In attempts to shore up plans for Margate’s future in terms of factors vital to municipal sustainability, gaps in communication among city leaders were prevalent during the 2017 Margate Strategic Planning Session held in Davie. __________
Interim City Manager, Sam May, called for the session because since appointed to his position in January he sees the city heading down the wrong path.
“I saw when I came here we were not going in the right direction. That’s why we’re here,” May told commissioners.
The city last revised its strategic plan in 2014. The 13-page document amounts to an executive summary with no actionable details as how to address and achieve goals outlined through 2019.
The meeting consisted of two parts: the first with commissioners and charter officers (city manager, city clerk, city attorney); the second with commissioners, city department heads and charter officers. Facilitating the session was Colorado-based Dr, Mickey A. Benson, PhD of Monitor Associates. The event took place at Robbin’s Lodge in Davie “in order to be in an area where staff and the commission would not be interrupted with day to day operation issues,” Executive Assistant to the City Manager, Adam Reichbach told MargateNews.net. Three members of the public attended.
The core of morning conversation centered on how elected officials communicate with one another. Dr. Benson had interviewed all five separately in days prior to evaluate and identify individual communication styles. There were four essential types, she said, and if elected officials better understood one another the governing body would be more effective. The cost of services provided by the consultant exceeded $17,000 for the week. (Click to view invoice for services)
Margate Mayor, Tommy Ruzzano, said he was told the first part of the meeting would be aimed at improving communication among city commissioners and senior staff. He’s been receiving mixed messages from charter officers, he said, namely the city attorney and former city manager.
“We’re not getting the right answers and it’s pulling us [the commission] apart,” Ruzzano said. “We’re getting misinformation and it puts the city in a bad situation.”
City Commissioner, Anthony Caggiano, agreed. “Maybe it’s time to make some changes,” he said of the attorney who was not present for the first hour of the session.
Elected in November 2016 after serving three terms as Margate commissioner in 1991-2004, Vice Mayor, Arlene Schwartz said she thinks the City’s current strategic plan is a joke.
“I looked at it last night for the first time and laughed. When was the last time we looked at it? Since it was written has anyone really looked at it?” Schwartz said, adding that she believes the city has been victimized by poor planning in recent years.
“Just about every variance that has come before the Board of Adjustment (BOA) has been approved - no questions asked,” she said, pointing to a six story-self storage high rise in the south end of the city adjacent to a single family home community and the granting of 1.5 parking spaces per unit in housing developments in the north end - too few spaces for 2 and 3 bedroom apartment dwellers, she said.
Benson struggled to get all five commissioners on the same page and to put in place attainable plans for the future. She posed questions such as “What is the culture of Margate? What is the current culture of the commission? What is the current culture of charter officers? What is the current culture of the organization?” Few had insights.
The failed political relationships and ineffective communication among elected officials were identified as predominate problems by Benson. Disconnects between three newly elected officials and two up for re-election in 2018 (Commissioner, Lesa Peerman announced she will not be running) was a wall that needed to come down. The divide among the two political groups was seen in seating arrangements, body language and verbal context during the session.
“Communication breakdown is clouding decisions and strategies,” Benson told commissioners. “There’s a real problem with communication here.”
Some commissioners wanted to talk about past mistakes made by city officials and how to prevent history from repeating itself, but Benson shut the conversation down.
“Today is where we begin to move forward. Forget about the past,” she said. “What are our strengths and weaknesses [as a City] and what are we going to do?”
Interim City Manager, May, reiterated the point. “Today is the opportunity to change that past and move forward,” he said. “We want to take a new direction and come up with an action plan. I can’t go back and say why something has [or hasn’t] been done in the past. I can’t look at the past. We need to find out where we want to be and how to get there.”
Strategic ideas from elected officials were fragmented, but relevant.
Schwartz wanted to see more accountability from staff. She noted that the city’s marketing and communications director was absent from the meeting. May said she would be arriving late but never did.
“We have a person who does this for a living and should be out in front of this stuff,” Schwartz said.
Ruzzano suggested a five-day work week to better improve customer service in the city. At least to have vital departments staffed with one person answering phones. Schwartz agreed, saying the city loses productivity and payroll to three day work weeks when holidays fall on weekends and Mondays.
“Structure it in such a way that all five days are covered,” she said.
