North Port’s “Unorganized Analysis” deserves a second look

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Pixabay by Kevin Schneider.

The Argus Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan, business membership-based organization in Sarasota County. We have members from the southern border of the county to the northern border, from the barrier islands to east of the interstate. We provide business leadership to important community issues within Sarasota County, that includes our southern municipalities, like North Port.

Personally, North Port has always held a special place in my heart having represented the city on the County Commission. I especially fell in love with its residents and business owners, they are good people who love their community. My Argus Board of Directors has been steadfast in my continued involvement in North Port, I still spend a lot of time volunteering in many forms in North Port.

Last Spring, the city of North Port proposed steep fee increases to some of its fees. The fee changes came in a package of about 29 pages with some fees going up 100% and some brand new fees. There was no backup provided in the public meetings for some of these fees, other than a few sentences of explanation. Many had listed “Analysis and comparison to local market fee rates.”

The Argus Foundation sought to get information and backup on these fees including the analysis and comparisons. We asked verbally and were told to do a formal records request with the City Clerk. In order to get the backup, which should have been readily available to the public free of charge, we received a bill for around $800.

The City Commission passed these fees knowing several members of the public had requested the information and were unable to obtain it. 

We spent some time contemplating paying this bill, even after the commission passed the fees, to get the information until recently when the City Commission had a workshop on fees.

At that workshop, the City Manager used brand new terminology to talk about the work done that led to increased fees. The conversation went from “Analysis and comparison to local market fee rates,” as originally listed, to what the City Manager now called “Unorganized Analysis.” The City Manager, to his credit, proposed an independent third-party analysis of the fees in the future. This was informally agreed to by the City Commission.

The Argus Foundation commends the City Manager and the City Commission for recognizing the flaws in its transparency on this issue. It is an excellent step to repairing trust with the community. However, a true dedication to transparency would be demonstrated by the City Commission, whose job it is to hold staff accountable for recommendations, to go back and re-examine the data in a public way. 

Everyone should have access to the “Unorganized Analysis” that caused staff to make the fee increase recommendations and the Commission to vote for it. They should have access to it without having to pay for it, and the City Commission should understand what “Unorganized Analysis” means themselves in a public setting so they can create any necessary policy to safeguard the public in the future.

We congratulate the Commission on their initial steps, but they have more work to do on this issue.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

Image courtesy Pixabay by Kevin Schneider.

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