Interview #34: Fort Lauderdale, FL City Manager Lee Feldman (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

For two decades, Lee Feldman has been a city manager all around the Florida coast. Currently he is the big cheese in Fort Lauderdale, which has its share of commission meeting drama. We talked about Florida’s causal meeting attire and what council members may really be doing when they’re not looking at public commenters.

Q: You are the city manager of Fort Lauderdale. So, sir, my first question is: how many wet t-shirt contests have you judged?

A: None. Actually, Spring Break–as you may think of–has long gone from Fort Lauderdale. Back in the ’80s, the city fathers felt that Spring Break had gotten a little out of control. They wanted to see the beach evolve to something different, so Spring Break ultimately moved away.

Q: Can you think of anything you’ve done as Fort Lauderdale’s city manager that you think no other city manager in the country might have done?

A: Well, I’ll tell you one. In Florida when you have a quasi-judicial item, you have to be sworn in to give testimony. Our previous process gave you an orange sticker to indicate you were sworn in. I encouraged the clerk to replace that sticker with a sticker that says “I Love Fort Lauderdale.” I’m not sure anybody else in the country has done that.

Q: [Laughs] Yeah, I wouldn’t expect Reno to have stickers that say “I Love Fort Lauderdale!” I noticed in your city commission meetings that some public commenters wear t-shirts, shorts, and baseball caps. Do you find that a little too casual?

A: Over the last 30 years, I’ve seen a general relaxation of meetings. You’ve probably seen some council members that wear t-shirts and ball caps and shorts–

Q: Not yet!

A: You’ll probably find a few, especially in the retirement-oriented communities.

Fort Lauderdale, FL City Manager Lee Feldman

Q: When you were in Palm Bay, there was a contentious city council meeting over the city’s contract with firefighters. Some of them stood up and said, you don’t care about us. Or, cut your pay. What do you want to say to them?

A: We value the work and effort of every employee. Everybody contributes differently. I remember around that time, these anonymous blogs started showing up and somebody blogged that I had gotten a huge raise, which was not the truth. I got a call from my mom–she was yelling at me about “how dare you take a raise when you’re telling others that they need to have changes?”

Q: Some people express concern in public comment that the Fort Lauderdale commissioners aren’t listening to people. I’ve got to say, from watching a few meetings, that seems largely correct.

A: I think our commissioners get a bad rap…we have electronic agendas now. All of our commissioners and myself use our iPads. As people are speaking and referencing things, we will be looking down at the iPad to see what they are talking about.

Q: How can public commenters get your attention and most effectively make their case?

A: The best way to make a case is to know the issue, be able to state the facts, and it’s okay to even get emotional. I’ve seen speakers tear up because the item means so much to them. But the most effective way is to remain civil.

Follow Lee Feldman on Twitter: @leefeldman

Interview #19: Orlando, FL Commissioner Regina Hill (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

After watching an Orlando city council meeting, I sat down with Commissioner Regina Hill to find out just how wild things in Florida can get. It turns out, nothing rattles her. We talked about Harry Potter, alligators, and more sobering subjects.

Q: If Orlando city council meetings were a ride at Disney World, what would they be?

A.) It’s a Small World

B.) Space Mountain

C.) the boring monorail that takes you around the parking lot

A: It’s most definitely not a “Small World” here at council. And it’s not a boring ride on the monorail. I think it would be Space Mountain, but it’s not a roller coaster. I would call it…adventurous.

Q: Adventurous? Maybe more like something in the Harry Potter theme park?

A: I’m sorry, but I haven’t gone to the theme park. From what I understand about Harry Potter, most of it is magic and illusions. It’s real what we do here.

Q: I once heard from another city council member that they did not ask what they considered “basic” or “stupid” questions in the council meetings because people might judge them. Do you feel the same way?

A: I think to not ask a question does a disservice to our constituents. I am very direct. I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

Orlando, FL Commissioner Regina Hill

Q: During your campaign, it came out that you had been arrested as an adult. Do you think people treat you differently in the city council meetings because of that?

A: I mean, of course everyone has opinions. I’m very confident of who I am. I’m making some wrongs right. I try to remember that I am sitting here as someone who has been given this opportunity. I represent hope.

Q: You are in Florida. And the media is full of stories about Florida that are pretty wacky. What is the oddest thing that you have seen at a city council meeting?

