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Cnty Attny Joel Foreman is Center Stage Tonight at the Infamous County 5: Rules - Rules - Rules

Joel Foreman
County Attorney Joel Foreman is taking center stage tonight.     (file)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On September 9, 2016, County Attorney Joel Foreman, after two years, recommended procedural and written changes to the way the County conducts its business. Most of the issues brought up by Mr. Foreman are not new, such as not being able to hear the County 5 transact its business. Many of the items are clear violations of the law or common sense. Tonight, two months after Mr. Foreman broached the subject, his suggestions are on the evening's agenda.

Background: Joel Foreman

The pathway of Joel Foreman to the only elected county attorney in Florida's premier good ole' boy back room county began April 4, 2011, when, in a last minute motion at the County 5, Commissioner Rusty DePratter advised The 5 "that Attorney Joel Foreman has expressed an interest in serving as the County’s conflict attorney...  and may also be a good candidate for the Economic Development Board." (County minutes).

At the next meeting, County Chair Jody DuPree worked his way down the agenda to the Foreman – Conflict Counsel issue. A contract between the County and Mr. Foreman was unanimously approved by The 5. According to the minutes, there was not one word of discussion. No other attorney was given the opportunity to express an interest.

During both the April 4 and April 21, 2011 County 5 meetings, neither Commissioner DePratter, nor Commissioner DuPree advised that Mr. Foreman was their attorney. Mr. Foreman did not volunteer the information.

On July 18, 2013, Conflict Counsel Foreman, who was by now also the attorney for the Economic Development Advisory Board and the Sheriff, came before the County 5, as the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, asking for $80,000 for a contract to hire Retail Strategies for the Chamber of Commerce, an Alabama consulting firm. That unbudgeted expenditure was unanimously approved by The 5. Columbia County 5 At It Again:  Skimming $80,000 of Cream Out of Taxpayer's Pockets

Mr. Foreman never brought that matter before the Economic Development Advisory Board, the board charged with making economic development recommendations to the County 5.

In November of 2014, Mr. Foreman, with the endorsement of the local newspaper, was elected County Attorney.

The County Charter and Florida Statutes

The County Charter was amended in 2007 to include a requirement that agenda material be included on the County website.

In 2012, Jackson P. "Jack" Berry led a charge at the Charter Review Commission to remove the requirement. This became known as the "Berry Amendment." It was supported by Elizabeth Porter's Chief of Staff and LSHA Board member, Koby Adams and others. The Berry Amendment failed. Columbia County's Charter Review Commission: Eliminating somebody's rights is their theme

In 1961, latest incarnation of the enabling legislation of Columbia County's elected county attorney was signed by the Governor. That law mandated, among other things, that the County Attorney "shall" attend all meetings of the County 5 and "shall" prepare all contracts and written agreements necessary to transact the business of Columbia County.

In law the word shall = must. It is non-discretionary.

The Public Records law, the Sunshine Law, as well as SB50, which gives the public the right to be heard on matters coming before the board before it votes are well established law.

Everyone is Violating Something

The County 5, the County Manager, and the County Attorney all share equally in a lackadaisical approach in respecting the established FL statutes, County Charter, and policies of the County.

After two years in office and a prior two years on the map, Mr. Foreman finally decided to do something.

Mr. Foreman's eight page belated to memo to the County boiled down to the following:

Adoption of a Code of Ethics for the Board and all County staff prohibiting:

a.  Any conduct violating the Sunshine Law
b.  Any conduct violating the County Charter
c.  Any conduct violating the County Administrative Code
d.  Any conduct violating Chapter 112, Florida Statutes, Part III. e.  And providing for investigation and the imposition of penalties through the Board at the local level, including but not limited to censure by the Board.

Adoption of Board Meeting Rules and Policies providing for:

a.  Criteria for placement of items on the Discussion and Action Agenda
b.  A plain policy for placement of items on the Consent Agenda
c.  All comments by Commissioners, staff, and public must be audible
d.  All materials reviewed by Commissioners at public meetings shall be made available for publication by a date certain prior to the meeting; amendments shall be prohibited except in specific circumstances
e.   In-line public comment on each discussion and action item as discussed throughout the meeting
f.  Use of appropriate audio-visual equipment to provide for clear display of documents and slideshows in connection with presentations to the Board during public meetings, as well as minimum font size requirements to ensure legibility of displays
g.  Standardization of meeting rules across all board and committees appointed by the Board.

Evaluation and Acquisition of Facilities that will:

a.  Allow for greater access between and among the County Manager, County Attorney, and County Engineer
b.  Help maximize efficiencies in the daily operation of the County government by placing departments and staff in closer proximity to one another
c.  Provide the Board with a dedicated meeting space, accessible by staff at all times and equipped to ensure compliance with Board policies for its meetings.

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