Things I learned during the joint city/county workshop held last week.
Joint has differing meanings
The goal of this workshop, months in the making and only recently of any interest to the Board of County Commissioners, was to examine ways where the county and city of Port St. Joe might work together to lower the cost of government.
That, at least, is what both City Manager Jim Anderson and County Administrator Don Butler said to begin the meeting.
But would that not mean it best for all commissioners to attend?
Commissioner Bill Williams, who has spent most of the past year taking verbal jabs at the city from afar, could not be bothered apparently with making the 6 p.m. ET workshop.
Williams, the board chair, is a alame duck playing out the string until he leaves office in a few short weeks, but the fact that the city’s most vitriolic critic could not make a meeting of substance when the cameras where off says volumes.
Also missing was County Commissioner Carmen McLemore who has always talked a good game about assisting all in the county but whose actions, particularly when it comes to items such as the commodities program which overwhelming benefits a single district, reveal a dadgum good district commissioner and a lousy county commissioner.
In sum, while no decisions were reached during this workshop, two-fifths of the county, including one district directly impacted by actions of the city pertaining to water and sewer, were not represented at the table.
Now, granted, with Williams and McLemore out of the room the chances for a more civil, statesmanlike meeting were markedly improved, but given the fact that all other commissioners, a fair number of residents and staff managed to make the workshop, their absence was telling.
We can exhaust the dictionary and a thesaurus running through the various scenarios the Board of County Commissioners have sped through while deflecting the voters’ stated desire to end single-member districts.
The history has been written.
But flip the point to county-wide representation and, as noted above, the simple reality is that two-fifths of the county population was not at that table of local elected officials due to absences of taxpayer-paid elected officials.
Given that this joint workshop was first proposed at the last one, more than a year ago, and that the city sought the workshop by letter as early as February and could not glean a response until summer had nearly turned to fall, the inability, or unwillingness, of two commissioners raises questions for their constituents.
And given the issues on the table that the county and city have mutual interest in resolving at a time of difficult economics forcing both to do more with less, one noteworthy point is simply the fact that the day of district isolation is over.
Districts are not autonomous entities, if they ever were.
And how, exactly, well are the two districts truly represented in the big picture of the county when their elected officials can’t carve out time for the workshop?
Consolidation is a dirty word
The BOCC has had enough of the word consolidation, despite McLemore’s continued insistence that the county should have left well enough alone and physically consolidated the Public Works Department in his district in a flood zone in Howard Creek.
Consolidation of departments saved a boatload of money by shedding jobs, but the process of physical consolidation was marred from the outset, a pipe dream at best and in the end, with the building that was once bound for Howard Creek several years ago finally going up in Port St. Joe, a debacle.
The county had to pay off the contractor for the Howard Creek site just to go away because the BOCC didn’t properly plan or vet the project.
This leads to the continued insistence by Commissioner Tan Smiley that the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office and Port St. Joe Police Department consolidate.
From the outset this has been a non-starter economically, the savings minimal at best. There was also a stated reluctance by Sheriff Joe Nugent to assume the responsibilities of the city.
This has sounded more and more as time goes on like a personal ax Smiley feels the need to grind.
Such a consolidation has nothing to do with water and sewer rates, as he attempted to repeatedly link last week, and nothing to do with real efficiency as far as utility of buildings or manpower savings given the existing offices and workforces for the two law enforcement agencies.
And the continued insistence that this is somehow an issue that needs to be worked out, when so many more important things are on the plates of both commissions, is unproductive and a wedge between the city and county.
The WindMark interlocal agreement is a sham
We have said it before, we’ll state it again, that interlocal agreement to allow the city to annex WindMark Beach, for tax revenue that will be years in the generation, was pure and simple a ransom note composed by Williams.
He has been its most vocal enforcer; the most vocal critic of the city’s meeting its obligations and putting aside whether the county actually does.
And times have dramatically changed. That the county continues to hold provisions of that document over the city’s head, while watching the city sink deeper and deeper into debt meeting infrastructure demands in that document, is appalling.
Enough is enough.