A: I’ll tell you, when I’m sitting on the dais, I don’t look at any oddity. What I see is free speech. What might be strange to me is someone’s reality. I think it’s a beautiful thing when people can be themselves.

Q: I respect your respectfulness…but you’re telling me that if you were in the council chamber and an alligator walked in, THAT wouldn’t faze you at all?

A: What would faze me is: how did the security guards let an alligator get in the chambers?!

Q: [Laughs] That is such a good point!

A: Who was the gatekeeper? I wouldn’t be mad at the alligator!

Q: Commissioner, when do you think is the moment when you “made it?” Or do you feel like you have not made it yet?

A: I feel like I haven’t made it yet. But the night I was elected was–outside of becoming a nurse after getting my rights restored–one of the proudest moments that I can recall. Because it was almost like redemption. Even after people said I didn’t deserve an opportunity because of my past. I haven’t stopped working 60-70 hours a week since I’ve been elected. Even in the last year, I haven’t taken time off to grieve my daughter’s murder. It’s not easy being a public servant. But is it worth it? Absolutely.

Follow Commissioner Regina Hill on Twitter: @ReginaHillFL

#46: Orlando, FL 8/29/16

From the home of Disney World comes a city council meeting so magical, so enchanting that it has its own glorious video intro:

“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed the voiceover, “please welcome our mayor, Buddy Dyer!”

The stock footage abruptly faded to the council chambers, where one sole attendee applauded on cue.

“Whoever had that one clap, I appreciate that,” the mayor lightheartedly quipped as the room roared with laughter.

“Welcome to the January 29, 2016 meeting of the Orlando City Council,” announced His Honor, his brains apparently scrambled from too many rides on Splash Mountain. “We give our commissioners the opportunity to update you on items from their commission district.”

But by the time Commissioner Samuel Ings finished his slideshow of the Sixth Annual Red Tie Celebrity Golf Extravaganza, the mayor had a mea culpa:

“The city clerk let me know that when I called the meeting to order, I said it was the January…or December?”

“January,” the clerk corrected–again.

“Some month other than August,” Mayor Dyer admitted to chuckles. “Hopefully most of you are aware that it is August.”

“If you’re not aware that it’s August in Orlando, look at a thermometer.”

If you’re having trouble forgiving the mayor for his brain fart, Commissioner Robert Stuart had some words for you.

“Back in April we were listed as the second or third most compassionate city in the country,” he said, introducing his resolution to make Orlando an official “compassionate city”–which is like a regular city, except Commissioner Stuart will kiss your boo-boo, I guess.

The mayor glanced sideways. “Amy, our city clerk, was commenting to me that she didn’t think she was getting enough TV time. So I thought I would let her read the resolution.”

Without missing a beat, she retorted, “You just know I can do it faster than you.” Ladies and germs, the Mayor and Clerk Variety Hour will be here all night!

But not so fast: on deck was a new fee to expand Orlando’s non-cartoon-themed parks. “We’re proposing to collect in three zones,” explained a bespectacled city staffer. “The funds raised in each of those three zones must be utilized in those three zones.”

That didn’t wash with Commissioner Regina Hill, whose zone had lots of low-income housing that wouldn’t pay.

“There’s gonna be no monies generated in that area for improvements in my parks!” she exclaimed, whipping off her glasses. “Especially Lake Lorna Doone, which has needed $4 million!”

The parks director raced to the mic. “Lake Lorna Doone is in the north zone. So all of the revenues generated in the north zone have to be spent in the north zone–”

“But the new residential that will be built…will NOT generate fees,” fired back Hill exasperatedly.

“In the north district, I think the ten-year revenue was about $6 million,” the staffer tried to assuage her.

Hill was apoplectic. “I gotta wait ten years?!”

“Well…over ten years. Yeah,” the staffer meekly responded.

Commissioner Hill is in full stink-eye mode

At this point, the city attorney stepped into the fracas.

“The reason Lake Lorna Doone was not included in the definition of a regional park is because of its size,” he explained.

“It’s a ‘regional park’ to those that live in that area!” the commissioner mic-dropped.

Final thoughts: Yikes. Looks like a few people didn’t get the message that Orlando is a compassionate city now. I give 8 out of 10 stars to Commissioner Hill. Fight on!