IRB Board Stumbles on the Way to Budget Talks; Many Questions
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - The problem in Indian Rocks Beach now is getting back on track with the City Commission's budget discussions.
The situation has become muddled and on top of that the interim city manager and public works director are being besieged with questions by a commission member.
As a footnote to the latter, the eager and frenetic questioner is the mayor, who is acting as though IRB had a strong mayor form of government; you know, where the mayor is boss.
Indian Rocks Beach has a manager-commission form of government, and as it happens, the mayor is just another commissioner. His only duty above ordinary commissioner status is to preside at meetings.
In fact, when Bob DiNicola (of sainted memory in what most folks are now calling the "good old, peaceful days") was mayor the current occupant of that office, Bill Ockunzzi, then a commissioner and two of his pals (Jim Palamara and Jeremiah Carmody) made a point of always calling DiNicola "Mayor-Commissioner DiNicola."
But so much for that digression. How about the budget talks?
A discussion was scheduled last Thursday, and those with saving money had their pencils sharpened and were ready to argue against a proposed white elephant, a new and expanded library.
But then, that came off the agenda. At the last minute last week, the Thursday meeting was scrapped altogether at the last minute when Marty Schless, the city's finance guru, came up with a family emergency and Steve Cottrell, the interim city manager, took a day off.
Cottrell's absence no doubt was predicated on the absence of Schless who is a key figure in any budget review.
The discussion was put off until this week as City Clerk Deanne O'Reilly scrambled to see when she could get all parties together.
In the meantime, there was a flood of questions, most of them initiated by Ockunzzi, who seems to have gone into a whirlwind of activity.
He had addressed some budget-type questions to Cottrell earlier and got the response that the interim manager preferred to discuss the answers with all commission members present, avoiding a dialogue with the mayor only.
Apparently getting antsy and overlooking or forgetting Cottrell's previous answer, Ockunzzi asked again, "When will I receive a response to the questions I posed earlier?"
Cottrell, a veteran manager wise in the ways of bureaucracy and all those machinations, repeated his previous reply - "Mayor: It is my intention, for the sake of efficiency and as I had suggested to you during an earlier conversation that I would attempt to answer your budget related questions during our scheduled budget workshops so that all commissioners may hear my responses/answers/opinions collectively."
Apparently blocked on that avenue, the inquisitive Ockunzzi (and keep in mind, his shotgun questioning is proper and in pursuit of his duties; it is just that he is out front of the pack) then had a set of questions for Dean Scharmen, IRB's Public Services Director.
Scharmen was prompt, getting back the same day (July 30) with crisp and succinct answers to queries that came under his jurisdiction. This was in preparation for the meeting Thursday that was scratched.
Then Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin checked in with questions over the library and Commissioner Jose Coppen had questions, too.
Lots of questions - all fair and proper.
In the meantime, the city remains generally leaderless. Cottrell has said he does not want the manager's job. So after the budget comes the search for a manager - one who will be independent and professional and not dominated by micro-managing.
And hanging over it all is the Grieshaber case and it is already well understood that some "brush it under the rug" settlement is out of the question.
The answers to the questions on that case may be the most telling of all.
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