OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee City Council’s second town hall meeting took place on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m. and lasted approximately 30 minutes. There were not as many participants as there were for the first meeting, and Sandra Pearce, one of the commenters, asked if the meeting had been advertised because she said she did not remember seeing it in the paper. City Clerk Lane Gamiotea said they spent over $1,000 on advertising for the meeting and had put it on social media, the newspaper and radio.
Mayor Dowling Watford announced this week is Florida Government Week, and he was happy to be having the town hall meeting during that week. “It’s one of the most democratic things we can do, so we are glad we can do it now,” he said. He also let it be known they are looking for applicants to fill vacancies on some citizen boards. You must be a city resident to apply for the pension boards, he said.
“If you feel led to serve your city, we would really appreciate it, because we need to fill those vacancies.” In addition, he reminded everyone to update their signatures at the office of the supervisor of elections.
As a reminder, Mayor Watford said the council would not be answering questions at the meeting. The meeting was meant as a time for the citizens to air their concerns and give their input. The council and staff will listen and will get back with them later about the things brought up during the meeting.
Angie Griffin, president of Okeechobee Main Street and a business and property owner on Park Street, said she thought the meeting was a great idea, and she was not able to be at the last one. She said she really likes the four-way stop on Park Street and feels it is working very well there. She is also happy with the speed limit signs. “We still have some speeders running through there that are crazy, but it’s better than it was,” she said. Their clients have to be very careful backing out, and that is a concern. She said she noticed they were replacing the Chickees across the street from her business in park three, and she said they really needed to be replaced. She is excited about the new flag that the Culbreths have donated and can’t wait to see it go in the park. “That’s going to help with our downtown image,” she said. “That’s like the heart beat of Okeechobee.” She asked them to think about signage in the downtown area. She said it is not very consistent. She also talked about handicapped parking, and explained the handicapped spaces are at the end of each street and the people who use them have to go out into the street to get their wheelchairs or equipment out of their trunks. She said she did not know what the solution might be though.
Sandra Pearce said she likes the four way stop by Central Elementary School. It’s nice not to have to sit there and wait anymore, she said. In addition, she spoke about the consolidation of the city and county fire departments. She said she understands wanting to look out for the 12 employees of the fire department, but when you are running a business, you can’t think about 12 people if you have the whole city to think about. “You go to work. You apply for your job, and you do your job, but sometimes jobs are removed, and you have to find other places to work. All of us in here are city and county. If I call the city fire department what will happen if I need an ambulance? Are they going to be able to come, or will I have to go to the county?” She believes they will do a better job if they consolidate rather than working with one here and one there. She does not want anyone to lose his job, but said the city cannot look at it on the basis of 12 jobs, “not when we can save a million dollars.” She said no one wants to see 12 people lose their jobs and she hopes an agreement can be made with the county so they can be hired there.
“You need to look at it like a business, because it is a business, run by you, for us,” she said. “I want to see that million dollars go to something that is going to improve which you are working very hard at, and I want to commend you for that.”
Former Okeechobee City Councilman Noel Chandler commended the council on the work that has been done recently on the streets. He said he hated to see hardworking men lose their jobs because finances couldn’t be worked out and he hoped they could come to some solution other than consolidating the fire departments. “It may look good, but the county will be getting excess money from the city,” he said. “As far as employees, I would work very hard to keep them. We have had some of them for twenty some years and they are about ready to get out. I’ve heard some people in the audience talk about employees getting another job, but I don’t think they have had employees as dedicated for this long. I’d just hate to see that happen.” He also spoke about ordinances. He did not understand foreclosing on a property for little over $3,000 in fines which he said was what was being done with the Mott property, his deceased grandmother’s property. In the past, they never recommended foreclosure for such a small amount, he said, and he was on the council for many years.
Jennifer Tewksbury spoke, not on behalf of the Economic Council, but as a taxpayer and said she wanted to reiterate what Sandra Pearce said, and because Ms. Pearce said it so eloquently, she would not restate any of those points. She wanted to commend the city on the police department and their overwhelming presence throughout the city cracking down on speeders.
One woman said she lived across from Cowboys and had some concerns about the number of vehicles parked at one of the homes. She feels there should be a limit to the number allowed at a private home on a regular basis. She would like to see some more regulations for how many people are allowed in a single family dwelling and she would like ordinances to make people keep their yards clean and mowed so the neighborhood looks decent.
The final comment was phoned in by Jim Berra, stating “many city streets need to be repaved and/or repaired. All streets should have center lines and stop lines. Sidewalks need to be repaired and cleaned. Trees need to be trimmed and kept trimmed not only on city property, but on private property with the use of code enforcement as needed. Keep trash picked up better throughout the city. Coordinate a monthly, city-wide cleanup day using volunteers to help clean public and private areas, residential and commercial. Work on a better drainage system for the southwest area especially areas without alleyways.”
According to Councilman Bob Jarriel, a member of the staff will contact each of the people who commented and the city will do its best to resolve every issue.