At the Monday, November 9, City Council meeting, Tim Pinter, City Director of Public Works, strolled to the microphone to address questions on a consent agenda item, prefacing his remarks citing a “new start and a new day” for the newly elected City Council. He was referring to the newly elected Council members, and a changing of the guard with regard to new Council Chairman Jared Grifoni, who earlier in the evening had received the gavel from Erik Brechnitz, who had held the position of chairman for the last two years.
Councilman Brechnitz had requested earlier in the evening that Item 8-D be removed from the consent agenda. The “consent agenda,” as defined in Roberts Rules of Order, usually allows a legislative body to approve a number of non-contentious issues without debate, public discussion, disclosures or individual motions.
After a rather simplified and what some would say was a self-serving explanation of Item 8-D by Pinter, Councilman Brechnitz explained his displeasure with the placement of the topic as an innocuous issue within the consent agenda and, without saying it, implied it appeared as somewhat of a sleight of hand to avert scrutiny of the almost $350,000 expenditure.
The project itself was never discussed during the Capital Budget discussions held over this last summer, as all of the monies being expended would be coming from local taxes. “We had the foresight to put this money away last year in our Capital Projects Budget,” said Pinter. He explained that the monies formerly received from the Florida Department of Transportation under the “Safe Routes to Schools” had been discontinued.
Pinter went on to explain that when school children walked from Tommie Barfield Elementary, the only route available to them was down Sand Hill. However, a review found that just west of Balfour, at the City’s Racquet Club and just beyond Marco Villas, a multi-use pathway proceeds toward Mackle Park. That pathway continues beyond Mackle Park and intersects with another multi-use pathway at Winterberry and South Heathwood. That connecting route was paid for by grant monies received by the Bike Path Committee just two years ago.
Councilman Brechnitz was surprised to see this project placed as a consent agenda item. “It is a large project and the single largest one paid for by the city without grant funding. We have had numerous folks come to the microphone to tell us how unhappy they are for having to maintain the sidewalks in front of their homes – which they do not own – and I’m kind of surprised we are doing this without coming to a solution regarding that,” said Brechnitz.
He would go on to question whether Balfour had the worst sidewalks and should be pushed to the front of the line. “I walked the entire length of Balfour and, although there are undeveloped lots, it certainly isn’t the worst I’ve seen. In fact, I walked Bald Eagle and found those to be in worse shape,” he said.
Later in the discussion, Councilor Brechnitz was questioned why Director Pinter had not disclosed that he in fact owns and lives on Balfour. “I think it was bad policy not having this on the regular agenda with full disclosure, rather than on the consent agenda so we weren’t having this discussion this evening,” said Brechnitz. “This is not my style in dealing with these matters,” he said.
City Manager McNees would take responsibility for allowing the item to slip through, as he ultimately is the one who creates the agenda. It would be Councilor Brechnitz who again would point to his previous statement of how easy it is to destroy trust between staff and the Council due to issues such as this. “We just don’t want to be dealing with things such as this, and the impression it leaves,” said Brechnitz.
“We need a comprehensive plan as to how we deal with sidewalks, sooner rather than later,” said Brechnitz, as Council moved to defer the Balfour sidewalk issue until the city manager has adequate time to bring forward his recommendations.