Caggiano said he would like to see the police station manned at least six days a week so residents in need of law enforcement assistance don’t encounter a locked lobby and have to call county dispatch for help - an already struggling system. “It [Margate police station] is not victim friendly,” Caggiano said. “In my mind, the four-day work week has been a bust.”
Moving forward, Ruzzano suggested the need for an architectural board to help guide new development. Schwartz agreed.
“We’re 62 years old and to find out that we have no architectural staff is very disappointing to me,” she said.
Ruzzano recommended hiring an in-house architect to save on costs of outsourcing architecture and engineering consultants to design government projects. One example he gave was the more than $300,000 approved to design a new fire station in the City.
"That one project is enough to pay a full-time architect for nearly two years," he said.
The conversation too called for developing a comprehensive color palate for residential homes that included roof types, colors and fences.
City officials also discussed challenges presented by the city’s Transit Oriented Corridor (TOC) style of land use that requires limited setback for new buildings on main commercial thoroughfares in the City and that has discouraged developers in the past from considering Margate. Ruzzano said he has been misinformed numerous times by staff on how the TOC works and wants to make changes to it. Schwartz added that just about every developer coming to Margate has had to request a variance because of TOC regulations.
“I haven’t seen any project go before the BOA that didn’t ask for a special exception,” she said.
Other suggestions on the communications front included improving the city’s website to make it easier for residents and homeowners to access City information, and to enhance the city’s publication “Margate Matters” to include more information on city business that impacts residents.
On the money front, May said the city needs to tap into new sources of revenue.
“We have capital projects scheduled, but we need a way to fund those projects,” he said.
Commissioner, Joanne Simone, suggested raising the cost of a business tax receipt to raise revenues for capital projects while Caggiano suggested incentives to attract high wage businesses to Margate that in turn would fuel the local economy.
Both Schwartz and Ruzzano advocated higher impact fees for new developers to aid parks and recreation, education and city infrastructure.
Parks and Recreation Director, Mike Jones, said that while his department has a five-year master plan, it is not fully funded. One problem with construction costs on city projects, he said, was the delay between the date of approval and when ground breaks. For instance, a six month delay can result in cost increases upwards of 25%.
Finance Director, Mary Beasley, suggested the City stick to capital plans scheduled in the budget as a means of avoiding cost overruns.
Commissioners had numerous questions on the impact of the city’s fire assessment and whether using funds to replace fire station 58 on Rock Island Road was the best and highest use of the user fee. To no avail, the City’s fire chief was absent from the meeting.
In areas of public communication, both Schwartz and Caggiano agreed the city could improve on resident outreach.
“We need to do better at letting people know what we’re doing,” Caggiano said.
“How about issuing a “State of the City” [more often],” suggested Schwartz.
Vital issues not addressed at the meeting were the cost of doing business with multiple labor unions (four) in Margate and the drain the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has had on the Margate tax base. Neither downtown development nor the negative impact the CRA has had on city finances was discussed.
Ruzzano mentioned he would like to see a more aggressive approach to hiring people that live in the city to work for the city - including the potential for incentives. The human resources director said she would look into it.
Both Simone and Peerman left the meeting early, but not before discussing social media habits by elected officials.
Ruzzano said that unless Peerman stops disparaging fellow elected officials in online rants, cohesion and cooperation among commissioners on the dais will be unattainable. Peerman has proven to use numerous social media handles to attack fellow commissioners and their families with untruths.
“Get off social media. Don’t look at it. Don’t take the bait,” Dr. Benson replied. ”Don’t look at the he said-she said [sic] stuff. All it does is escalates conflict.”
Benson suggested that elected officials refrain from talking politics in social media and to use the medium responsibly.
“I want you to be professional and rise to the occasion. You don’t rise by going down and playing in the gutter,” she said of rants aimed at destroying relationships among elected officials.
Peerman remarked that Ruzzano and others have someone else do their bidding in social media and refrained from admitting the adverse effect her online behavior has had on the city's political climate and the damage caused by misinforming residents. Earlier in the year, a Margate resident asked her to resign because of it.
“If someone tries to show you on social media don’t take the bait,” Benson emphasized again, adding that things are different in Colorado where she is from.
Whether the 8-hour planning session will positively impact future efforts in the City will be seen. City officials agreed a workshop is in order to discuss changes to Margate's comprehensive plan with regards to land use.
Ultimately, May said the future of Margate rests with elected officials.
“Whatever the commission wants the vision to be; the vision will be,” he said. “This [strategic planning] isn’t something that is going to go away.”