The Gulf County Board of Commissioners should consider changes to its agenda for more transparency and accountability, Commissioner Joanna Bryan reiterated during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Bryan had just returned from commissioner training in Central Florida and said her polling of other commissioners around the state found that counties use far more detailed and explanatory agendas than currently used by the BOCC.
Bryan, in her first term, ran as the lack of clarity on county agendas as part of her platform, was renewing a call she made last month to put a stop to the lack of information contained on county agendas.
“I could not locate a county that used a minimal agenda like we do,” Bryan said. “They also testified that they do not vote on items not on the agenda.”
As Bryan noted during an earlier meeting, the BOCC regularly debates and votes on issues that do not appear on the agenda released in advance of the meeting.
The most recent example of an important issue receiving no advance notice was the BOCC decision to move the Gulf County Economic Development Council under the county’s umbrella.
“If we are spending taxpayer money and learning something (from these training exercises that all commissioners undergo), we should address this,” Bryan said. “It is for the good of the public and the public should know what we are doing.”
Bryan added that many constituents had contacted her on the issue, hoping that a change in how the agenda was handled would be taken on by the BOCC.
She said she had also talked with county staff which, she said, seemed to support the effort. Bryan noted that providing a clear agenda of topics to be taken up would help, at minimum, with the keeping of minutes.
Bryan also noted that in some counties when county staff is bringing an issue to the commission, a recommended motion is included, also increasing transparency for commissioners and public.
Commissioner Carmen McLemore said he “was not 100 percent against” Bryan’s goal, but said county staff and others fail to make current deadlines.
“Make them,” Bryan replied.
Commissioner Warren Yeager said he supported making the agenda more clear, but said he was leery of tying commissioners’ hands should an issue arise that requires immediate action is brought to the podium by a member of the public.
“We use common sense,” Bryan said. “I don’t think something like that will happen that often. But people with a special interest can come up and have an advantage that others in the public do not and do not necessarily agree with that person. They do not have the opportunity to provide input.”
At the suggestion of her fellow commissioners, Bryan was asked to work with county attorney Jeremy Novak and county administrator Don Butler on a process and guidelines to bring more clarity and transparency to the county agenda.
Butler said he would continue discussions with the landowner of the Indian Pass Campground concerning a land swap with the county by which the county would relocate its boat ramp to the lagoon side.
Erosion is an issue on either side of the current Indian Pass Boat Ramp almost since its construction and as the problem has increased, the county has seen parking and amenities around the boat ramp decrease.
Butler said GIS would work on a suitable location for the boat ramp on the lagoon side and said the owners of the campground were open to discussions.
A move to the lagoon side would also open up more parking around the boat ramp. The Friends of St. Vincent Island already maintain a launch in the general area.
“It’s a problem at certain times and certain tides,” Yeager said. “I think it would be a win-win for the county and the landowners.”
Sheriff budget shortfall
Due to changes in the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office since he was sworn in as sheriff earlier this month, Sheriff Mike Harrison came before the BOCC requesting $51,000.
The money shortfall came about due to the departures of five former employees of the GCSO, two of whom were not retained, three of whom were offered jobs; two chose to retire, another went to work elsewhere.
The five were due $56,000 in payout for comp and leave time, with $5,000 in the GCSO budget for that purpose.
Harrison said the budget shortfall would mean at least two positions would lapse – possibly as many as five – until the new fiscal year arrives in June, meaning a potential impact to services.
Commissioners approved an “advance” on next year’s funding to fill in the shortfall and offered Harrison a chance to come back in a month or so once he gets a handle on his workforce situation.