Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County 5 Rules on the Docket Tonight:  Will The 5 Adopt FL's Most Restrictive Public Comment Rules?

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

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On the docket of the County 5 tonight are the new County 5/Joel Foreman rules of procedure. The rules, other than a single spaced ethics rule, are adopted almost word for word from St. Johns County. Columbia County's elected County Attorney, Joel Foreman, asked for no public hearings on the new rules, nor did he ever seek public comments on these rules. However, he did encourage the commissioners to meet with him privately to make recommended changes to his original modifications of the St. Johns County rules.

Whatever changes were made or suggested by the commissioners is unknown. If Mr. Foreman tracked the changes and who suggested them, he has not made that information public.

The minutes of the March 16, 2017 workshop to discuss the rules are in line with County Clerk DeWitt Cason's unwritten policy of providing only de minimis minutes. Those minutes explain what happened at the workshop this way:

Using the rules and polices [sic] from several surrounding counties, County Attorney Foreman discussed with the Commission what should and should not be in the amended meeting rules and ethics policy.

The Two Minute Rule

Included in the proposed rules is a rule limiting the public to two minutes of public comment during all times that the public is allowed to address the board, including non agenda public comment; public comment on agenda items; and comments during public hearings.

Collectively, these are the most restrictive public comment rules in Florida.

If three of The 5 would have read the Palm Beach County rules while they were in attendance at the recent Florida Association of Counties meeting in Palm Beach County, they would have noticed that Palm Beach County allows a minimum of 3 minutes of public comment.

Had Commissioners Nash, Murphy, and Williams looked around Palm Beach County while they were visiting, they may have noticed that public comment has not hindered Palm Beach County economic development or any development.

Comment Cards Must Be Handed in Before the Meeting Begins

The County5/Foreman Rules require a person to hand in a public comment card before the meeting begins. Residents in the North and South end of the County in some instances require 45 minutes to drive to the County Seat.

According to the proposed rules, if a member of the public arrives 5 minutes late, they cannot comment at a meeting.

County Attorney Foreman Responds

In an email to the Observer defending his version of the St. Johns' County Rules, Mr. Foreman wrote: "This is not a copy and paste of St. John's. St. John's was the starting point and I like their structure (all of which was discussed at workshop), but the rules themselves are different in many respects and are tailored for Columbia County."

Ethics Policy

Mr. Foreman's suggested ethics policy is long, difficult to read (single spaced), and complaints about Commissioner ethics are to be made by commissioners. There is no provision for public complaints.


A few months ago a California gal who was looking to relocate to Lake City wrote:

I am the prospective California – to- Lake City transplant. I wanted to share this email with you.

I live in San Bernardino County which, as I'm sure you've heard, has its share of problems. However, the one thing they do right is comply with the sunshine law. For example, the Board of Supervisors meets every other week. The agendas and all supporting documentation is posted three days prior. They send an email to any interested parties with a link to the agenda and documents.

Furthermore, they allow plenty of time for members of the public to speak during the meetings. And believe me, some of the speakers can bit get pretty ornery. One fellow always came dressed as a clown, until he was arrested in another county for robbery. And a union boss infamously dressed up like a chicken to protest the stalled labor negotiations.

The meetings are also live streamed to remote areas, and those folks have an opportunity to call in their comments.

I know I'm preaching to the choir, but public access is not that hard. San Bernardino County is hardscrabble, underfunded, and geographically the largest County in the continental United States (it is about half the size of Ohio). If we can do this, so can you guys. Feel free to distribute, but please keep me anonymous!

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