County Commissioner Joanna Bryan has pushed for two months to bring the transparency and consistency to the Board of County Commissioners meeting agendas she believes is needed.
During Monday’s regular meeting – rescheduled from Tuesday due to a Florida Association of Counties conference – Bryan’s fellow commissioners pushed back.
Bryan’s motion to implement a new agenda process as a “pilot program” and “soft rollout” for the next two meeting cycles died for a lack of a second after Commissioner Carmen McLemore said he wanted to put the issue to rest.
Bryan supported a procedure drafted by county attorney Jeremy Novak.
In short strokes, the process would require that any request to be included on the agenda that came after the current deadline for inclusion, whether from a commissioner, staff or the public, come with justification for inclusion in an amended agenda.
The justification would include the reason for any urgency, budget impact and other factors for commissioners to consider at the beginning of each meeting to amend the agenda or not.
That is a similar process to what is employed by the Gulf County School Board, which votes at the beginning of every meeting, to accept any amendments.
Bryan said the city of Port St. Joe does not even vote on any item not on the agenda. She said her research around the state showed that most counties provide more detail on an agenda as to what will be considered at a given meeting.
Novak noted that the proposed policy includes much of what the BOCC already does in crafting an agenda, but adds that issues proposed after the deadline – the Wednesday prior to the Tuesday meeting – would require written justification for inclusion.
“I think this is an important communication tool,” Bryan said of the proposed agenda policy, which she said would enhance communications among staff, among commissioners and maybe most importantly for the public.
“Every other county has an agenda policy in place to encourage communications.”
She said too many board decisions are made on verbally-communicated information – she cited recent work at
Dalkeith Industrial Park in which the contents of a motion required a special meeting to clarify – and said the BOCC would be better served on all issues with written information in front of each commissioner.
“Small counties work this way,” she said, refuting an assertion from Commissioner Warren Yeager that they do not. “Cities work this way, school boards work this way. Why can’t things be on an agenda?
“This is to encourage people to get on the agenda in a timely fashion. I am asking for the board to ask staff to work in this direction. It is important things are in writing. We need to be as efficient as possible.”
She asked not that the board adopt the policy, but that staff adhere to the policy as a pilot project through two meeting cycles to determine tweaks that might need to made.
McLemore dismissed the idea out of hand. He said such a policy would restrict the ability of commissioners to vote on a pressing issue brought from the public.
“I’ve been on this board for 13 years and I don’t have a problem with the way we are operating now,” McLemore said.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel said there were aspects of the policy he did not like, particularly a provision requiring a super-majority of four votes from the BOCC to amend the agenda to include a late item.
He sought clarification from Novak that the policy proposed did not derive from state law, but a proposed county policy change.
Commissioner Warren Yeager, who had agreed with Bryan earlier this year about the need for transparency, said the policy went too far.
“I am all for transparency but this is too restrictive,” Yeager said. “I need to make a decision sometimes based on what my constituents, the public, bring to me. It is too restrictive of a policy.”
Commissioner Tan Smiley said the policy would impede the process.
“Government is slow and I don’t want to slow the process down,” Smiley said.
Bryan argued that nothing in the policy would “slow anything” and the policy would make it easier for staff, commissioners and the public.
Bryan said most issues brought to the board – such as the change in probation services taken up at the prior meeting – are not emergencies. She added that the BOCC seemed to be going out of its way to keep the public out.
She further noted the classes she has taken with the Florida Association of Counties and said the board is not applying lessons learned at FAC conferences, noting that much of the training material she has seen was in part crafted by Yeager.
“I want the public to realize that they are paying for this board to travel all over to attend these classes and we are not implementing what we are learning,” Bryan said.
Yeager answered, “I disagree.”
Smiley said the FAC classes had helped him and some items that might translate in other counties don’t necessarily translate to Gulf County.
Novak said the U.S. Supreme Court would issue a decision this week pertaining to the Voting Rights Act, specifically a provision that mandates that counties or cities under a federal decree due to prior discrimination must have judicial pre-clearance before implementing any voting changes, such as redistricting.
Novak said the decision could have an impact on the research and case Gulf County has been building in recent years as the BOCC has alternately considered or not moving to county-wide voting.
Novak asked for board direction on bringing the experts hired by the BOCC down next month to discuss the impacts of the Supreme Court decision. The county can only consider redistricting in odd-numbered years so unless action is taken soon, redistricting could not be considered again until 2015.
Commissioners asked for the consultant to report in July.
“I think it is important to move forward on what the voters clearly want which is county-wide voting,” Yeager said.
The county will take over probation services this week, exercising a 15-day termination clause for cause included in its contract with Florida Probation Services.
The board narrowly approved moving probation services in-house – despite being provided with no formal plan on the transition, budget impact, etc. – at its last meeting.
Novak wrote Florida Probation Services regarding fulfilling the existing contract, which ran through October and Florida Probation Services – which deputy administrator Michael Hammond had labeled “nearly a scam” – replied it would exercise a 60-day out clause and be done by Aug 10.
The board approved Novak’s suggestion to exercise the 15-day termination clause.