A workshop about budgeting last week bowled into an hour of bickering between members of the Maitland City Council about balance of power in the city’s government – a conversation that carried over into a lesson in city policy at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Councilman John Lowndes raised concerns at the Aug. 4 budget workshop about Mayor Howard Scheiferdecker possibly overstepping his bounds by providing direction to city staffers without Council consent or approval. Maitland operates under a “strong” city manager, “weak” mayor form of municipal government, giving neither the mayor nor council members autonomous or collective authority over any staffers other than the city clerk, city attorney, and city manager.
For more than a month, Schieferdecker has been working with staff to recalculate city financials regarding the impact of possible downtown redevelopment on the city’s infrastructure.
“I am uncomfortable with the idea that you’re directing staff to come up with new numbers that are more persuasive to the rest of the council, because I don’t believe I have the right to do that (nor do the rest of the Council members),” Lowndes said.
“I think you were out of line, and I hope you don’t do it again,” added Councilwoman Bev Reponen.
The mayor said he consulted City Manager Jim Williams about personal concerns he had over the existing financials, and asked to help have them be reviewed and rewritten before being re-presented to Council.
“All I’m trying to do is get all the things out on the table,” Schieferdecker said, apologizing for offending anyone with his actions.
A week later at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, City Attorney Cliff Shepard schooled the Council members in proper etiquette dictated in the city charter and by Florida Sunshine Law regulations.
He said that regardless of intentions, “Anyone of you dealing with any city employee or contract worker has the potential … of saying something that puts someone in an awkward position because they don’t want to tell you ‘no.’”
Shepard warned Council members to keep perceptions in mind when meeting with potential developers or consulting with staffers, always being careful not to exercise inappropriate influence or to conduct city policy discussions “outside of the Sunshine.”
Schieferdecker said he’ll rethink his procedures in the future, while continuing to work toward his goal of doing what he can to ensure Maitland gets its long-awaited new downtown.