New Windermere Council Member Brandi Haines voiced concerns about equitable treatment from town staff during her liaison comments at the Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 23.
Haines was selected in November to temporarily fill the Town Council seat formerly occupied by Molly Rose. She will hold the seat until the March election.
“There have been a few issues,” she said. “I understand that I am new to the council and that this is a transition period for everyone, but I have had some issues with staff. A member of staff I feel has, at some meetings I’ve attended, tried to inform me and chastise me for speaking when I wanted to share information or disseminate information.
“I am familiar with the Town Charter,” she said. “I am familiar with the Sunshine laws, and there is no violation of me attending a meeting or sharing information. … I think that needs to be handled before it gets out of control. I am a council member, and I am here at the behest of the residents of this town to do the best things for this community and the best things for the residents, and if — for some reason — staff feels that my sharing of information is not OK — in whatever way, shape, or form — I feel like that should be handled privately or it should go through (Town Manager) Robert (Smith), because it’s not appropriate for some of the interactions I’ve had.”
Haines said she has not directed any other staff member, other than Smith, of things she has wanted, and said she mostly has just been asking questions.
“I want to make sure that I’m getting the same equitable treatment as every other council member, that if I have questions I want to feel like I’m able to ask them without being impeded by that from staff,” she said.
Mayor Jim O’Brien said Haines should trust the process in place for the Town Council.
“It is important as a new council (member) that we respect the institution of what is done here and how it is done,” he said. “We respect our staff, and they respect the council back. There is a process and decorum for a reason. You have to trust the rest of the council, and we have to trust you. That’s how this works. I know this can be an adjustment. I know it wasn’t necessarily the traditional way that you came on to the council. So, you know, just give it a little time.”
As the second newest council member, Tom Stroup said he understands Haines’ frustrations, and he has been in the same situation before.
Council Member Andy Williams also agreed.
“We’ve all been in that seat; it’s just a part of it,” he said. “That’s the hard part about being on council, is going through the process, but we’ve all been there.”
Council member Tony Davit asked Town Attorney Heather Ramos about rules regarding multiple council members attending committees.
“Obviously, each one of us is (a) liaison for a specific committee for a reason, and I feel — and I would love to get your take — that if multiple council members show up to (a) committee, that that’s a violation of the Sunshine Law if we discuss our opinions and where we stand on an issue,” he said.
Ramos said multiple council members can attend a meeting, but they have to be careful about their actions at the meeting.
“If you have more than two council members at a committee meeting, they should sit separately and not talk (among) themselves,” she said.
The Town Council plans to host a session to discuss ethics and Sunshine laws Tuesday, Feb. 27.