City, county ‘reset’ relations
The Sarasota County Commission and Venice City Council hit the reset button Tuesday after spending a large portion of their annual joint meeting mending fences.
Commission Chair Christine Robinson set the tone, urging a kinder, gentler approach to tackling mutual problems, better data gathering and more professional courtesy.
The subject of soured city-county relations had been simmering for the past year after a number of email conversations between public officials went awry.
Council Member Bob Daniels peppered county commissioners for months with pictures and requests to fix broken concrete sidewalks, remove overhanging tree limbs, mow tall grass and other examples of what he characterized as “unkept promises” by the county to maintain county-owned rights of way within the city limit, much of it laid out in interlocal parks agreements.
Mayor John Holic spent months trying to gather data on frequency of use and costs associated with firefighter and ambulatory services, also governed by a mutual aid interlocal agreement, only to find himself stymied at nearly every turn. He finally resorted to making public records requests from the county.
Frustrated, county commissioners finally asked their city counterparts to send those requests and comments through the county administrator.
City council members took offense, saying they were being treated like “second-class politicians.”
Commissioner Joe Barbetta, who had heard about some of council’s less-than-flattering comments, listened to the council meeting of Oct. 9 on DVD. He called Holic’s remarks about the county “appalling” and chastised council members for saying things during council meetings they wouldn’t say face-to-face.
Holic defended his position, saying he expected more cooperation when it came to basic data gathering.
Robinson asked the “new kids” on the block — County Administrator Randy Reid and City Manager Ed Lavallee — to weigh in on improving county-city relations.
They both emphasized that the path toward good information, upon which to base good decisions, is through them.
“You may not be asking the right questions,” said Reid.
That’s part of the art of management, he said.
As if to emphasize the point, by the time discussion switched back to seeking data on emergency medical services, city council wouldn’t even second a motion by Daniels to direct both administrations to look at the cost of EMS.
“The take-away from this is the information exchange should happen between administrators,” Robinson said. “I think you have found the county commission is amenable to that route.”
Both governmental bodies agreed the public clearing of the air was necessary, and pledged a more civil relationship in the future.
Much of the joint meeting agenda was pushed to Jan. 16.