The Mount Dora City Council settles into business on Feb. 16, 2016

On a 7–0 night, Mount Dora city council enthusiastically moves equal rights ordinance along

In an evening without controversy or fireworks, Mount Dora city council had a smooth meeting on Tuesday night. Major decision included moving along an expanded equal rights ordinance, approving a long awaited PD & E study for extending the Wekiva Trail into Mount Dora (which has finally been funded, according to TJ Fish from the Lake-Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization), and approving a financing request from Waterman Village.

City Hall council chambers was packed with supporters of the equal rights ordinance, each carrying a small American flag. Back in November, council requested that city administration present a non-discrimination ordinance for their consideration. There is already equal rights language in Chapter 58 of the City Code, but it does not include discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. City attorney Shepard said the ordinance isbased upon one his firm recently crafted for Mascotte.

Laurie Tillett read an opening statement saying that this ordinance was near and dear to her. “Mount Dora has a vibrant and diverse population,” she said. “Whether we’ve lived here a short while or a long time, we all live here together.” She pointed out that the state grants home rule powers to every town, to decide its own charter and government and ordinances. “This ordinance says everyone is welcome to Mount Dora.”

Public comment was lengthy as many got up to voice their support of the ordinance. “It’s right, it proactive, it makes people feel safe,” said Bill Seivert. Dan O’Flaherty pointed out that Innovation District will bring top executive talent to live in the city whose companies are well aware of local human rights policies. Michael Farmer of Equality Florida spoke of the link between strong anti-discrimination policies and the ability to attract the best and brightest, adding that 250 cities in 21 states have passed similar ordinances with no negative blowback.

When it went back to council, the only comment was from Tillett, who said simply, “Get ‘er done.” The motion to introduce the ordinance was passed 7–0. It will be presented again, for adoption, at the March 1 meeting.

In other business, a $23 million financing bond for Waterman Village was passed 7–0. The deal falls under the purview of the Florida Industrial Development Financing Act, which allows the city to act as intermediary for the deal without taking on the debt itself. The money will be used in financing upgrades and improvements to facilities, as well as refinancing of some existing debt.

Council also heard an update on the proposed Lake Wekiva Trail project from consultants working on a project development study for the Lake Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization. The 250-mile, coast-to-coast bicycle and pedestrian trail known as the Coast Connector is about 80 percent built, with the largest gap remaining in Sumter County. The plan is to run the trail along the Florida Central railroad track from the Tremain Street bridge east to the bridge over 441 and from there to Sorrento and the Wekiva River. An overpass will be built right over the Tremain Street bridge using translucent steel mesh siding, and the US-441 bridge will be raised 3 feet. (For details on the project, visit the Wekiva Trail website at <http://www.lakewekivatrail.com>)

Council approved the project development study 7–0. After a public meeting in March, the Lake Wekiva Trail planners hope to get their design approved by the state in June so that next year the Florida Department of Transportation can coordinate the trail’s development in concert with the Wekiva Parkway. Ultimately, Federal Highway Administration approval is needed. All things proceeding as hoped, the project will begin in 3–5 years.

Council also approved a planning study request for an additional east-west connector required for adequate access to the Innovation District and a request to replace, to the tune of $33 thousand, a weir assembly for Wastewater Plant #1 that is near failure.

They also amended the City Manager’s separation agreement, at City Manager Vince Pastue’s request, to reduce the lump-sum health insurance payout and add a stipulation that installment payments would be reduced if the City Manager finds other permanent employment in a similar role.

In the city attorney’s update, Cliff Shepard updated council on his research into what he said were vulnerabilities in the city’s public art ordinance. As it is written now, commercial and residential developers (but not individuals) contribute a percentage of their total project expense to public art, either by contributing to a public art fund established by the city or by installing art on their site. According to Shepard, however, the percentage contribution currently set by the city is arbitrary and could make the city vulnerable to lawsuits. Some courts view it as “unreasonable exaction” — a kind term for blackmail. Some on council expressed a desire to either reduce the percentage requested of developers or abandoning the ordinance altogether. Other suggestions included coming up with a funding source from within the city coffers. Shepard, however, said he remained optimistic that his further research will be fruitful, and he may be able to provide council with adequate justification to preserve the ordinance in some measure. Council will wait for further word from him.

Shepard also had a word of caution to council about understanding the difference between their legislative and quasi-judicial functions. A conversation he has had with one or more members of council, apparently, prompted him to express his warning to the council. He said it’s one thing to voice your support or opposition to something in city government when you’re running for office, but once you function as government, there are some matters (like zoning) which come before council that require statements of judgment — based on the facts gathered. He cautioned council not to speak for or against any quasi-judicial issue that may come before them until they sat as a body and heard the facts of a case.

During final council comments, Mark Slaby praised the city’s decision to put permits online, saying that there is a perception in the community of favoritism, a concern that could easily be dissuaded once the permits are available for all to see. He also asked that the water and waste water rate study consultants be on hand for the February 22 public meeting on the rate increase proposal, and suggested the city consider placing city streetlights on Baker Street between Third and Fourth Avenues.

Cal Rolfson asked to make a comment and an apology. He said that at the February 10 meeting when he read Mr. Shepard’s memo (relative to Mr. Girone’s concurring that the deputy city manager be allowed to serve as the interim city manager), the Mayor said the memo was “totally false” when he later said to the media that what he meant was that he didn’t approve of the memo. Rolfson asked that the public record reflect that what he said was not false. He went on to apologize for reacting emotionally in the exchange that followed that night, and urged the rest of council to be respectful of whoever has the floor and allow them to finish. Mayor Girone acknowledged that it has been a frustrating first few months and that people sometimes say things they regret afterward.

“We’re getting on the right track,” he said.

—David Cohea (djcohea@gmail.com)


Originally published at www.mountdoracitizen.com on February 17, 2016.