By Marc Crail Mount Dora Vice Mayor & District 4 Representative I'm reporting on two Mount Dora City Council meetings held this week. We participated in a joint meeting with Lake County Commissioners at Sorrento Elementary School on Monday, October 16th and had a Regular Mount Dora City Council meeting on Tuesday October 17th. at City Hall. I'll provide you with some of the high points. Please remember that what follows comes from me as an individual and not from City Council as a whole.
The joint meeting was all about a potential new mixed use development out in the Wolf Branch Innovation District by a developer named, Richland. Their property is currently in unincorporated Lake County and would eventually be annexed into Mount Dora. What came out of the meeting is that City planners will be meeting later this month with Lake County planners in a cooperative effort eventually including representatives from Richland. The hope is to mutually agree on the plans. I believe that the joint meeting was a good beginning and I'm hopeful the this was the first of a series of joint meetings. The eventual success of the Wolf Branch Innovation District will depend upon excellent communications and cooperation. The potential exists for needed job creation and we all seemed to agree that we get one chance to make the best of this opportunity.
Our Regular meeting was unusually brief. We continue to work with the Department of Environmental Protection to reduce odors that neighbors believe emanate from one of our Waste Water Treatment facilities on the east side of town. There are also other potential sources as well. Our City Attorney and City Manager gave a report on their recent meeting with DEP officials and next steps in the process of making sure that we are are being good neighbors to residents who have been experiencing odors in their neighborhood. All concerned would like a quick and easy resolution but this complex situation requires gathering lots of data hopefully leading to incremental progress.
Our quote of the day comes from Mother Teresa. "You will teach them to fly, but they will not fly your flight. You will teach them to dream, but they will not dream your dream. You will teach them to live, but they will not live your life. Nonetheless, in every flight, in every dream, in every life the print of the way you taught them will remain."
Thanks for your interest in our great city and thanks for allowing me to represent District 4.
By Marc Crail Mount Dora Vice Mayor & District 4 Representative
It’s far from a new issue, but it’s certainly a concerning one. For years, residents of eastern Mount Dora have sought help from City leaders and staff to resolve the noxious odors negatively impacting their neighborhoods and quality of life. The culprit is hydrogen sulfide gas and here some things to know about the decade-long issue plaguing local residents:
1. what is hydrogen sulfide?
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable, and poisonous gas often produced by the breakdown of organic matter without oxygen, such as in sewers. swamps and well-drawn water. It has an obnoxious, rotten-egg odor and is toxic to humans and other animals when inhaled at sufficient levels.
2. what are residents experiencing?
Residents of eastern Mount Dora stated during Mount Dora City Council meetings and interviews that the presence of the gas in the air has severely downgraded their quality of life for several years, or as long as a decade.
Residents cite a variety of complaints: they are forced to stay inside; they feel physically sick; they keep their kids inside; and children cover their faces as they wait for school buses. Many of these residents also contend the City hasn’t been adequately responsive. (See #10)
The potential air pollution is allegedly caused by the CIty of Mount Dora’s Waste Water Treatment Plant 2 located at 1850 State Road 46.
3. is this an environmental issue?
Yes. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is involved and issued its second Consent Order on September 12, 2023 which cited the CIty of Mount Dora with nine violations of State of Florida codes and policies. As a result, FDEP says the City of Mount Dora owes $9,750 in penalties and settlement money. Non-compliance with the Consent Order could result in $1000-a-day penalties which could finally be the impetus for the City remedying the problem. The City obtained an extension in order for its new attorney to become familiar with the issue. See the consent order attached below which provides the specific violations and penalties.
“I think we’ve gone above and beyond to prove it’s not our sewer plant [emitting the odor],” Mount Dora Mayor Crissy Stile told Fox 35 News last month after the City received the Consent Order from FDEP. Florida’s environmental regulators have the contrary position that the City of Mount Dora failed to operate the collection system, as well as the water treatment facility in a manner to control foul odors, according to last month’s Consent Order.
Affected residents may be able to place hope in new Mount Dora City Attorney Patrick Brackins who said he intends to meet FDEP representatives and has made resolving the issue his top priority.
