CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners will convene a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2 p.m., on an amendment to an ordinance on the Palm Harbor Services District.
The hearing will be part of the commission’s regular meeting in the fifth floor Assembly Room of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.
If commissioners approve the amendment, the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board of directors would change to include one representative from the Palm Harbor Friends of the Library, one representative from the Palm Harbor Recreation League, one from the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board and four appointed by the County Commission.
The current makeup of the board calls for two from Palm Harbor Friends of the Library, two from Palm Harbor Recreation League, two from Greater Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce and one appointee by the County Commission.
Marcus Harrison, a PHCSA member, told the commission that he opposes the change. He said there should be two members from each district instead of one. He also said taking away representatives from the chamber was “dismissing the value the chamber offers the organization.”
He suggested simply adding East Lake representatives to the board and forgoing the other changes.
“Leave it as it is and just add two East Lake members and have only one from the county,” he said.
Commissioner Susan Latvala, who represents North County, said she had received an email from the Palm Harbor Chamber expressing its concerns. She said applications would be available for anyone who wants to serve on the PHCSA board.
“Any willing member from the chamber can apply,” she said.
Using an application process will allow commissioners to choose from people who are willing versus seeking out someone, she said.
If approved, changes to the board would take effect Nov. 1, which Latvala said was plenty of time to recruit new board members.
By ordinance, the member representing Palm Harbor Friends of the Library cannot vote on matters pertaining to the appropriation and expenditures of funds for the Palm Harbor Recreation League or East Lake Library. The Recreation League member cannot vote on appropriation and expenditure of funds for Palm Harbor or East Lake libraries, and the East Lake Library member cannot vote on appropriation or expenditure of funds for either Palm Harbor agency.
The Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors stands opposed to the county’s amendment. In a press release sent out Sept. 9, the agency said its board has unanimously voted to oppose the proposed changes to the PHCSA board.
The chamber “strongly supports” adding representation for East Lake to PHCSA. It does not support eliminating representation from the chamber or the addition of more members appointed by the county commission.
The chamber would like the board to stay as is with two representatives from the Palm Harbor Library, two from Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation, two members from the chamber, adding two from East Lake Library and allowing only one appointee from the county.
The chamber proposes increasing the board to nine members to “provide local, balanced and fair representation for the citizens of the community.”
The Chamber includes the unincorporated areas known as Palm Harbor, East Lake, Ozona and Crystal Beach.
During the citizens to be heard portion of the Sept. 5 meeting, Harrison also brought up a concern that work on the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative interlocal agreement was being done outside the Sunshine Law. He said the new agreement was a “drastic change,” moving from a volunteer model to a staff model with a board chosen by the county and city managers.
Harrison is worried that city and county staff will be able to meet with board members outside the Sunshine Law and tell representatives how to vote.
He also said that the county had hired a consultant who said the current PPLC system was working.
“Why change something that works,” he asked.
He said very little information was available about how the old board would transition to the new or about changes being made to the articles of incorporation.
County Administrator Bob LaSala said the PPLC was required to operate under the Sunshine Law. Assistant County Administrator Mark Woodard said the County Commission would discuss the agreement at its Sept. 17 meeting.