Jeff Lytle: Recording of 'closed' training session ruffles some county feathers

Smile. You're on Candid Documents.

There are few public records as educational as those chronicling public officials reacting to something made public that they had thought would be kept secret.

Collier County government insider e-mails flew back and forth last month when officials discovered their training session led by a zoning hearing officer to coach code enforcers how to present cases to her against citizens was duly recorded — by the public official elected to do that very job.

Our initial reporting and commentary on the happenings conveyed to readers that no official public transcript of the former Collier County judge's tips to code cops existed.

While there was no written transcript per se, there was an official and public audio tape.

Code Enforcement Director Michelle Arnold fired off the first volley to Brock's office: "Please advise me on who authorized the recording of that meeting; why I was not informed that we were being recorded; who made a copy of the tape; and who authorized the preparation of the transcript.

"I would like a response to this at your earliest convenience. Please be advised that a public records request will be filed if this information is not provided (sic) timely."

In another e-mail, she wrote: "Since the Code Enforcement Department did not notify the Clerk's Board Minutes and Records staff that a meeting was being held on that day and since we did not request that meeting be recorded, I am curious why this activity was authorized. I am equally curious why notice was not given to the individuals in attendance at that meeting that they were being recorded."

Arnold's boss, Joe Schmitt, was compelled to jump in: "Note that this was a training session/workshop and not an advertised public meeting. The issue here is that very rarely if not ever are workshops or training sessions recorded let alone verbatim minutes taken. We are simply trying to figure out how this happen (sic) and why your office believed it was necessary to record this session."

Amid the crossfire, a single entry by Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock stands tall: "Was county business supposed to be secret? If so, do you not see a problem with that?

"... Let me suggest that you deal with your responsibilities and I will handle those in the Clerk's Office."

The peek behind the scenes of your tax dollars at work is provided courtesy of the open-government and open-records laws that journalists believe are important. The e-mail exchange stands in marked contrast to how the code enforcement seminar drama played out.

Rather than fire the hearing officer as County Commissioner Tom Henning proposed, county officials this past week decided to hold follow-up seminars. All would be open to the public and some would be tailored to the needs and interests of citizens whose property might get busted by these same cops.

The pictures tell the story; the signs do not. Imagine four of those tow-away signs before you get to the parking lot, and you get an unwelcome feeling at Seagate in Naples.

Photo by JEFF LYTLE, Daily News

The pictures tell the story; the signs do not. Imagine four of those tow-away signs before you get to the parking lot, and you get an unwelcome feeling at Seagate in Naples.

Now, did that need to be so hard?

FYI, it was easy for Brock's office to make the recording. The meeting was held in County Commission chambers, which is loaded with state-of-the-art communications gear hooked up to the county government center's intercom.

Brock's office just flipped the switch on a tape recorder.

• The last time Collier County renourished its beaches, consultants said all those rocks that were mixed with the expensive sand were normal. Must be something wrong this time around. Not a rock in sight.

• Naples City Council member John Sorey follows up on the signs designed to scare you away from the Seagate Drive public beach parking lot south of Clam Pass Park.

He says the tow-away signs — four of them on a single block — are on private rather than public property and therefore beyond the reach of City Hall.

He said they were erected by the neighboring condos after cars overflowed the lot.

Calling their wording and placement "pretty aggressive," Sorey says he holds out hope for persuading the condos to remove a sign or two — or move the public parking lot sign into a more user-friendly line of sight.

Stay tuned, he says.

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