5. are there potential additional sources of the odor?
Mid Florida Recycling, which operates a nearby landfill, also received a consent order and began complying. Residents claim they can distinguish the difference between the sewer odor and the smell of the landfill.
6. How dependable is the odor detection equipment installed?
The equipment is only as dependable as it is present and maintained. At an October 3 Mount Dora City Council meeting, residents informed the CIty Council that a gas logging device, known as a “sniffer,” that the City installed near Sullivan Ranch, had been removed before a release of gas and then replaced days later. The residents have a time-stamped photo showing the missing device and its eventual replacement.
7. who is the area's elected city representative?
The residents most affected by the hydrogen sulfide gas are just outside Mount Dora’s eastern city limit. This has left those residents without elected representation to aggressively advocate for a successful remedy or to be held accountable at the ballot box. However, the City is required to comply with Florida’s environmental laws and policies.
what has the city done to mitigate the smell?
The City’s website points to various actions it claims to have made at the treatment plant at significant expense. In a letter dated March 20, 2023, to FDEP, Mount Dora City Manager Patrick Comiskey laid out the City’s odor remediation strategies, stating the City increased routine inspections in the “collection system” in the Sullivan Ranch area and installed odor mitigation at the lift stations. Subsequently, on May 8, the FDEP informed Comiskey of possible violation to Florida statutes or administrative rules which could result in significant financial liability.
9. Where does the issue stand now?
After years of residents seeking a remedy from the CIty, the FDEP’s case and fines may force the City to clean up the air, but time will tell. Local residents with safety concerns have reached out to environmental activist Erin Brockovich for assistance, but it’s unclear if she will weigh in.
10. what are residents saying?
“I want to say the past 3 years the smell has been so unbearable. My children have been complaining of headaches and burning throats as well as me and my husband. I'm worried about our health. It smells so bad that my house stinks for days and the smell is stuck inside. I then have to leave my house because it is so bad. - Genevieve Soileau
“My wife and daughter have had increasing trouble with asthma over the last 10 years we’ve lived in Sullivan Ranch. The smell has been here the entire time. The smell is quite overwhelming. It can wake you up from a deep sleep. It gets into every room of your home. You can’t get away from it indoors, much less enjoy time outside on the patio.” - Michael Ricardson
“Right after I moved here, I went to one of the city council meetings to complain, and here I am more than 3 1/2 years later still doing the same thing. All I hear are denials that it’s Mount Dora’s problem.” - Karen Muni
“I retired to Mount Dora just over 5 years ago and have been battling the smell ever since. My daughter works for a water treatment plant and told us from day one it was the water treatment plant, but I wasted countless hours chasing false information from our elected official. It broke my heart to see kids trying to breathe through their shirts while waiting for the school bus. “ -Cheri Pivowar
This is a nearly daily occurrence living in Stoneybrook Hills. I wake to the stench, go downstairs to find it’s nothing the dogs have done, and open the door to an even worse smell outside. It’s bad enough that I can’t enjoy my coffee on the patio or balcony. It takes hours for the smell to leave my house. It is nearly every day, usually waking me in the early hours well before normal business hours. You don’t smell it after 9 am. You don’t smell it during the day, except for sometimes late afternoons on the weekends. But only in afternoons [sic] on the weekends. If I’d have known about the recurring stench, I’d never have bought a house here. -Kay Govochek
“I am lucky enough to live in Sullivan Ranch and not have been effected [sic] by the odors everyone is talking about. I do smell a rotten eggs smell every time I am driving on 46 near the dump. I drove to the back of our community last week with 2 friends and we all smelled the rotten egg smell. The dump backs up to our community. One of our friends who lives in the back says the smell is constant. It’s not overwhelming but evident.” - Gerry Murphy
“It’s not every single day but it’s several times a week at the least. I had cows growing up and that smell is more pleasant than the nauseating rotten egg smell. It permeates into the house within one minute. The smell makes me immediately nauseous and anxious because I know that, based on previous experiences over the years, I will have a hard time breathing and sleeping and I will get a headache almost 100% of the time. I also get anxious knowing my two daughters are going to breathe in the same thing. I don’t know what it’s doing to our health and I don’t know if we will ever know. It’s frustrating to keep reporting and reporting the smell to no avail. - Ashley Davis
