Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County 5 Has New Rules for Itself and for the Public: Will It Make a Difference?

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night at The 5, the adoption of new Rules & Procedures, along with an included Ethics Policy was unanimously approved with barely a word of discussion. The board rules were a modified version of the St. John's County rules. It is not clear from where the 12 page ethics policy came. The new policy is 48 pages. If it were spaced to make it more readable it would be approximately 60 pages, which would make it one of longest policies of its kind in Florida.

As reported earlier, it is impossible to tell from any written records which of the 5 County Commissioners made what changes to the policies which were approved last night.

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

County Attorney Foreman encouraged each of The 5 to meet with him independently and make suggestions.

While Mr. Foreman's billing records might have given one an idea which commissioners spoke with him, those records have not been made available to the County since February, making it impossible to track anything that Mr. Foreman has done for the past five months.


The newly approved Ethics Policy is twelve, mostly single spaced and difficult to read pages.

County Attorney Foreman is ethics complaint investigator and complaints are returned to him: "A complaint or complaints of any alleged violation or violations of this policy may be made, in writing, by any Commissioner, County Officer, County Constitutional Officer, or County Employee to the County Attorney."

The Constitutional Officers are the Sheriff, the Clerk of the Courts, the Tax Collector, and the Property Appraiser.

It is not clear that Commissioners and Constitutional Officers would be making complaints about their brethren to the County Attorney.

In the real world, county employees making complaints about their bosses would seem counterproductive to continued employment.

In Columbia County, it has already been demonstrated that those complaints and investigations have been disappeared, or employment terminated under foggy conditions.

Mr. Foreman's rules contain nothing about whistleblower protection.

Mr. Foreman told the County 5 that he does the investigations "because of all the county staff, I'm the only one that is truly independent."

In August 2014, while a candidate, during an interview on the local radio station, Mr. Foreman was asked the difference between being elected and appointed. Mr. Foreman is the only elected County Attorney in Florida.

Mr. Foreman explained, "The County Attorney not only has the job of rendering legal advice, you are also advocate and counselor..."

In March 2015, in another radio interview,  after being elected, Mr. Foreman spoke about moving the submission time of comment cards, the cards that must be provided in order to speak, until after the agenda was approved.

Prior to Mr. Foreman's election the cards had to be submitted 5 minutes before the meeting was gaveled to order. If the agenda was changed at the last minute, the prospective speaker was left out in the cold.

At that time, Mr. Foreman recognized the problem and told the reporter he was going to "move comment card submission to after the agenda was adopted. It makes logical sense."

The new rules require comment cards to be submitted before the meeting begins.

The Two Minutes

As reported yesterday, the public comment has gone from 5 minutes for the whole agenda to two minutes for each item on the regular agenda. The Observer has not been able to find any Florida policy that is more restrictive than the two minute policy approved by the County 5 last night.

All the sample polices provided to the Commissioners by Mr. Foreman had a minimum of 3 minutes of in-line public comment for agenda items. In-line comments are comments which occur as the item is brought up.

Mr. Foreman pointed out that consent agenda items allow 2 minutes for all the items of the agenda. The July 20, 2017 consent agenda had 56 items. The August 3, 2017 consent agenda had12 items.

Mr. Foreman pointed out that the rules could be changed at any time by sending an email to the County Manager and asking him to put the item on the agenda. Only commissioners can do that. The item would have to pass by a supermajority vote. In Columbia County that means 4 commissioners must vote for the proposal.

Throughout the entire process, other than one workshop, which has no meaningful paper trail, the process was intentionally carried out at the encouragement of the popularly elected Mr. Foreman, behind closed doors.

Epilogue: Praise

At the conclusion of the meeting, Commissioner Tim Murphy commented on the process and the new rules [as spoken]: "I'd just like to comment Joel. Some of the meetings by I-self and he had on this ethics -- I'm a hundred percent in agreeance. It's not a perfect policy. I'm sure we'll find something to improve. But at least I'm happy that the Board come together and we're willing to at least step up and try to make an attempt to put this thing in a policy form... we're headed the right way."

Long time County Commissioner Ronald Williams followed up, "If we find things in it that's not workin' we got the ability to amend it to make it better."

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