The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Different agencies, same complaint -- lack of communication

Related story: Council, parks district see progress

‘Free flow’ is focus of airport board

By Rich Pollack

    One of two newly appointed members to the Boca Raton Airport Authority has proposed changes to the rules governing the organization, which he says are designed to improve communication between board members and their constituents — including the Boca Raton City Council.
    Last month, in his first meeting as a member of the airport authority, Boca Raton Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth presented fellow board members with several proposed revisions to the board’s bylaws.
    “The goal is to remove all impediments to the free flow of information between board members and their constituents,” Weinroth said.
    Weinroth, whose May appointment to the Airport Authority — along with that of Deputy City Manager George Brown — is the subject of a complaint filed with the state ethics commission, said the City Council’s focus in making the appointments was to improve communication between the two organizations and to align goals and objectives.
    Should the seven-member board approve the suggested bylaw changes, Weinroth believes that the exchange of information between the airport authority and the city council will improve.
    “Some board members have felt constrained by the bylaws,” he said.
    One section of the governing rules Weinroth would like to see removed requires board members to report to the authority’s executive director any conversations they have with a member of the public regarding an item that may come before them. Under existing bylaws, the executive director is required to maintain a log of public contact with board members regarding issues that may come before the organization.
    Other members of the authority supported Weinroth’s contention that bylaws make it difficult for them to speak freely to members of the public or community groups on behalf of the authority.
    “It’s been difficult for us to be ambassadors when there’s a perception that we can’t speak openly and freely,” said board Chair Gene Folden.
    Following Weinroth’s reading of what appeared to be a prepared statement, board member Cheryl Budd — one of two authority members appointed by the Palm Beach County Commission, not the City Council — questioned an apparent concern by city leaders that the goals and strategic objectives of the city and those of the authority are not aligned.
    “Would it be possible for you to summarize where our strategic plan is divergent or somehow not in keeping with the county’s and city’s overall goals?” Budd asked of Weinroth.
    In responding, Weinroth again pointed to an issue with communication.
    “We have, as a council, made appointments to this board and have tried to work through those appointments,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we were being heard or that we were hearing what was happening.”
    For his part, Brown said he felt that the goals of both the Airport Authority and the city are in sync.
    “I think the issue with the bylaws is not an alignment of strategy or goals but rather a lack of alignment in the policies of the board in terms of communication with constituents and communication with members of the City Council and city staff,” he said.
    The proposed bylaw revisions Weinroth presented will be discussed this month at the Airport Authority’s regularly schedule July 15 meeting.
    Budd said she believes there is a good chance the board will be able to reach a consensus on some revisions to the bylaw.
“I think there is plenty of optimism that we can get to a spot where everybody thinks we’ve balanced communication with transparency,” she said.
    Earlier in the June meeting, Folden’s election as the authority’s chair took three rounds of voting, with the first two split evenly, 3-3, between Folden and longtime board member Frank Feiler.
    On the third vote, Board Member Jack Fox — who has abstained from taking part in meetings while a possible conflict of interest complaint against him is being investigated by the state ethics commission — stepped out of the audience and volunteered to take part in the voting to break the tie. Feiler then dropped out of contention and Folden was elected.
    In other action, board members had a chance to see preliminary plans for a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection station that will be built on the west side of the airport. The $3 million 4,200-square-foot facility is expected to be completed within two to two and a half years.

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