“I’m a resident of Sullivan ranch, the smell comes in all hours of the early mornings, 3am-4am and wakes us up. It's an awful smell of sewage. It stays in our home all day we’re worried for our health and long term effects from the gases that are being released. We can’t enjoy sitting outside or opening our windows due to the smell. We believe it’s the water treatment plant and not the dump.” Meisha Santagata
It’s very sad that when we have beautiful weather and we want to open our windows in our sliders we can’t due to the horrible odor. To my knowledge, no one was ever told about the smell when we had our homes built in this beautiful development there must be something that can be done about it. I hope that someone steps up and cures this horrible situation. people should be held accountable.” - Lisa Winslow
“I move [sic] to Sullivan ranch in March/2019 n [sic] have only smelled the rotten egg issue only twice and that was very early in the morning. Let’s face it, if you looked at it from a health point of view, that plat [sic] has been opened since early 1900,s n not [sic] death or sickness has been reported. The smells [sic] is unavoidable n it’s [sic] being contained. Let’s not exaggerate thing.” - Jorge Jacinto
“The city is saying they will be transparent about the water plant. At one point on their webpage they admitted that 800 ppm had been from the water plant but they had brought that amount down. They had stated that readings as high as 800 ppm had been recorded in the first quarter of 2023. This was removed. The city put out sniffers but they are taken down on certain nights and put back the following day. We have photographic proof. - Linda Bramer
By Marc Crail Vice Mayor and District 4 Representative The October 3, 2023 City Council meeting was relatively short and sweet. I've selected several discussion or action actions to fill you in on. I'm reporting to you as an individual and not as a spokesman for City Council as a whole.
Several residents who reside outside of the city limits complained about noxious odors they believe emanate from our wastewater treatment plant. Our City Attorney said that he will soon meet with Florida environmental protection officials to work out a plan for addressing the odor problem and determining the source or sources.
We approved Cathcart Construction Co. to construct stormwater drainage improvements on Liberty Ave. We have received a $290,000 stormwater grant from the Lake County Water Authority that will largely cover the costs and protect Lake Dora..
FYI, at long last Mount Dora City Council will conduct a joint workshop meeting with Lake County Commissioners on Monday October 16th. at 6:00 p.m. at Sorrento Elementary School. I haven't seen an agenda yet but the workshop discussion topics are likely to include our J.P.A. or Joint Planning Area including the Wolf Branch Innovation District and other intergovernmental coordination topics. The meeting is open to the public. Please keep in mind that during workshop meetings no votes are taken and there are generally no public comments.
I've got a quote I found on a website called "Coach Tim". According to Coach Tim;
"If it's not yours, don't take it. If it's not right, don't do it. If it's not true, don't say it. If you don't know, shut up."
I was impressed today by the efforts of our staff to tackle necessary projects, save taxpayers money by going after grants, the cooperation of my fellow City Council members and the first meeting where our new City Attorney was present. I was impressed by his expertise and quick learning curve. Thanks for allowing me to represent District 4.
By Marc Crail Vice Mayor and District 4 Representative
This was our second Thursday evening "regular" City Council meeting in a row. Normally, we meet on first and third Tuesdays but due to some very specific timelines for adopting budgets and setting millage rates, we needed to alter our meeting schedules this month. We'll go back to Tuesday evening meetings next month. I've selected a few items that I think you might want to hear more about. As usual, what follows comes from me alone and not on behalf of Mount Dora City Council.
Earlier in the summer, our City Attorney, Sherry Sutphen from the Roper Law Firm resigned after five years representing Mount Dora. She agreed to stay on until a suitable replacement firm could be selected but asked City Council to find another law firm as soon as practicable. We voted tonight to hire the firm of Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand as our new City Attorney. Attorneys Andrew Hand and Patrick Brackins will serve as our primary legal council.
