The idea of cutting a monthly government meeting in order to increase transparency didn’t fly with Osceola County residents and local leaders Monday afternoon.
“It’s hard to be involved if I don’t have time to look at the information you’re talking about,” said resident Tabitha Reuben.
Osceola County commissioners currently host three monthly meetings, down from four before the recession. At those meetings (held the first three Mondays of each month), a five-person elected board hears and approves items affecting everything from transportation to fire safety, as well as fielding comments from concerned residents.
Commissioners considered eliminating one of those meetings after facing fierce criticism over last-minute “walk-on” proposals and agendas posted less than 72 hours before meetings.
Backlash was spurred by a final-hour addition of a now controversial coal ash landfill contract agreement April 1. Because it was added to the agenda less than two hours before the meeting began, no residents were prepared to speak prior to the item’s approval.
County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb said she was curious how Orange and Seminole counties can provide agendas a week in advance while Osceola struggles to make them available to the public by end of day Friday.
“Well, it turns out they only have meetings twice a month,” Grieb said in May.
So, Grieb suggested Osceola County eliminate a government meeting to increase transparency.
Not so fast, said residents like Jean Olsen Monday afternoon.
“I don’t really understand how cutting the meetings is necessary. Apparently, I’m missing something,” Olsen said. “It should be possible to establish and enforce a deadline no matter how many meetings you have.”
Also, limiting public comment and input may not be a great look for Osceola County right now, Olsen noted.
Switching meetings to the evening to allow more residents a chance to attend was suggested by former County Commissioner Mike Hartford. Currently, two out of the three County Commission meetings occur at 1:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Kissimmee and St. Cloud city meetings along with Osceola County School Board meetings all start after 5 p.m.
Hartford said County Manager Don Fisher needs to be held accountable for enforcing agenda deadlines moving forward.
“They (the agendas) could still be put on the website as drafts so the public would know ahead of time what’s going on,” he said.
All commissioners except Grieb said they were not in favor of reducing commission meetings.
“I have always expressed concern over cutting a meeting,” said Commissioner Viviana Janer. “Let’s just set up a cut-off date and nothing gets beyond that unless it’s a true emergency.”
The county manager had drafted a new meeting schedule proposal under instruction from Grieb and board members last month. Since the measure proved unpopular, Fisher and staff will go back to the drawing board.
Fisher said he heard “loud and clear” comments to avoid last-minute agenda items.
“It will be my intent to at least manage it until you adopt a policy,” he said.
He asked commissioners for time to review new mechanisms to get agendas out sooner while avoiding last-minute additions. Fisher said he would bring recommendations back to the board soon.