded everyone the city has been dedicated to sustainability causes for years.
“We want to work together,” LeCouris said.
Staff would revise to proposal to include the recommended changes and bring it before the commission for final approval at their next meeting, LeCouris added.
Afterwards, Alahouzos spoke about the collaboration that helped form the new advisory committee.
“The environment is everybody’s responsibility, the citizens and local government,” he said. “We must work together to ensure we have all the tools in place to make sure the environment will not be harmed.
“As I’ve said, I’m very concerned about the sea level rise increasing. We’ve already been working on this issue, but it’s good to see we have the investment of people who care so much about Tarpon Springs. I’m looking forward to the creation of the sustainability committee so we can begin working together to come up with solutions to these important environmental issues.”