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Winter Springs may lose out on “tens of millions” of federal dollars after two city commissioners voted against continuing Monday’s meeting before the Commission was finished making decisions about the funding.
“We are talking about … millions and millions, potentially, of money for our residents, that we may now lose the opportunity to get because this body has just voted to not discuss it,” Mayor Kevin McCann said.
In an effort to curb late-night city meetings, Commissioners Victoria Colangelo and Cade Resnick voted against extending the meeting after 10 p.m. before the Commission had finished talking about and voting on all items on the meeting’s agenda. The unfinished business included emergency reimbursement funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which the city needed to apply for to help pay for hurricane cleanup, repairs and upgrades.
“We’re supposed to be performing in the sunshine,” Colangelo said, arguing that city meetings habitually run too late, an argument also made by the rest of the Commission. “It is not sunshine. We are in the dark of night.”
During the meeting, McCann reminded the Commission that in 2019 Commission meeting start times were moved from 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. because of “a great deal of pressure from the residents.” But because of long agendas and many items needing to be discussed, meetings had begun stretching to 10 p.m. and beyond, he said.
“We had two meetings since Hurricane Ian where public input did not end until 9:30,” McCann said. “So what do we do? Do we not take care of business? Do we not allow the residents to be heard?”
Late meetings have been a recurring discussion topic on the Commission in recent years. Talks have grown more animated as the Commission wrestles with how to spread city business over more meetings, while adhering to deadlines for time-sensitive votes.
Commissioner Matt Benton said he thought that the long meetings were necessary to complete all the items for the agendas to satisfy a state legal requirement.
“Do we need to be stopping in the middle of a sentence at 8:30 and saying, ‘I want to move the meeting up. Can we go up to 10 o’clock?’ Wait for a supermajority at 10 o’clock right in the middle of a sentence when the state says if it’s on your agenda you’re supposed to be doing it?” Benton asked.
“Commissioner Colangelo lives in a beautiful home,” Benton said. “[Colangelo’s] development was approved at a 12:30 meeting,” he said, referencing a meeting that ran past midnight “That home might not be there if it weren’t for that 12:30 meeting.”
Resnick, talking about why the meetings were moved to a 6:30 p.m. start time, implied that the problem that necessitated the move may not exist anymore.
“There’s a difference between then and now,” Resnick said. “Now we have social media … People are watching us. People are recording us in the chamber and then sending it up.”
Realizing that it was about to pass the 10 p.m. meeting cutoff when the Commission needs a 4-1 majority vote to extend it, Commissioner Rob Elliott motioned to extend the meeting. At that point Resnick asked if it would be possible to make a motion to only extend the meeting through the discussion about the hurricane relief funding and was told it wasn’t.
The Commission voted 3-2 in favor of continuing the meeting, with Colangelo and Resnick voting to end the meeting, but since extending the meeting beyond 10 p.m. required a 4-1 vote, the vote failed and the meeting had less than two minutes left.
“What is the cutoff on that NRCS money? Do we have a deadline?” McCann asked about the program that’s currently open to applicants.
“It’s first come, first served,” City Manager Shawn Boyle replied.
“So this Commission just voted to possibly turn down tens of millions of dollars, and we are now officially adjourned,” McCann said, slamming down the mayor’s gavel as the clock passed 10 p.m. “That is crazy.”
Earlier in the meeting, the Commission had voted, again by a 3-2 margin, to direct the city attorney to amend city code to remove the vote requirement to extend meetings. Colangelo and Resnick voted against it, but it passed by that simple majority vote. Because the attorney required time to complete the request, and the Commission would have to vote in two separate meetings to approve the amended ordinance, it did not apply to Monday’s meeting.
On Tuesday McCann said he was already working on a special meeting expected to be set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30 to finish the federal emergency funding discussion that was abruptly cut off.
“I’ll continue to do that until the work for the residents is done,” McCann said. “That bucket of money is on a first-come, first-served basis. We potentially could lose out on millions of dollars that the residents are going to have to pay.”
Listen to the full meeting here.