During our meeting two weeks ago we approved "first reading" resolutions to adopt our millage rate for FY 2023-24 and to approve the final 2023-24 city budget. Tonight we approved both of these items with "final readings" unanimously. The millage rate will remain steady at 5.9603 mills. Increasing property values will yield an additional $835,000 to offset inflationary effects. Our overall City budget for FY 23-24 will be $182,257,022.
Our quote for today comes from a Lakota Sioux tribe member who lived from 1850-1913. His name was Hollow Horn Bear. Hollow Horn Bear warned; "Someday the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when she dies you too will die."
Let's take his words to heart before it's too late.
Thank you for sharing my passion for our wonderful city!
By Dr. Marc Crail Vice-mayor and District 4 Representative
By Dr. Marc Crail Vice-Mayor and District 4 Representative
What follows is a brief recap of Mount Dora City Council's Thursday, September 7th. meetings. There were actually 3 meetings, 2 CRA or Community Redevelopment Area meetings beginning at 6:00 followed by a marathon "regular" meeting that stretched until about 11:00 p.m. We don't normally hold regular meetings on Thursdays but the Monday Labor Day holiday and required budget timelines made it difficult to have everything ready for a Tuesday meeting. I've selected a few items to tell you about and hopefully, I can accomplish that task in far less that five hours. Please remember that I'm reporting only from my own perspective and not in any official City Council capacity.
The lone item on each of our CRA agendas was to adopt their respective budgets for the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year in a timely manner. Apparently, neither CRA advisory board's most recent meetings garnered a quorum so their membership hadn't formally voted to approve their proposed budgets. Several advisory board members understandably expressed that they hadn't had the opportunity to discuss these budgets prior to the City Council meeting. Since there are very specific budget adoption deadlines involved, a "work-around" was proposed to allow for the advisory boards to review the budgets during upcoming meetings (provided they have a quorum). Budgets can be amended on an as needed basis and line items can be changed so that should suffice.
Next came the "regular" City Council meeting.
As you may recall, our City Attorney, Sherry Sutphen from the Roper Law Firm chose to resign several weeks ago. She ultimately agreed to stay on during the interim while we completed the process of finding a new firm to serve as our City Attorney but she encouraged us to act quickly to find her replacement so that she could wrap up her responsibilities in Mount Dora.
Under the Action Items section of the agenda were public interviews with the two law firms that had responded to our advertised request for a new City Attorney firm to be followed by a discussion and a vote by Council members. Once a law firm had been selected, City Council would award the contract and authorize negotiations to complete a contract with the law firm that we had selected. Mayor Stile joined by council members Rolfson and Walker voted to pull these 2 items off the agenda with the rational that the time allowed for law firms to respond had been too short and that City Council was somehow abdicating it's very important responsibility to choose a new City Attorney firm. That motion failed by 3-4 vote.
The public interviews of the interested law firms proceeded. The contenders are; Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand and Vose Law Firm. In my opinion, both law firms seemed to be interested, well qualified and highly experienced. During our City Council discussion following more than an hour of public presentations and Q&A, several Council members made comments to that affect.
Some Council members asked that the vote to select a new City Attorney firm be postponed so that they could check the firms' references and possibly meet with the attorneys for further, private conversations. That seemed to make sense so I proposed that we allow 2 weeks for that to occur and make our final decision during our upcoming September 21 meeting. That motion passed unanimously.
It was stated during our debate that it is important that we get a new attorney selected so that the important business of the City can continue without further delay. In my estimation, we are trying to find the balance between allowing adequate time to conduct our process and selecting the best candidate law firm for Mount Dora. Hopefully, when the dust settles, we will have done that.
We had further discussion and updates about the "Safe Place Initiative" I've told you about before. It's another example of trying our best to find a delicate balance on a sensitive and important matter. Opinions galore were expressed. My takeaway was that our Police chief is working to make the Safe Places Initiative as inclusive as possible. Council members' support for that approach seemed abundantly clear to me.
Another reason for holding this Council meeting on a Thursday was because Florida law requires a specific timeline for cities to wrap up their budget processes. We moved ahead with that process by adopting a $209 annual Fire Assessment Fee for next year, the same as this year.
