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Meeting access should be easy for everyone

By Staff | Mar 11, 2021

With the celebration of its 50th anniversary now behind it, the city of Cape Coral is looking ahead.

Ahead to the development coming to the northern quadrants of the Cape where thousands upon thousands of yet-to-be-built-upon residential lots still remain.

Ahead to the infrastructure needed to support and sustain that growth.

Ahead to the fostering of appropriate companion economic development that, hopefully, will follow the rooftops.

Ahead to providing and funding the amenities that have made the city’s quality-of-life so attractive to those of us who already live here and to the thousands more who are coming.

The city of Cape Coral is stepping off its next semi-centennial with a new top administrator and a new council with staff and those we elected alike saying there is much work to be done as the next four years or so will lay the groundwork for what is to come, for what we, as a city, are to become.

We applaud their willingness to roll up their sleeves with extended workshop meetings, if necessary.

The linchpin of their rollout, though, not so much.

Despite the city of Cape Coral’s long-standing tradition of Monday evening meetings for both regular and workshop sessions of the Cape Coral City Council, these workshops have now been pushed to a new day and an early-morning start time so that Council can tackle those big issues.

Council workshops — the sessions intended to publicly work out the details of matters before they come to Council for a vote — will now begin at 9 a.m. on scheduled Fridays, a decision Council approved 7-0 last Wednesday with little discussion, because well, juggling the schedule had come up before. In a workshop meeting.

The decision comes on the heels of Council also changing its regular meeting day from Mondays to Wednesdays, though these voting meetings still will begin at 4:30 p.m.

A couple of things.

Yes, as has been pointed out to us, regular meetings remain evening meetings. Members of the public still will have their three minutes to address Council before a formal vote is cast.

But what many members of the public, particularly those with jobs or other daytime obligations, will not have is the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process as it unfolds, to voice an opinion or objection before a Council consensus is taken or staff time — and public money — is dedicated to a project plopped in the consideration queue at a workshop.

For that is exactly what workshops are for – discussion, input and, for staff, some direction as to the course to take.

In Cape Coral, the public has, since at least the ’90s, had equal access to the process from discussion to vote as the city made an effort — a conscious effort — to make meeting attendance as easy as possible for all of its residents.

This is not an anomaly.

Former mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz was on Council back in the ’80s when the then-sitting Council experimented with meeting times before deciding on a late-afternoon/early evening start.

That remains the choice of most municipalities.

Now a consultant, Mr. Mazurkiewicz reviews 50 meeting agendas each week. Within that big batch, the majority of cities and towns begin both their regular and workshop meetings later in the day for much the same reason previous Cape Councils landed there: equitable access.

Of added interest, perhaps, is that none of the 50 meet on Fridays, deemed “a bad day” for many who work and, particularly, for industry groups and organizations monitoring an item of interest on a meeting agenda, Mr. Mazurkiewicz said when asked this week for some city history and insight.

What is most puzzling, perhaps, is that our City Council just a few months ago discussed ways to get more younger residents involved, not only from an input perspective as the Cape of the future the city is envisioning will be their city, but from a public service standpoint. Council proposed raising its compensation as an incentive to get more younger — i.e. most likely working — residents to run.

We don’t see how Council’s newly approved meeting schedule works to foster that goal.

In fact, from a public access standpoint, we don’t see a benefit to morning meeting start times at all.

We urge Council to take another look at the start time of its workshop sessions and return them to 4:30 p.m. so as to better assure access for all residents.

Looking longer-term, revisiting the decision to split the days of the week makes sense as well, especially if Council’s goal is, in fact, to attract candidates to make the elected board more diverse in terms of age and other demographics. Scheduling and schedule shuffling should not be this complicated.

— Breeze editorial