There’s always something to learn…

  I’ve attended conventions of all kinds, and I think it comes down to this: People are looking for either tips or inspiration.

   And that was the case Aug. 12-14 as I attended the Florida League of Cities annual conference in Orlando. There are so many pieces of information necessary to being an effective council member, and on top of that, there are so many personalities to work with.

  So, with a few more tips and a nice couple of days of reinvigoration, here is what I’d like to pass along;

Trees. The League’s Utilities, Natural Resources and Public Works committee, which I am a member of, voted on its priority for the 2022 sessions. The League will support legislation to close loopholes from a 2019 bill that creates problematic exemptions from municipal tree ordinances.

QTIP: The League’s Director of Leadership Development and Education, Scott Paine, delivered this acronym during a session on maintaining civility during council meetings. QTIP means Quit Taking It Personally. Done!

Public records: Emails, social media comments and the like are public records and need to be retains “as long as they maintain utility.” That means if I say “the meeting is Thursday,” that comment is no longer relevant on Friday.

Improved process. Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the department is trying to revamp its procedures and become nimbler. This doesn’t necessarily affect city officials, but it does have meaning for our administrators, including those trying to get reimbursements after hurricanes, for example.

Curious George. Leland Melvin, who flew on two space shuttle Atlantis missions, gave one of two keynote addresses. He spoke often of “The Man with the Yellow Hat,” a reference to a friend who often intervened to get the children’s book character Curious George out of a tight spot. Melvin cited several examples of helpful people who helped him along the way and encouraged us all to be “The Man with the Yellow Hat.”

Energy. Dr. James Fenton spoke of “Renewable Energy and 21st Century Sustainability” and predicted that solar energy will continue to become more vital as time goes on. He said one immediate way to address energy bills is to note that cities overcool unoccupied spaces, such as recreation rooms that are empty during the day. He also noted that energy efficiency will be vital as affordable housing is built. “It’s not affordable housing if it is not energy efficient.” The city of Orlando’s sustainability director, Chris Castro, said it is important to balance “social, environmental and economic interests.” It was also suggested that vocational schools start educating a workforce that can work the solar panel industry.

ARPA Funding. The session drawing the biggest crowd was an explanation of ARPA funding. Attendees learned that funds must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026. So presenters encouraged city leaders to take their time in selecting ways to spend the money. Plantation is receiving about $13 million.

Relationships. Consultant Jennifer Fadden coached guests on the relationship between a city council and a city manager. (Plantation has a strong mayor form of government but I am suggesting a vote in 2022 to switch to city manager.) “Communication problems are a primary reason a city manager gets fired,” she noted. She also encouraged council members to focus on policy, rather than specific details. “If you’re doing the staff’s work you won’t have time for your own,” she said.

The future. Demographer Kenneth Gronbach was the event’s second keynote speaker, and used numbers and trends to suggest that Florida is very well positioned to succeed in the future. He noted that a focus on medical improvements and an influx of moneyed residents will make our state successful in the coming decade.

Nick Sortal is a member of Plantation City Council. Email or Twitter @PlantationNick.