Challenge Raised to Ockunzzi Move to Get Around Commission Decision
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - A question has been raised whether a move to put charter changes on March's ballot that was turned down by the City Commission can be accomplished by petition.
Behind the action is Mayor-Commissioner Bill Ockunzzi who has come increasingly under fire with one prominent figure in the town wondering if Ockunzzi can be removed from office because he is an obstacle to getting "meaningful work done on the City Commission."
Ockunzzi proposed two amendments to the city charter that the voters would decide in March. The idea was turned down by the commission, 4 to 1.
Blocked there, Ockunzzi sent out word that a committee would be formed to try to get sufficient voters signatures to force the ideas on the ballot.
Another of his proposals, that a "town meeting" be held, was also turned down by his colleagues on the commission.
The first of the charter amendments would require setting up a reserve fund from the sale of any city asset which has a value of more than $250,000.
Apparently the prospect of such funds was triggered by the idea that the city's sewer system and solid waste building could be sold.
Sale of these assets could bring in more than $1 million, and Ockunzzi's idea is that such a windfall would be locked into a reserve fund rather than being available for immediate spending.
As described in the material Ockunzzi sent out, interest on money in the fund would be used to lower ad valorem taxes while the principal could be used only to replace or repair existing infrastructure affected by a hurricane or other disaster.
The other proposed amendment would require a referendum before any new building or infrastructure expansion of more than $250,000. "Large projects have a huge financial impact on a city the size of IRB and should be approved by voters," Ockunzzi said.
Pulling an end run on the commission and, in effect, diminishing its effect on city legislation, Ockunzzi said, "Given the commission's refusal to consider the amendments a committee will be formed to gather the required number of signatures to place them on the ballot."
His assistant in this attempt at "rump government" is Ed Piniero, a former member of the commission who was thoroughly thrashed and rejected by voters last March.
It is this move by Ockunzzi and his pal, Piniero, that is being challenged and that has initiated the idea of removing Ockunzzi because the commission has to "constantly deal with his shenanigans."
One observer, who has asked to remain unidentified for obvious reasons, said, "He was elected with something like 23 percent of the vote and he thinks he was anointed king. The mastermind is likely Ed Piniero with Bill his willing foil - his fingerprints are all over this."
A source said that Ockunzzi tried to force the idea of the "town meeting" because he said the charter requires that one be held each year. There is no such charter requirement.
In urging the "town meeting," Ockunzzi said the commission needed to hear and listen from the public on a "wide variety of issues facing the commission."
He said "There has been too much lecturing of the public from the dais and in e-mails." Ironically, he has been one of the biggest e-mail users urging, in one instance, the public to show up at city hall in the recent tax and budget discussions.
"We need to listen to the public for a change," he said. The public - or at least a vocal segment of it - is in attendance at commission meetings, but too often are bloviating about subjects (such as news coverage) that have nothing to do with the City Commission's jurisdiction.
In his handout, Ockunzzi also opined that "Criticism by commissioners of commissioners has got to stop." This was apparently a reference to the very public criticism of Ockunzzi read by Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin at a recent meeting.
He also said that criticism of staff workers and officials is "unacceptable," thereby astonishing citizens far and wide who labor under the idea of free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
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