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Islamorada council sets ground rules for remote meeting participation

Surging COVID-19 cases and more quarantining measures among those in contact with infected individuals drew council members to adopt new rules on remote meeting attendance. 

An outbreak inside Islamorada Village Hall last month affected several employees and council members. It led to a 10-day quarantine for Councilman Henry Rosenthal earlier this month. Mayor Buddy Pinder was absent for the Aug. 19 council meeting after he contracted COVID-19, drawing Vice Mayor Pete Bacheler to lead the dais. 

Discussions among village council members in July over remote meeting options were not only for regular village meetings, but also advisory boards, committees and stakeholders from the public wishing to participate. Per state law, local legislative bodies cannot conduct a meeting, unless members constituting a quorum are physically present. WIth a quorum physically present, a minority of members may then attend and vote via remote electronic means, if the legislative body allows it. 

 Council members ultimately approved a resolution allowing one council member’s appearance via Zoom to participate and vote on agenda items. The council member must submit a request to the mayor in advance, however. The one council member virtually participating cannot chair the meeting nor participate in quasi-judicial matters. 

New rules approved by the council state that council members can attend remotely via Zoom twice per calendar year. The same rules apply to the Local Planning Agency, which meets every third Monday of the month, village boards and advisory committees. 

Public participation via Zoom has stayed in place ever since last year when meetings went strictly virtual due to the coronavirus outbreak. Participants wishing to speak in favor or against quasi-judicial proceedings, however, must be physically present and sworn in. 

“Presenters of quasi-judicial proceedings would have to be sworn. …  Everyone has to be sworn in,” Village Manager Greg Oravec said. “Lawyers have to be sworn in because they have other ethics they have to uphold.”

A specific rule within the approved resolution drew pushback from the public that requires those participating and speaking on an agenda item virtually to visually show themselves at all times. Cheryl Meads is a former councilwoman who now sits on the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board. She said members are allowed to call in and participate via Zoom and that their integrity is never questioned. 

“What you’re doing is showing that you don’t trust one another, which is just wrong, and that you don’t have integrity, or do you?” she said “Let’s trust one another to be people of integrity and to do right and be right.”

A board or committee meeting offering non-binding advice and counsel can gather virtually, provided that one member is physically present to chair the meeting and address staff and the public.

Oravec said new rules don’t change the village’s charter pertaining to regular meeting attendance. Council members who miss three consecutive regular scheduled meetings are subject to removal from office. 

Council members approved several resolutions on Aug. 18, including one for enhancements at the dog park located at Founders Park. The village obtained a grant from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council for an improvement project totaling $197,981. The project includes installing 59,000 square feet of new grass, a tiki hut and tiki umbrellas, agility equipment, eco picnic table and bench and splash zones, among other amenities. 

Village staff will draft a request for proposals to solicit bids from construction contractors to complete the dog park upgrades.The RFP deadline is tentatively planned for Oct. 29. 

A resolution approved by the dais will extend an amnesty program for the final time in hopes to get property owners who are not connected to the central wastewater system into compliance. During this final extension, property owners can take advantage of the opportunity to bring their property into compliance and rectify outstanding wastewater code compliance liens administratively at a reduced cost. 

In order to be eligible for the amnesty program, the property owner must apply for a wastewater connection permit for the subject property by Oct. 31. The wastewater connection for the property must be completed and the permit closed by Dec. 31.

Commercial collection service will begin at 6 a.m. in the village, following council’s approval to allow Waste Management to start earlier. The dais considered a resolution at its July 22 meeting that requested not only an earlier start time of 5 a.m., but also a 7% commercial rate increase. Council members turned down the rate hike, but allowed garbage trucks to get on the road a little earlier to beat traffic. 

Islamorada Village Council will gather Thursday, Sept. 2 for a regularly scheduled meeting. A special meeting will be held Friday. Sept. 3 for a budget hearing. 


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