Sarasota blogger and environmental activist Susan Nilon — whose blog I quoted last week in an update on the negotiations between Sarasota and Florida Power & Light over the possible renewal of their 30-year franchise agreement — has clarified her position on the city’s decision to next meet in a private workshop rather than at a town hall:
As it stands now, FPL is allowed to have personal, one-on-one, meetings with each commissioner. The information that they gain from one commissioner is used to formulate the next discussion…giving FPL full advantage over each commissioner. Now, the only thing each commissioner has to go on is what FPL is telling them. FPL definitely has the advantage. However, now, when the commissioners enter into that closed meeting they are already influenced by their discussions with FPL. Meanwhile, the public is left out in the dark.
For me, the commissioners have not spent enough time with the public in order for the public to have a position in that room. They are the civil servants whose obligation is to represent us. But how can they truly represent us when so little time has spent with us? 90 people were in the room at the first and possibly only town hall last month. Out of the 90 – were officials from FPL, people who were invited by FPL, officials from the Municipal Utility industry, solar business owners, reporters, and so on. Only approximately half of the audience was made up of the public.
The one thing that really got my goat was not that the commission requested to have private meetings, but that Commisioner [Terry] Turner questioned the need for another town hall. We are not operating under a deadline when it comes to signing the franchise agreement. We no longer have a franchise agreement. Time is truly on our side. If nothing else can be to our benefit, is this opportunity that we have been granted to learn more about the power that we have in our hands.