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Over the past several weeks there has been much discussion over what constitutes non-compliance with the City Charter, Section 3.04 (6). That section covers the limits placed on a city councilman when it comes to communicating directly with city staff.

Specifically, that section clearly indicates that city councilmen can only communicate directly with staff when there is a matter of an INQUIRY: namely, fact finding questions. All other dealings with city staff are to be done "solely" through the City Manager. The legal definition of "inquiry" is "a request for information as part of fact finding,"

A key point here is that this charter requirement, limiting direct communications with staff to only inquiries, is binding on all council members regardless of the justification for direct communications for any other purpose -- even if that purpose is a reasonable and good one. This section of the Charter was included so as to avoid the chaos associated with numerous direct communications with City staff and the resulting pressures on city employees to treat city councilor's "advice" or "requests" at a higher priority than those of our constituents and make the management of city resources much more difficult.

Section 4.03 (4) of the charter mandates that It is the City Manager's duty to assure that all charter provisions are faithfully executed. Accordingly, when the manager is aware that there is communications between council members and his staff that go beyond simple inquires he is required by the charter to take action to eliminate such actions. The alternative is administrative chaos; that is, every councilman applying undue influence on city staff priorities at the expense of serving the community. A review of numerous e-mails between councilmen and city staff clearly showed that City Manager Hernstadt was well aware of direct communications with his staff and did nothing.

At the Aug. 3 city council meeting, Police Chief Al Schettino publicly stated that "all councilman communicate with me directly." He justified this behavior by stating that elected city officials "have the same rights of all other citizens." Mr. Schettino is himself misinterpreting the City Charter. The charter recognizes that elected officials do not have the same rights when it comes to communicating with city staff.

To clear up several issues and promote trust and transparency for our constituents, I recommended at the Aug. 3 meeting that City Council consider having an independent investigation (by someone outside of Marco Island) into four critical issues. These issues were:

1) Whether or not the direct communications by a city councilor to city staff was not in compliance with the city charter;

2) Whether our charter needs revisions to avoid possible ambiguity on this issue;

3) Whether the practice of direct communications between council members and staff beyond inquiries is a more widespread practice. From what Mr. Schettino stated publicly it appears it is, in fact, widespread.

4) Whether Hernstadt failed in his duty to inform a city councilor when he is aware of direct communications between his staff and city councilmen. A failure to act by the City Manager would be interpreted by his staff and the city councilor as acceptable communications.

I proposed the above investigation for the sole purpose of clarifying the charter language, providing better guidance to all of us elected officials and to the City Manager, and to foster transparency of government. In other words let's get all the facts and then act on the results. On a procedural manner, the council agreed that this item could be discussed at the next meeting (Aug. 17), but just to evaluate if it could be placed on a future agenda for action.

Unfortunately, even that agreement was undone after most of the press and the majority of the public attending the meeting had left (last 10 minutes or so of the meeting). That opportunity for transparency died on Aug. 3 when four of the five city councilors present (two councilors were out) voted not to even discuss the need for an independent investigation.

This issue cannot go away until there is a full and independent transparent investigation. Obviously, I can bring this up again at the next City Council meeting, but, frankly, I do not expect to get any traction unless my fellow citizens of Marco island write to city council supporting such independent and transparent investigation.

Victor Rios, Member

Marco Island City Council

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