There are two parts of each regular city council meeting that are poorly understood: Vox Pop and Communications & Reports. In a sense, they are both very much related. They provide an opportunity to raise issues that are not on the regular agenda.
Vox Pop is scheduled early in the meeting. It is designed to allow residents to address the city council on issues that a resident considers important. The topics raised vary, but are frequently requests for the council to address a specific issue, such as speeding boats and cars or noise from downtown businesses late at night. We also hear from residents that are pleased with one thing or another. The one thing we ask is civility: Vox Pop is NOT an opportunity for residents to engage in personal attacks of individual council members.
Vox Pop presentations are limited to three minutes so that everyone who wants to address council has an opportunity to speak. Things that are likely to take longer than three minutes are best addressed by calling myself, another council member, or the city manager. We can help guide you on your next steps and perhaps get the topic added as a regular agenda item. A good example of this is a young man who has addressed council at Vox Pop on the topic of banning plastic straws. We’ve got a full discussion of this scheduled at an upcoming city council meeting.
Because Vox Pop is not designed for a back and forth discussion between the residents and the council, we used to defer any discussion of items raised at Vox Pop until the Communications & Reports of the meeting. As you can well imagine, having the council sit there silently through Vox Pop and not address the issues raised until the very end of the meeting was not very satisfactory for residents who got up the courage to address us at Vox Pop. The residents frequently gave up and went home before the end of the meeting.
We tried opening the items raised at Vox Pop up at the conclusion of Vox Pop. That was better, but still left something to be desired. Again, it is easy to see how a resident might think we weren’t listening.
Most recently, we have been trying to address issues raised with referrals to city staff while the resident is still standing at the podium. This seems to have worked better than the other two approaches as it has allowed council members to seek clarifications from the resident. Because items raised at Vox Pop have not been publicly noticed, we can NOT take council action on them. We CAN refer the issue to staff and ask them to investigate it and get back to us. If council action is required, we’ll get it scheduled.
COMMUNICATIONS & REPORTS
Communications & Reports is a segment at the very end of council meeting where the members of the city council can share their thoughts on various topics and bring the others up to date on things that have happened on the various boards we serve on as part of our being on city council. For instance, I serve on the Board of Tampa Bay Water and I bring the council up to date on things happening there. Deputy Mayor Starkey serves on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which deals with road projects throughout Pasco County. The other council members also serve on different boards and committees and report back to the rest of us.
Communications & Reports gives us an opportunity to talk to each other in a public setting. Florida’s Sunshine laws prevent us from discussing city business or any topic that MAY come before the council in the future unless that discussion is held during a public meeting.
Council members have raised issues that they want the city to address, such as yard debris, illegal dumping, and getting workshops organized with groups like the New Port Richey Main Street (last Tuesday) and the Chasco Fiesta Steering Committee (today at 6pm). Sometimes, we simply comment on things that have happened that we like. Shout-outs to new businesses are an example.
As mayor, I’ve tried to keep a pretty loose hand on this part of the meeting, since it is our only real opportunity to share what we are thinking. It used to be that each council member would speak once and that was it. In the interest of getting a better feel for how everyone views a topic raised by a council member, I’ve allowed some back and forth discussion, even though we can’t take any formal action as the topics raised were not properly noticed on the agenda. Some of the things that are raised during Communications & Reports get referred to staff and other things appear DOA if a council member makes a suggestion that none of the rest of us agree with.
One council member got wound up during a recent Communications & Reports segment. One of the residents who sat through the meeting suggested we start the three minute timer when that council member starts to speak. I’m not going to do that. It is important that all five of us have a chance to express ourselves completely during the only opportunity we have to talk to each other.
With so much toxicity at the federal level, I’m very pleased at how well our diverse group of council members have been able to work together. I’ve been on the wrong end of more than one 4-1 vote. So have each of my colleagues. We simply get over it and move on. The future of our city is too important to get mad because we didn’t get our way on a particular issue. It is our honor to serve as your mayor and council.
Thank you for your interest in our city. If you think there is something we ought to be addressing, feel free to come up to the podium during Vox Pop.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor