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Columbia County Observer

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Charter Review Commission News

Columbia County Charter Review Commission meets: 70,000 residents - Not one shows up 


Playing to a room devoid of any members of the public, the Charter Review Commission talks to itself, the county staff and the media, before voting to remove the public's guaranteed place on future Charter Review Commission agendas.

Florida's homeless Columbia County had its second Charter Review Commission (CRC) meeting last night. The birds have come home to roost, as not one resident out of a population of approximately 70,000 showed up at the County's Agricultural Extension Office for the Commission's second meeting, where the microphones weren't working, most of the participants could be barely understood from just a few feet away and the main topic of discussion was restricting the public's right to speak.

After the introductions by the County Commission's handpicked commission members, Chairman Roundtree got right to it. He told the eleven CRC Commissioners present and the nonexistent public, "One of the things that I think the public should understand is this is a fact-finding committee... at each meeting we do not have to accept public input. We will gladly accept public input, except there are some meetings which we will not."

The Preamble of the Columbia County Charter begins this way:

THE PEOPLE OF COLUMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, by the grace of God free and independent, in order to attain greater self-determination, to exercise more control over our own destiny, to create a more responsible and effective government, and to guarantee constitutional rights to all equally, do hereby ordain and establish this Home Rule Charter as our form of government for Columbia County.

After gathering the facts, debating the issues and maybe hearing from the public, the CRC can suggest changes to the County Charter. This is more than "fact-finding."

The committee's bylaws (rules), which were approved by the 2005 Charter Review Commission after being vetted by an attorney, widely known to be an expert in constitutional law, secured the public's right to participate at every meeting:

Each agenda shall include a point during the meeting at which "Remarks of Interested Citizens" may be made. Under the agenda item of "Remarks of Interested Citizens", interested citizens shall be afforded an opportunity to comment on matters germane to the agenda or matters to come the Commission. (Emphasis added)

In law the word "shall" is the same as the word "must".

Link: Read more about Columbia County's Lakeshore Hospital here.

"Jack"  Jackson P. Berry to the rescue

As if on cue, former Republican Chieftain and Hospital Authority Czar, "Jack" Jackson P. Berry, moved that the offending paragraph be removed.

Mr. Berry called the paragraph, "redundant... and could be confusin."

Former tax collector, Ray Walker, was the only one of the CRC commissioners present who spoke up for the public's right to participate. He said he served on the original Charter Commission and there was no problem with the rule. He asked, "Why do we need to change something we didn't have a problem with?"

The right to be heard - removed

Link:  In March of 2010, Florida's First District Court of Appeals ruled: The public has no right to speak.

After almost fifteen minutes of discussion, the 2011 Columbia County Charter Review Commission unanimously voted to remove "Remarks of Interested Citizens," the second paragraph of Rule 2, from the Commission's bylaws, subject to the review of the same attorney who originally vetted it.

In other business, Chairman Roundtree suggested that the County Manager come before the CRC and explain the County budget.

Mr. Berry opined that this was a waste of time and that if folks wanted to know what was in the budget, "they could read it."

The CRC agreed with Mr. Berry, however, invitations will be sent to all the County Commissioners, Constitutional Officers, and the only elected County Attorney in Florida - Columbia County's own Marlin Feagle, to address the Commission.

Having no meeting room of its own, the Charter Review Commission will meet again on September 29th at 6 PM in the school district administration building.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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