By Agrippina Fadel
The Tamarac city commission is dealing with a bit of an identity crisis.
At the February 23 meeting, when Steven Meza, a community liaison for Vice Mayor Mike Gelin, spoke twice in favor of his boss’s agenda items, he said he was speaking as a resident, never disclosing he was on the clock as a city employee.
Commissioner Elvin Villalobos brought the conflict up at the March 23 meeting, asking his colleagues for a consensus to prohibit liaisons from lobbying for their supervisors or themselves when on the clock.
“He was asked twice while presenting at the commission meeting and lobbying for agenda items, whether he was there as a resident or a liaison. And he said he was a resident,” said Villalobos.
After Meza mentioned speaking to other liaisons about agenda items on February 23, Mayor Michelle Gomez was concerned about the Sunshine Law and how it may impede the public’s access to governmental proceedings.
Gomez added that Meza’s comments did not have a “full level of truthfulness,” and his conduct had a “look of impropriety.”
“I understand we have freedom of speech, but I was very concerned to see the person before us say he is a resident and then make comments as the liaison, and claim to have spoken to other liaisons when that was definitely not the case,” she said, adding that she spoke to her own assistant and enquired if these conversations between liaisons truly happened.
Gomez agreed with concerns about liaisons standing up at the podium to speak about agenda items while on the clock — unless they are officially a part of the presentation.
She suggested city attorney John Herin and the city’s director of human resources, Lerenzo Calhoun, came up with a proper protocol for liaisons and reminding them that while they “may answer to commissioners individually as their supervisors, they’re still employees of the city and subject to any disciplinary items, as any employee would be as well.”
Calhoun said, “I literally narrow it down and say ‘you can talk about sports, wardrobes, and the weather, but I would stay away from any items you’re working on that may come before the commission. He added that when liaisons attend commission meetings, they should always be on the clock and cannot be considered residents. “There’s no conceivable way to “take your hat off” and become a resident versus being on the clock, especially if their elected official asks them to attend the meeting. They are working and being paid,” he said.
Florida law gives anyone participating or present during a public meeting the right to speak to any item on the agenda, said Herin. “I believe that the issue that commissioner Villalobos is raising is when the community liaison elects to exercise that right, do they “take off the hat” of the city employee? Therefore, whatever time period that they’re participating in the public meeting as a resident, they should not be compensated for,” he added.
Gelin suggested looking at the commission meeting footage and comparing it to Meza’s timesheet to make sure he was not paid for his time at the podium.
Villalobos said he was trying to avoid doing that and making the issue a big deal. He only asked for consensus to avoid such situations with liaisons in the future.
“No liaison is going to come to the podium, lie to us about whether they’re on the clock or whether they are a resident,” said Villalobos. “It is very inappropriate. We need to avoid it moving forward, as simple as that,” he said.
Herin added that according to the county rules, anyone who seeks to persuade this body one way or the other about an item on the agenda for discussion might have to register as a lobbyist, further complicating the implications of Meza’s statements at the February commission meeting.
After a lengthy discussion, Gomez asked for a consensus to have staff draft policies and procedures for liaisons, to which Villalobos agreed. However, Gelin believed it was an administrative matter that should be dealt with by the city manager and human resources, to which both Placko and Marlon Bolton agreed.
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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