We also adopted a resolution to continue with the same millage rate of 5.9603 for property taxes in FY 2023-24. That rate is less that we had originally proposed but as you may recall, we had predicted that it would ultimately reduced. This is common practice. Because of rising property values, keeping the same millage rate will yield about $890,000 more that will help us deal with inflationary price increases facing the City.
The City budget will be about $132,000,000 for FY 2023-24.
Because of a dip in the cost of producing electricity from natural gas, those residents and businesses that are fortunate enough to be served by Mount Dora Electric will see a significant decrease in their electric power bills beginning next month. If you use 1,000 kWh per month, your bill from Mount Dora Electric will be about $119. If you're a SECO customer also using 1,000 kWh your bill is about $153 and if you're in Duke Energy's service your bill will be about $177.
That's enough for now! Thanks for your continuing interest in what's going on in Mount Dora city government.
With the recent passing of Jimmy Buffett, I've selected a quote of his for you today. "Take it all in...it's as big as it seems. Count all of your blessings. Remember your dreams."
By Dr. Marc Crail Vice-Mayor and District 4 Representative
By Marc Crail Mount Dora District 4 Representative and Vice-mayor For only the second time during my time on Mount Dora City Council, we participated in a "Shade Meeting" on August 31st. Florida law allows for "Shade Meetings" which may be held in private only under certain unique circumstances. I can't divulge the contents of the meeting but I want to let you know that it took place and why. Normally, City Council meetings are held in public, with interested community on hand.
This meeting involved a dispute with AMCO, the developer of the potential Wolf Branch Innovation District project that has been under consideration for the past year or more. Several months ago a majority of City Council members declined to vote in favor of the AMCO Planned Unit Development proposal because of the heights of the buildings and certain other aspects of the proposed mixed use development.
Recently a team of City officials; our Mayor, our City Manager, our Planning Director and our City Attorney met with their AMCO counterparts along with a mediator for an eight hour mediation session designed to reach a compromise. AMCO has threatened legal action against the City claiming that Council's vote wasn't rational or fair. During the Shade Meeting, our City team shared the specifics of what was tentatively agreed to during that day long session. This tentative agreement must be voted on by Council at a future public meeting. FYI, a court reporter was present during the Shade Meeting to record the entire meeting. Her transcript will be made public after the issue has been settled.
I can't go into the specifics of the "Shade Meeting" at this time but I wanted you to be aware of it.
Changing topics completely, I'd like for you to know that a group of dedicated City employees staffed our Emergency Operations Center during the recent hurricane. We were fortunate to avoid serious storm damage this time but these folks worked through the storm in case of catastrophic damage. We did have about 1,000 Mount Dora Electric customers who lost power but only for about 30 minutes. The City's staff deserve our recognition for going above and beyond.
Our quote for today is from Albert Einstein. "Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born."
By Marc Crail Mount Dora District 4 Representative and Vice-mayor
By Marc Crail Mount Dora Vice-mayor and District 4 Representative
This special meeting was originally slated to have a couple of items on its agenda but in the end there were more items added, partially because of the approaching hurricane. I've chosen to feature some items that I think you might be interested in hearing about. What follows comes from me alone. I'm not speaking for City Council as a whole.
You'll recall that for the past year and a half, the subject of the Simpson Groves development to be located on both sides of US Route 441 between Loch Leven (Publix) Plaza and the entrance to the Country Club of Mount Dora has been the talk of the town. All told it covers about 224 acres. The developer had first asked to voluntarily annex that property into Mount Dora but later decided to go through Lake County before eventually electing to hammer out an agreement with Mount Dora. It is important to understand that this development was always going to be built. The question was, would the taxes and fees involved flow to the City or the County. Now they will.
We gave first reading approval to The Groves developer by a 6-0 vote. Final approval will come at a later date. There were three different actions, the first was for a "Pre-Annexation Agreement" and the other two were First Readings of Annexation Agreements, one for the north side and one for the south side properties. Final readings are yet to come.
