Utility giant Florida Power & Light has engaged in one-on-one conversations with Sarasota City Commissioners in an attempt to gain the upper hand in negotiations over the possible renewal of the city’s 30-year franchise agreement with FPL, and the city commission elected earlier this week to table the idea of a second public town hall on the issue — two moves local renewable-energy activists are decrying.

At Monday’s regular City Commission meeting, Commissioner Terry Turner discussed a recent phone call between him and FPL’s Rae Dowling, during which Dowling suggested that Sarasota Special Legal Counsel Robert Scheffel Wright seemed to be in charge of negotiations, not the City Commission. “I called Mr. Wright,” Turner said, “and he assured me that he’s not trying to negotiate. But the fact of the matter is we do have some ambiguity in the minds of FPL and some of the public.” (You can watch the entire meeting here; the portion related to FPL begins at the 1:44 mark.)

Mayor Kelly Kirschner later called FPL’s insinuations mere “talking points,” saying, “We are the elected officials and we’re obviously doing it.”

On a website dedicated to tracking the issue, Sarasota Power, one commenter took issue with FPL’s suggestions that the city is not in control of the negotiating process: “My understanding in listening to comments by Commissioner Turner at the recent commission meeting is that you (FP&L) are unsure of ‘who is running the show’? Well, I hope the show is being run by concerned citizens that are using their rights in a democratic society to voice their opinion and bring about real change.”

Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Fredd “Glossie” Atkins both indicated they had also been in touch with FPL. Atwell said she heard similar questions about Wright’s role in the negotiation process, and said FPL was particularly curious if the city planned to call for a town hall similar to the one held on June 16.

Turner seemed reluctant to hold another public meeting on the issue, saying he wasn’t “comfortable” with the idea. Kirschner asked a city lawyer if the law permitted commissioners to meet privately with Wright and others to strategize about the next steps; the attorney said no. “I think it puts us at a disadvantage that FPL can go in one-on-one with commissioners and do these things and then commissioners can’t strategize and discuss as well,” Kirschner said.

Commissioner Richard Clapp then floated the idea of a private, City Commission-only workshop to talk over the next steps. “I think that would be better than the conversation we’re having here,” Kirschner said, before suggesting that the group select a date for the workshop later in the week.

The decision not to schedule another public hearing left those passionate about seeing the city invest in greater renewable technologies dispirited. “It seems that it was all a ruse,” writes Sarasota blogger and environmental activist Susan Nilon, referring to the city’s decision to not schedule another public hearing. “There was no meat on that bone. There was never any intention of any real follow-through other than a small offering to the public.”

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