Clewiston facing some pressing decisions in 2019

CLEWISTON — City commissioners will be dealing with several pressing issues very soon in the new year, including the first necessary task of hiring a new city manager. That person then, with commissioners and staff, will have to consider anticipated shortfalls in the solid waste budget that might require increasing fees, a prospect they put off discussing; raise the matter of recycling with Hendry County now that the city knows the county is responsible to provide for it; and work to provide better, easier public access to information about how things get done in the city, what particular officials are working on at any given moment and how to expedite development/redevelopment plans.

They’re also planning to look intently at code enforcement issues, with an eye toward tightening, updating or reinforcing the city codes and increasing enforcement. One recurring topic has been the rules dealing with when, and for how long, hurricane shutters may be in place on residential housing. Another discussion that could raise contention already started, with Commissioner Julio Rodriguez at their last meeting, Dec. 17, expressing dissatisfaction with the city’s engineers to the point of making a motion to replace the lead firm. (It failed.)

Those are some of the big reasons Commissioner Kristine Petersen so strongly advocated regular workshops after the election this fall, so they could talk over matters in public, averting Sunshine Law concerns while trying to reach accord on ways forward. The commissioners agreed to not only keep their two-a-month schedule of regular meetings in 2019 but now will also be having workshop sessions often, at least once a quarter.

Their first extra hour of time on the dais begins at 4:30 p.m. prior to the first 2019 regular meeting, which is Monday, Jan. 7, and they’ll meet twice more this month, for another regular workshop and meeting on the 14th, plus what could be a several hours-long workshop with no official action scheduled, the afternoon of Monday, Jan 28.

There’s a new voice on the commission in Melanie McGahee, who replaced Phillip Roland after the Nov. 6 election; and former City Manager Al Perry’ resignation was effective Dec. 17. On Dec. 3, the commission voted to designate Finance Director Shari Howell as acting interim manager. At the end of the month, they chose to hire a former Clewiston city administrator, Wendell Johnson, to step in as interim manager and to direct the process of hiring a new permanent manager.

In addition, they moved up their second meeting for January to the 14th rather than the 21st, which is the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and set another open-ended workshop for the afternoon of Monday, Jan 28.

Commissioner Petersen aired one of her big concerns in November, shortly before the city manager took some vacation time and then abruptly resigned after Thanksgiving.

While she noted that she was glad the city was livestreaming its meetings and would continue doing so, she also pointed out: “Everybody had their information; we all had our charts and graphs — none of it on the website. The city website needs to be updated. I’m sorry — boring — but it’s got to be looked at, it’s got to be attractive.” Ms. Petersen said Clewiston needs input from residents who are too busy to come to meetings but either watch them or do online research. “We need to have their engagement.”

Mayor Mali Gardner agreed. “I know … that the city clerk was working with (the information technology staff) and the city manager to update our website for several reasons. Also I know that we have different social media accounts, and the information is a little scattered, so I’ll just piggyback on what you said … a one-place source to go gather information on the city is something that I think needs to be looked at as well.”

Ms. Petersen added, “Some of those people who have solid criticism, we need to hear (them). And not everyone is going to like what we do, and from that, we can garner some information that’s going to help us to make better decisions. It’s an information world. We have got to champion what we’re doing … it’s time.”
Commissioners were requested to let Clerk Kathy Combass know what topics they’d like to see discussed in the first long workshop, Jan. 28.

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