Community liaison Steven Meza, who reports to Vice Mayor Mike Gelin, says he’s speaking as a resident while on city time.
By Agrippina Fadel
Mike Gelin’s community engagement liaison comments have sparked controversy at the recent city commission meeting.
Steven Meza, a community liaison for Vice Mayor Mike Gelin, attended the four-hour commission meeting on February 23, speaking twice in favor of his boss’s agenda items.
The first time, as a city employee, according to documents.
While he took to the podium during the public discussion of agenda items, commission members wanted to know what capacity he was speaking in, as Gelin’s employee or a resident?
Meza spoke in support of Gelin’s proposal for a $300,000 disparity study to determine if Tamarac engages in exclusionary practices in soliciting and awarding contracts to minority and women-owned businesses.
According to Mayor Michelle Gomez, in her State of the City address, in 2021, 31% of Tamarac’s procurement was awarded to the local minority, women, or veteran-owned businesses.
The commission ultimately voted against the disparity study, with only Gelin and Commissioner Marlon Bolton in favor. Gelin then sent out a paid press release titled “Vice Mayor Mike Gelin fights for Prosperity for All.”
During public comments, Meza insisted the study would be in the city’s interest and would help it get on board with cultivating an inclusive culture, creating competition and ingenuity.
“We want Tamarac to be the city for your life – but whose lives are we talking about? What kind of people do we want to afford an ability to be a part of this community?” he added.
Before Meza spoke, Gomez asked: “and I presume you speak as a resident, versus a city employee?” to which Meza gave the nod.
Commissioner Elvin Villalobos interrupted Meza with a point of order, asking City Attorney John Herin if it was appropriate for a community engagement liaison to speak on behalf of the agenda item.
Herin said that Florida law gives the right to every public member to speak on any item and local government issues on the agenda.
“The speaker identified himself as a Tamarac resident and member of the public; therefore, he has the right to speak, like anyone else,” said Herin.
However, Gomez and Herin were unaware Meza was on the clock during his first public comment.
According to the public records, Meza clocked in from 9.34 a.m. to 2 p.m., where he spoke the first time, and clocked out before speaking after 2:00 p.m. The meeting adjourned at 3 p.m.
Meza, who lost the Democratic party primary for Florida State Senate District 33 in 2020, never disclosed he was on the clock while speaking as a resident.
“To answer Mr. Villalobos’ point, I have spoken to other liaisons, and they do speak with local businesses, and I think it behooves them to speak on items like these,” said Meza, alluding that part-time workers helping the members engage with the community should be able to express their opinions at the commission meetings.
That statement prompted Gomez to ask for a point of clarification from Herin on whether liaisons speaking to each other can be considered a violation of Sunshine Law.
Herin answered that the conversation itself is not an issue, as long as they don’t bring it back to the commission or the person they represent.
“It is a violation of the Sunshine Law if any employee is used as a conduit in communication regarding an item on the agenda or future agendas,” he said.
Sunshine Law provides access to governmental proceedings to the public. It applies to gathering two or more members of the same board to discuss matters that will foreseeably come before that board for action.
Meza stood at the podium once more when the commission discussed the final item on the agenda, establishing a community garden. Gelin finished his PowerPoint and asked Meza directly if he wanted to comment.
Mayor Gomez interrupted and said that Meza could speak if he were part of Gelin’s presentation, but that item is not open to public participation.
She then asked again: “So, Mr. Meza, are you here as his liaison or as a part of his presentation, as a member of an organization trying to support the item?” Meza replied he would be representing an organization as a president of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida.
Meza proceeded to support Gelin’s proposal of a new community garden, saying his organization could help with funding and volunteers.
In Meza’s second public comment, Gomez again wondered if he was acting as a liaison, a resident, or a nonprofit owner, attempting to bring his business into the city without going through a procurement process.
The fact that Meza spoke only on items added to the agenda by Gelin did not help the matter.
We reached out to Meza but have not heard back.
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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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