City councilors are planning a new approach to public relations.
The Marco Island City Council will hold its first Town Hall, giving residents an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 23, in Marco Island’s Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.
The forum steps outside the norm for council communications. At regular City Council meetings, the public is given a period to speak to council, but councilors do not engage in dialogue or respond. The forum will open two-way conversations. Residents will be able to get feedback from all or individual councilors.
At its Dec. 5 meeting, council discussed a number of Town Hall formats. Councilors also addressed how questions should be collected and prioritized. They agreed two options should be allowed: Questions submitted in advance and those presented at the meeting. Public input received prior to the meeting will not been seen by council until the night of the event, said Jerry Gibson, council chairman.
Originally, Gibson asked that advance questions be collected by Laura Litzen, city clerk. Once in her hands, they would be culled for duplication or discourteousness and prioritized by the number of questions per issue.
“If more people ask a question, it will receive more weight,” Gibson explained.
Councilor Joe Batte and Vice Chairman Larry Magel were not satisfied with the plan.
Batte feared having questions funneled through the city clerk smacked of control.
All councilors agreed transparency was necessary for the Town Hall to be a success.
The solution was to expand the number of people who previewed questions, Councilor Frank Recker suggested. Adding representatives from community organizations would remove doubts about how input was handled, he said.
Gibson asked the city manager to establish such a group to review submissions. At the Town Hall, submitted questions would be addressed first; and then, the floor would be opened to questions from the audience, Gibson said.
Citing that the process was too impersonal, Magel asked council to explore roundtables with councilors rotating from small group to small group. Councilor Trotter believed questions from the audience were a good idea provided they were submitted in writing and asked through a moderator.
Public speaker Larry Sacher, chairman of Marco Island Homeowners Association, asked council to consider the genesis of the meeting and allow people to pose questions openly in the spirit of a town hall forum. He suggested the meeting should be moderated by citizens and not the council chairman.
Logistically, that wouldn’t make sense, Gibson said. The mechanism for councilors to make known their desires to comment is a lighted panel at the chairman’s seat, he said.
Later, Gibson confirmed that the second part of the meeting would include direct questions from attendees; and offered that if it went well, council would consider more Town Halls.
Questions may be submitted to Laura Litzan, city clerk, 50 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island, FL 34145, faxed to 239-389-4359 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Direct all questions to “Town Hall.” Questions received by Monday, Jan. 16, will be considered for the first part of the meeting.