NAPLES — Sit in the audience and listen.
But whatever you do, don’t say a word.
That’s the advice Naples City Council members received last week when one member inquired about being allowed to speak during tonight’s town hall meeting about the future of the city’s community redevelopment district. Jim Fox, one of the city’s attorneys, last week told council they should refrain from actively participating in tonight’s meeting. Fox said that while council members — and board members in attendance — can listen to the discussion, once they begin talking about upcoming business they could be considered in violation of the Florida’s open meeting law. “It’s not what I thought it would be,” said Councilwoman Penny Taylor. “I was looking forward to having an open dialogue, this was supposed to be an interactive town hall meeting where we could ask questions.”
Councilman Gary Price, who also serves as the chairman of the Community Redevelopment Agency, said he hopes the meeting will result in some good ideas on how to continue to improve the district.
The district — created in 1994 — spans from the Gordon River to Sixth Street South and from Seventh Avenue North to Sixth Avenue South. The district includes Fifth Avenue South, the city’s downtown shopping district and River Park.
Price said he isn’t concerned that his fellow council members, and members of the district’s advisory board, won’t have a chance to express their views.
“(Tonight) is a time for listening,” said Price, who is the event moderator. “It’s not a time for talking. Meaning council members. Meaning me.”
The town hall meeting is one of two meetings the city will hold in just as many weeks where the district’s future will be discussed.
While Naples residents and district stakeholders will have a chance to offer up their opinions tonight, a meeting Monday will be geared toward city officials’ ideas.
That meeting — and any future discussions about the district — is why council and board members can’t participate tonight, said City Attorney Bob Pritt. Since both boards will discuss the item in the future, Pritt said any discussion of the topic outside of a formal meeting could be construed as a violation of Sunshine law.
“We try to err on the side of caution,” Pritt said. “We do duly notice that they may be in attendance, but we also try to caution them to not get engaged.”
Taylor said she plans to attend the event — even though she won’t be able to actively participate — because the district is in need of help.
“I will be listening,” she said. “I hope there’s an understanding that we’re in this together, (and we need) to be creative with solving the problems as a district.”
Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna_buzzacco