Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Attorney Foreman's Rules Coming in December Robert's Rules, Still too Complicated for The 5

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night at the County 5, Florida's only elected County Attorney told the County 5 and the County's top brass, "The primary purpose of this workshop is to discuss ways the Board can enhance the quality and transparency of government in Columbia County." Almost three hours later, it was agreed that Mr. Foreman will be bringing back to The 5, and the public, a new policy outlining rules of procedure, a county code of ethics, and possibly a policy concerning public works work orders and non-interference by the County 5 in the day-to-day business of the County.

There Are No "Clear Written" Policies

Mr. Foreman told The 5 that there were not "clear written" policies and that the lack of such policies caused confusion and the possibility of inadvertent violations of Florida law and the County Charter.

Mr. Foreman reminded The 5 that it was illegal for commissioners to discuss among themselves, outside of public meetings, business that is or may be coming before them.

Mr. Foreman addressed the multi-year continuing issue of poor microphones and commissioners not using even those.

Years ago, it was suggested that board members use lapel microphones. When a couple of the commissioners balked, the suggestion went nowhere.

The Public Can't Hear

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams;
Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Everett Phillips; Scarlet Frisina

Mr. Foreman also reminded The 5 that a meeting is not open if the public cannot hear what is being said and this could open the Board up to a lawsuit for a violation of Florida's Sunshine Law.

Mr. Foreman explained that if the Board had a policy that stated they had to be heard, this would insulate them from lawsuits, as they could claim equipment malfunctions.

The track record of the county's open meetings does not support Mr. Forman's thesis, as the audio problems have been problematic, ongoing, and ignored for years.

There is no "broken microphone" law in the FL statutes.

Robert's Rules:
Still too Complicated for the Columbia County 5

Robert's Rules and Sturgis are rules that guide the parliamentary action of the Board, not the public.

Mr. Foreman announced that he is not in favor of requiring The 5 to use Roberts' Rules.

He did not state how he came to this conclusion, or if he polled the Board members.

None of the commissioners suggested any alternatives.

Read what professional parliamentarians have to say about Robert's Rules:
 • Professional Parliamentarian, C. Alan Jennings
 • Attorney/Author Jim Slaughter

It appears that Columbia County will be moving from the present DePratter/Foreman rules to Foreman's Rules, which he said he would present in December.

Mr. Foreman then suggested that The 5 appoint a Parliamentarian to interpret the new Foreman Rules. He suggested himself.

Overhead Projector

Years ago, the County purchased an overhead projector that sat on a stand; was never used; and was disappeared.

Mr. Foreman suggested that the County purchase an overhead projector.

Board/Administration Roles and Rules

A murky presentation by Mr. Foreman on commissioner interference in the day-to-day operations of the County and a denial by The 5 that this is a problem made for some interesting conversation, but no solutions.

The County Charter has a non-interference policy:

Non-interference by Board of County Commissioners

Except for the purpose of inquiry and information, members of the Board of County Commissioners are expressly prohibited from interfering with the performance of the duties of any employee of the county government who is under the direct or indirect supervision of the County Manager by giving said employee or employees any instruction or directives. Such action shall be malfeasance within the meaning of Article IV, Section 7(a) of the Florida Constitution. However, nothing contained herein shall prevent a County Commissioner from discussing any county policy or program with a citizen or referring a citizen complaint or request for information to the County Manager or County Attorney.
                                          [as amended November 7, 2006]

Your reporter asked Assistant County Manager, Kevin Kirby, the man in charge of public works about the work order policy of public works. Mr. Kirby looked at the floor. There was no answer.

When questions came up about code enforcement your reporter also inquired. Assistant County Manager Scott Ward is the supervisor of the Code Enforcement Department.

Mr. Ward had nothing to add to the conversation, other than a raised hand.

There appears to be an unwritten rule in Columbia County that the only one who speaks, other than in special situations, is County Manager Ben Scott. The high priced County's number two men, Assist. Cnty. Managers Ward and Kirby, appear to be muzzled.

It is not clear if Mr. Foreman will be presenting a policy expanding on "non-interference." The charter is clear regarding non-interference. Mr. Foreman may cover this in his ethics policy.

Other Recommendations

Mr. Foreman suggested a County meeting room.

A County owned building, the Montgomery Building, was available right down the block from County Hdq., in the municipal heart of Lake City, but Mr. Foreman and The 5 decided to lease the building for $1 a year to a couple of guys whose claim to fame was liking  beer, brewing beer in their bathtubs, and had the desire to build a brewery, which they thought would better serve the public and themselves.

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