It seems to me that although the City won't ultimately get everything we would have liked, we will get most of items on our wish list. That's how negotiations work. Since there is no way to prohibit property owners from developing land that they own, City Council and staff must do our best to make those developments as palatable as possible.
With Hurricane Idalia approaching Florida, we took actions related to dealing with potential damage including debris collection, hauling and disposal.
Following the Special Meeting, we held another in a series of Budget Workshops. We continue making progress to the eventual adoption of a balanced budget for FY23-24. With the inflation we have all dealt with over the past year, everything we buy costs more and the wages of our excellent staff must be increased accordingly. Even with these inflationary pressures I am confident that we will be able to build a budget that will suffice without raising our millage rate. Let's hope that Idalia or another hurricane doesn't cause massive damage that would wreck our projections.
Our quote of the day comes from Christine Dern who said; "Thank you Lord. As the world gets crazier, the nuts get easier to find."
Thanks for your interest in our city. I appreciate the opportunity to represent District 4.
By Marc Crail Mount Dora Vice-mayor and District 4 Representative
By Marc Crail District 4 Representative & Vice-Mayor
Your Mount Dora City Council met for its Regular meeting on Tuesday, August 15th. I've selected a few items of interest to feature in this report. Please keep in mind that this report comes from me as an individual council member, not on behalf of City Council as a whole.
We discussed our desire to consider planting varieties of trees that provide shade as we move forward with upcoming Fifth Avenue ADA sidewalk improvements. We all would like to have more shade trees downtown. The trick will be to identify species of trees that provide much needed shade but can be planted in relatively small areas so that they don't hump up the sidewalks as they mature.
Food insecurity is a reality for thousands of Lake County residents. Lake Cares Food Pantry located right here in Mount Dora has a long history of helping to provide for residents, many of them children, who would otherwise go hungry. We approved a Resolution to provide $15,000 to support their efforts.
We had a constructive discussion before adopting a Resolution 7-0 to move forward with "Safe Place Initiative". This is a request from Police Chief, Mike Gibson to join a fast growing initiative that began in Seattle in 2015 and now includes hundreds of cities and counties. Chief Gibson made it clear that he wants to improve the poor perceptions that many LGBTQ people have about their local police departments. I applaud that effort.
The Safe Place program is currently designed to have businesses that volunteer to participate offer safe places for LGBTQ people who might encounter threats. Thankfully, this is not a common problem in Mount Dora but in this era of political divisions we don't want anyone to feel unwelcome in Mount Dora. Other nearby police and sheriff departments including Orlando and Orange County are participating.
Several very valid comments from citizens and council members raised recommendations to include other ethnic, religious or racial groups in this effort. I think expanding the program to include any individual or group who feel threatened or unwelcome would be a plus. This is a work in progress. Equal rights and safe places for all is the goal.
Our quote for today comes from Maya Angelou. "I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."
I think I'm guilty on all three accounts!
Thanks for your interest in our wonderful city. By Marc Crail District 4 Representative & Vice-Mayor
By Marc Crail Vice-mayor and District 4 Representative I suspect that your are already well aware that the 224 acres of orange groves located on either side of US Rt 441, between ABC Liquor and The Country Club of Mount Dora are going to be sold and developed into housing and commercial uses. This has been the talk of the town for about eighteen months. Please keep in mind that this acreage is NOT currently in the Mount Dora city limits but it is surrounded by the City. It is important to know that it has already been approved for development by Lake County so discussions now are centered on if the property will continue to be in unincorporated Lake County or in the City and the timing of potential annexation. Like it or not, the property owner has the right to develop her/his land and while many of us would prefer that this prime property on the highway remain orange groves, that isn't going to happen. City Council and City staff are tasked with making the future development as palatable as possible and to maximize the impact fees, TIF and other tax benefits to the City of Mount Dora.
Your City Council, City staff and representatives of the developer of the Mount Dora Groves project met to discuss a pre-annexation and utility agreement for the 224 acre site. Good faith negotiations have been going on between the developer for months and the city and we are hopeful that the remaining handful of sticking points can be resolved so that City Council can consider approving the pre-annexation agreement at a special meeting to be scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on Monday, August 28th. This will be a public meeting at City Hall. We had thought that it could be on the regular meeting agenda for August 15 but due to the complexities of the project and scheduling difficulties, that seems unlikely.
