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Testy commission exchange produces new meeting times

Meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. and try to end by 11.

By M.E. BAKER, Times Correpondent
Published December 16, 2007


ST. PETE BEACH - City Commission meetings will have an earlier start and end at a specific time, commissioners agreed Tuesday.

Changes came after commissioners and residents strongly condemned the mayor's decision to prematurely end a recent meeting.

Mayor Ward Friszolowski unilaterally ended the Nov. 27 meeting at 10 p.m., with several agenda items still unconsidered and without a formal adjournment.

Commissioners were still testy when the group met Tuesday.

As Friszolowski began the meeting, he was interrupted by Commissioner Linda Chaney. He replied that he wasn't finished talking.

"We weren't last time either," Chaney responded.

"We can sit here and argue about it or we can be constructive," the mayor said.

The mayor defended his action, noting that the commission spent three hours on three agenda items in November. "I sensed that the commission wanted to get through those three items, and we did."

He said that closing the meeting at 10 p.m. "is a reasonable time frame."

"I'm willing to go to 10:30," Friszolowski continued. "But it's getting unreasonable for people who want to participate either here or at home, and I think we ought to put the public first."

Chaney said meetings of the Planning Board routinely lasted four hours. In the past year, she said, the majority of commission meetings had ended after 11:30 p.m.

She said one resident told her that Friszolowski "gloated" after the meeting that "I shut her up." Chaney is the only woman on the five-member board, and viewed the comment as a reference to her.

The mayor said that allegation was "completely inaccurate."

Chaney said Friszolowski had acted "more like a dictator" and that he owed the commission and residents an apology.

Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter agreed with Chaney. "What took place last meeting was improper," he said. "It was rude. And it was possibly illegal."

Another commissioner, Harry Metz, added that "more than 15 people" had told him the meeting should have continued. "If you can't stay here and have to go home, then go home. The vice mayor can take over and run the show. We don't need you."

Resident Philip Pyle said the mayor's action "arbitrarily deprived (citizens) of their right to speak."

He "strongly encouraged" commissioners to "assert your rights as the representative of the people to speak for the people."

"You're not up there to punch a time clock," said another resident, terming Friszolowski's action "reprehensible."

Vice Mayor Mike Finnerty offered no criticism. Rather, he suggested that meetings begin earlier.

Commissioners agreed to begin meetings a half hour earlier, at 6:30 p.m. and to try to end by 11 p.m.

Ruttencutter offered a motion that meetings would end only after a motion to adjourn had been seconded and approved by a majority vote.

"At 11 o' clock," the mayor interjected.

Ruttencutter replied: "When we all agree that the meeting is ready to adjourn."

The motion passed, 3 to 2.

[Last modified December 15, 2007, 21:35:18]

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