If tonight's Key West City Commission meeting takes on a slightly kinder, gentler tone, it likely will be due to a memo from Mayor Craig Cates to City Attorney Shawn Smith, which was distributed to all commissioners Monday morning.
"The commission meeting will be run with a stricter adherence to Roberts Rules of Order and resolutions passed by the commission," Cates wrote in the email, which was addressed to Smith.
"An item will be presented by the sponsor, then public comment. No item will be discussed until a motion is made and seconded. A commissioner can speak to the item. The commissioner will be timed for the five-minute time limit and cannot speak again until all commissioners have had a chance to speak. Then commissioners will be allowed to speak one more time for up to five minutes," the memo states. "The sponsoring commissioner will have the courtesy to speak last to the item. Then the roll will be called. Discussion items will be handled the same way. Commissioners cannot speak unless recognized by chairman."
Nobody is pointing fingers publicly, but some commissioners opined that recent passionate proclamations by the body's newest member, Tony Yaniz, is at least in part responsible for the reaffirmations of policy.
Yaniz declined to comment on the development.
"Every once in a while, things are going to happen where someone has something real close to them they want to get off their chest; it's going to happen," said Commissioner Billy Wardlow. "It has happened to the mayor more than once, and it has happened to every one of us. This is the only way we are going to get the business done and get the meetings over with. The mayor has to control his actions, as the commissioners have to control theirs."
Heated discussion in recent weeks resulted in Cates and Yaniz trading apologies. That was after an incident in which Cates reined in Yaniz, who accused the mayor of unfairly muzzling him, after which Yaniz appeared to trash his papers before making motions to leave the meeting, although he ended up staying. During a recent discussion on utility poles, Yaniz challenged a photo of utility poles displayed by Commissioner Teri Johnston, then cut off his own discussion saying he didn't want to get in a "pissing contest."
During the last City Commission hearing, there was a terse exchange between Yaniz and Cates regarding the mayor's refusal to have local gadfly and retired IBM manager Margaret Romero, who was bested by Cates in the last election, considered as a candidate for city manager.
Pushing the rules
Yaniz is not alone. During various discussions, commissioners, particularly if a topic is close to them, as Wardlow mentioned, have been known to push the rules.
"I guess there's got to be some order in the meetings," said Vice Mayor Mark Rossi. "Some people don't always follow it. The mayor runs the meeting and we need to be respectful."
Included with the email is a copy of a resolution passed by the commission in 2010, charging the mayor with presiding over and preserving order at meetings, noting that he also decides when questions of order are raised. It notes that when an item is brought up for discussion, a commission member wishing to speak shall do so for no more than five minutes on the particular item.
Discussion on any particular agenda item shall be limited to one hour, the resolution states.
Cates declined to discuss any specific individuals or instances that triggered his directive.
"Sometimes there can be a little bit of argument between commissioners rather than discussions," Cates said. "We discuss an item and then we vote and the majority wins and we move on, and it should be nothing personal. I don't want it to become personal. I want us to work together to build a better community."