Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary is sending a clear message to anyone who cares about transparency in local government: Suckerrrrr!!!
Leary orchestrated a series of one-on-one meetings with three out of four city commissioners — a way to sidestep the nuisance of actually debating public business in front of the public.
Well played, Mr. Mayor.
Why hash out the tough issues in front of everyone when you don’t have to?
It’s so much more convenient to chitchat in a small conference room without the burden of a large, potentially hostile audience.
And, by all means, the No. 1 priority in public service should be the convenience of the elected officials.
I mean, just look at how they suffer.
“It’s so difficult to carry on any kind of discussion when you’re on the dais,” said Commissioner Tom McMacken. “You’re restricted by Robert’s Rules [of Order]. … Sometimes you just need to sit and air your opinion.”
Leary held his first one-on-one meeting with McMacken on the morning of June 1 and noted, “I think we’d probably like to do this more often, but given schedules and given the necessity to, ah …”
“Follow all the rules,” McMacken chimed in.
“Exactly. It becomes a little more difficult,” Leary said. Wink, wink.
Yes, those pesky “Government in the Sunshine” laws are always getting in the way of elected officials’ doing business outside the public eye.
The meetings didn’t violate the letter of Florida’s open-meetings law.
But they certainly violated the spirit of it.
The minutes for two of the meetings, the only two available online, show one resident attended one of the meetings, and a reporter for a local Winter Park publication attended another. Someone named Meg Fitzgerald attended both sessions. Coincidentally, Leary has an employee with that same name at his property-management company.
This is not open government.
Residents busy with jobs and families should not have to dog multiple meetings to know what their elected officials are talking about.
But this goes beyond intentionally inconveniencing the public.
One-on-one meetings between two elected officials speaks directly to their contempt for transparency.
It gets worse. Though there are tapes of the meetings, about half the recording with McMacken is missing because of “equipment failure.” It would be enough to make Rose Mary Woods proud, if she were still alive.
These were certainly not get-to-know-you meetings between Tricky Steve and the commissioners.
At Leary’s meeting with Commissioner Greg Seidel, they discussed a wide variety of issues, including the city budget.
Leary also pleaded for Seidel’s vote on his controversial nominees to the Historic Preservation Board, which is considering big changes to how Winter Park protects old houses.
“I’d love your support,” he said more than once. Seidel was still one of two votes against the nominees at the next meeting.
In early July, Leary met with Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel.
In that meeting, the two made clear their desire to muzzle people appointed to city boards.
Leary compared board appointees to employees of a company. Does this guy think he’s mayor or CEO?
Sprinkel said she doesn’t want to “open the paper and see [quotes] I knew nothing about.”
What kind of raging ego do these two have, thinking they should control what the public sees and doesn’t see?
The underlying message to board members is to shut up and fall in line — an odd message to people supposedly appointed for their knowledge, experience and opinions.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said she had a one-on-one scheduled with Leary for Aug. 14 but canceled after an Orlando Sentinel story about the meetings.
“If I had my preference, we would always meet as an entire
commission,” she told me.
You know, the way the law and the state constitution intended.
What a novel idea.