Commissioners Set Guidance on Virtual Access to Community Meetings

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A neighborhood meeting, intended to solicit opinions on plans for the old library property, resulted in guidance for future meetings on matters of public interest.

The June 12 meeting, referred to by Mayor Phil Anderson as a “community workshop,” was meant to allow residents living near the 460 E. New England Ave. property to have their voices heard on its future use. The event was held in Commission Chambers and the City of Winter Park website listed the agenda, but noted that the meeting would not be broadcast and that virtual participation was unavailable.

Commissioner Marty Sullivan, Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio, Mayor Phil Anderson, City Manager Randy Knight and Assistant City Manager Michelle Michelle del Valle attended the June 12 meeting, held in Commission Chambers.

Approximately 400 notices were sent to neighbors of the property; about 30 residents attended the meeting and seven spoke during public comments. Their suggestions – and thoughts on two recent land swap offers – were noted and used to help form the parameters of a formal request for reuse proposals during the June 14 City Commission meeting.

Despite the successes, the lack of a virtual component meant that not all residents wanting to participate in the meeting were able. Among them was former Winter Park Commissioner Jerome Donnelly, who asked Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio to read his Orlando Sentinel op-ed on proposed library uses. DeCiccio also stated that she had received statements from other residents who were not able to attend in person, and felt the meeting should have allowed for virtual participation.

The following are excerpts from a written statement that DeCiccio read into the the record of the June 14 City Commission meeting:

The commission did not instruct the meeting not to be virtual, just because it’s a neighborhood meeting does not preclude it from being virtual.

This issue was very much a community-wide issue. Consideration could and should be given to the immediate neighbors, but there should be an opportunity for all residents to hear their thoughts live and weigh in after the neighbors.

This process should be completely transparent and by not broadcasting it, it makes us look like we’re trying to hide something; we’re not.

I would like staff to have future public meetings virtual if they’re not sure, please come to the commission. Seek a decision from us and we can decide whether or not we would want them to be wanting to be virtual or not.

A recording of the June 12 meeting was posted on the City of Winter Park website, and can be found here.

Mayor Phil Anderson said the intent of the June 12 meeting was “to get, primarily, response and insight from the immediate neighbors just like a developer or a builder or a private owner would.” He went on to explain that, while members of the community were given a chance to speak, opening the process to the entire city “would not have done what that meeting was intended to do, which is to give the immediate residents a safe zone to talk about their neighborhood.”

Mayor Phil Anderson’s intent was to focus on the concerns of neighbors to the library property, since they were directly impacted by its future use. Time was also allowed for members of the community at large to voice their views.

“I can foresee situations where it would be appropriate to limit (meetings) to a sub-area of the city,” said Commissioner Marty Sullivan. “However, (the library) is such a big issue, I believe it was not the right approach to reduce the population of people that would be informed and speak to this issue.”

Commission agreed to issue guidance that interactive participation be offered at future community meetings that include the presence of commissioners, and are held in Commission Chambers where live-streaming and call-in comments are possible.

“If we do this again, I will ask your forbearance (in) allowing the immediately affected neighbors to speak and have their voices heard at the beginning of the meeting,” said Mayor Anderson, adding that the library reuse will continue to be on future commission meeting agendas where public comment and virtual participation are standard practice.

Meeting agendas and recordings can be accessed on the meetings page of the City of Winter Park website.

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