PALM HARBOR — In an attempt to correct communication problems between the two groups, the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency has invited a member of the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board to join the agency's board — but only as a nonvoting member.
"The PHCSA board would welcome your Chairperson or designee of your choice to sit up at the table with our board members to engage in open discussion,'' Rex Haslam, PHCSA board chairman, wrote in a letter to library board president Ron Schultz.
"You will not have a vote at this time, but you will have the opportunity to share your advisory board's thoughts, direction, activities as well as any input they have to the discussion at hand,'' the letter continued.
PHCSA (pronounced FIXA) is an appointed citizen board established in the mid-1980s to oversee the Palm Harbor Library and the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department and make decisions about how to spend property taxes collected in unincorporated Palm Harbor for those two departments.
The PHCSA board has seven voting members — two from the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, two from the Palm Harbor Library Advisory Board, two from the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce and one appointed by the Pinellas County Commission.
The reason the East Lake Community Library doesn't have representation on the board is that PHCSA was created before the East Lake facility was built. A move to add a voting member would have to start with approval by the Pinellas County commissioners, said Haslam.
Since the library advisory board has never had representation, its relationship with PHCSA has always been rocky, said Haslam.
"It's been known since the beginning that East Lake would like a place on the board. We'd all like that,'' he said. "I've been told that over the years, PHCSA has asked county commissioners twice if they could be added, and twice PHCSA was told no.''
County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who represents the Palm Harbor area, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Geographical distance also has contributed to the communication problem. PHCSA and its Palm Harbor facilities are on the opposite side of Lake Tarpon from the East Lake library.
The tension reached a boiling point last fall when former PHCSA Chairwoman Marguerite Smirlis said in a public meeting that the East Lake Community Library director, Patricia Perez, was not showing PHCSA "the levels of cooperation, cohesion and teamwork'' necessary for the two entities to successfully work together. The PHCSA board moved to put a reprimand in her file.
But the East Lake advisory board rallied on her behalf, and at a special meeting between the two groups, Tom McKone, a longtime advisory board member, said the funding agreement between the two entities required PHCSA to include them in all personnel decisions. PHCSA has been working on mending the relationship ever since.
It was at PHCSA's annual retreat Jan. 28 that the idea for a nonvoting member surfaced. Tom Seibert, who is serving as PHCSA's treasurer, recommended it.
"Since it seems we can't officially get them on the board, let's at least get them in the program just to participate," said Seibert. That way, the two groups could communicate directly rather than through rumors and hearsay.
Schultz is pleased to have received the invitation.
"I'm pumped," he said. "Together, PHCSA and our board are pouring the concrete on the foundation of communication continuity despite the physical restrictions of the lake,'' he said.
And what is the status of the reprimand of Perez?
"That we still have to resolve,'' said Schultz. "Rex and I are planning to meet in the coming weeks. We'll continue discussing any concerns.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.