We have asked the developer and our staff to work hard to reach agreement on the remaining issues that center upon the annexation process, water and wastewater utilities, development fees, a golf cart path on the south side, drainage, paving and grading issues.
I'm reporting to you as an individual and not on behalf of City Council in any official capacity. I remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached so that this project, that is going to happen, can move forward maximizing its economic benefits to our city.
Instead of a quote today, what follows is a Kenyan proverb. "Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable."
Thanks for continued interest in our wonderful city.
By Marc Crail District 4 Representative and Vice Mayor There were plenty of fireworks during our August 1, 2023 City Council meeting. As usual, I'm reporting to you as an individual council member and not in any official capacity. I've chosen several items of particular interest to feature in this report.
Our new Public Works complex will be built on Limit Ave. near the intersection of Donnelly St. on a 17.65 acre parcel. The estimated cost is $21,232,950. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in January and take about 13 months. This project is sorely needed and has been in the works for years. I'm glad to hear that it is finally coming to fruition. We approved purchasing some necessary construction materials early so that the construction process won't be held up later by supply chain procurement delays.
For the third time in the past few months I was taken by surprise, this time by the strenuous objections of some of my colleagues when our City Manager requested that we hire an interim City Attorney. Here's some background. Last month our City Attorney, Sherry Sutphen tendered her resignation stating that she could no longer work with City Manager, Patrick Comiskey due to poor communications. I think she has done a good job for the City over the past 5 years and was disappointed by her decision to resign. In her resignation letter, she offered to stay on the job until a replacement could be found but she asked that finding a suitable replacement should be done quickly.
The City Manager contacted several qualified law firms in the area to find out if they would be willing to take over the role of City Attorney on and interim basis until a permanent law firm could be hired. He recommended a law firm that provides City Attorney similar services to Clermont and St. Cloud.
It's important to know that City Council only has 2 employees who report directly to us, the City Manager and the City Attorney. All other City employees are supervised by the City Manager. When our only 2 employees are at odds, the efficiency of our operations is impaired. In this case, each of them has gripes with the other and their relationship is badly damaged. It's a bad situation and it's hard to ascertain where the truth lies.
After a long and sometimes passionate discussion, we tabled the Manager's recommendation to hire an interim City Attorney and our outgoing City Attorney. Ms Sutphen agreed to stay on until a search for a new permanent City Attorney can be conducted. Some members did not think that the City Manager should have taken it upon himself to solicit possible interim attorney firms to be approved by City Council. I did not. I worry about the Manager and Attorney's ability to function cooperatively but I hope they can.
In another surprise to me, Council member Rolfson, joined by Mayor Stile and Councilman Walker voted for a motion to suspend our City Manager with full pay and benefits until an investigation is concluded. This investigation is about to begin and it concerns allegations by one of our (interim) Directors concerning the City Manager. Council members Bryant, Cataldo, Dawson and I voted no. A neutral, third party investigator was approved and will begin her work immediately. If the investigator we selected recommends suspending the City Manager pending the outcome of her investigation, I will vote "yes" but I felt it was premature to take that action at this point, pending the investigator's recommendation.
Contentious meetings like this one concern me. When City Council is divided, we are not operating at our best which is particularly important at this time when many big decisions need to be made in the upcoming months. The serious disagreements that I have described over the past several months have arisen over legitimate concerns and issues. I believe that each City Council member is trying to do her/his best for Mount Dora. Our disagreements reflect the passion and concerns that each individual has for our city and its citizens. I do worry that if we can't find a way forward, long lasting damage will result. In my opinion, we are duty bound to work the plan that we all agreed to, as quickly as possible, and hopefully we can find an acceptable resolution. Easier said than done.
Our quote for today is from Eleanor Roosevelt. "Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway."
Thanks for your interest in Mount Dora's government. Let's hope for clarity and progress.
By Marc Crail District 4 Representative and Vice Mayor