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Charter Review: CRC Spinning Its Wheels - Turmoil & Interrogation - No Review of the Charter, 'Yet'

charter review commisssion: danger - hidden agenda?

CRC (Charter Review Commission) news linksCOLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The third meeting of the 2020 Charter Review Commission was almost a carbon copy of its predecessors: housekeeping and no review of the county charter, with the added bonus of Chairman Lane interrogating the County Manager.

Background

County Charter review comes every 8 years. This is the time of the 2020 review cycle.

For the first three meetings the Charter Review Commission (CRC) has been doing housekeeping, such as establishing a set of by-laws, selecting a chairman, and establishing committees.

CRC Chairman Robert Lane
Chairman Robert Lane (file photo)

The CRC selected a chairman, Robert Lane.

Florida's only elected County Attorney, Joel Foreman, volunteered himself as the Attorney/Consultant for the CRC. This was approved by the County Commission. Mr. Foreman told the CRC they could choose someone else whenever it chose.

Chairman Lane, and apparently some others, wanted to get rid of Mr. Foreman and moved the Commission in that direction.

During the first two CRC meetings, the CRC made requests for a charter review consultant, a charter review attorney, and a charter review consultant/attorney.

At Monday's meeting, the third meeting of the CRC, a Request for Proposal ( RFP) was approved for a consultant/attorney.

CRC: Purpose

The purpose of the CRC is to review the County Charter and approve amendments which will be put on the 2020 ballot for final approval by the registered voters of Columbia County.

After three meetings chaired by Mr. Lane, not one word of the charter has been reviewed.

No members of the public, other than Mr. Lane's wife attended Monday's meeting, although there have been about four members other than Mr. Lane's wife cumulatively at the other two CRC meetings.

Your reporter tried to listen to the Monday meeting in real time by phone. It was only about 50% intelligible. However, the County posted the audio of the meeting on its website.

Yesterday, Mr. Lane told your reporter that he would look into a way to have the meetings simulcast and would bring the issue up at the next meeting.

Interrogation

County Manager Ben Scott works for the County Commission, not Chairman Lane or the CRC. Mr. Scott is always professional, laid back, an expert in finance and has over a decade of experience in purchasing and procurement.

Monday night, Mr. Scott went to the lectern to present the RFP for consultant/attorney to the Commission for approval.

Columbia County County Manager Ben Scott
County Manager Ben Scott. Did the Chairman have a hidden agenda?                                    (file photo)

Mr. Scott said, "I did send the RFP [to the Commission before the meeting] for consultant and legal services. If the board is agreeable to this RFP, we will immediately advertise it... (he gave a rundown of the timeline)."

Chairman Lane, drilled the county manager: "I've got some questions Mr. Scott. I'd like you to answer these."

"Did you attend the July 29 CRC meeting, sir?

Mr. Scott:  "Yes"

Chairman Lane:  "Do you recall the motion by Mr. DuPree... (regarding the consultant)."

Mr. Scott: "Yes."

In rapid fire, Chairman Lane continued with his interrogation about consultants and RFP's.

Mr. Scott was polite and answered Mr. Lane's questions.

Then, Mr. Lane again questioned why the latest RFP was not sent, following up with, "We've been spinnin' tires for almost 30 days up here to get an RFP out that's been directed twice to your department for your job to do. And yet, we're sittin' here now and you give us a form and say, 'this is the form we're gonna' use'."

Mr. Scott replied, "I'm asking for you to approve the RFP."

Chairman Lane kept on the heat, "Why wasn't the form submitted... Why did your office take 30 frickin' days to get to this point to give us a form – I'm just an old country boy, so forgive me – but I'm kinda thinkin' that you're tryin' to bog us down in the weeds here?"

Mr. Scott answered, "No sir."

He explained the procurement process all over again – "I'm here for your approval for a [the] RFP," he said.

After Mr. Scott explained a little more about procurement, X County Commissioner DuPree jumped in and made a motion to send out the RFP.

Chairman Lane did not ask for board discussion; he did not follow the by-laws and request public comment before the vote.

County Manager Scott Weighs In

Yesterday afternoon, your reporter spoke with Mr. Scott about the interrogation event on Monday evening.

Mr. Scott explained that he offered to help the CRC: "At the first meeting they asked me if I could prepare an RFP for a consultant. They said they wanted a consultant. I looked to see if there was any other consultant firm that did this besides Kurt Spitzer."

Mr. Scott explained how he called charter consultant Kurt Spitzer (KSA) and asked for a proposal. At the second CRC meeting Mr. Scott explained Kurt Spitzer was a sole source.

Mr. Scott presented the KSA proposal to the CRC and it turned it down.

Mr. Scott said, "Jody [DuPree] brought up NGN (Neighbors, Giblin, Nickerson). I said NGN is a law firm...they wanted an attorney, instead of just a consultant."

At the August 12 meeting, Mr. DuPree said NGN did both charter consulting and charter legal work.

Mr. Scott put together the RFP, The title of which read, "General and Legal Consulting Services for Charter Review Commission."

This is what Mr. Scott was looking to get approved on Monday evening.

Charter Review Commission on state
Columbia County Charter Review Commission: no one spoke up and asked the Chairman to back it down.                                                                                                        (file photo)

Post Meeting Blow-Back

Mr. Scott told your reporter, "Three of the Charter Commission members called me yesterday; I think a couple of them that night, said, "I'm sorry, I don't know what that was about." Three of them called me yesterday and said, 'They wanted to apologize for him' [Lane]."

Mr. Scott also mentioned that a citizen called him and said he didn't "want somebody representing Columbia County who acted like that."

"I told him he could come to the meeting and voice his opinion," Mr. Scott said.

Chairman Lane

Your reporter spoke with Chairman Lane yesterday afternoon and asked if he thought his conversation with Mr. Scott was a little harsh.

Mr. Lane said he would have to read what was said in the minutes.

Your reporter explained that the minutes don't say what folks say and generally just give motions and votes.

Mr. Lane said, "I have no comment."

Epilogue

Early in Monday's meeting Clerk of the Courts, P. DeWitt Cason, brought a proposal to the CRC to have a court reporter transcribe the meetings. Mr. Cason said, "I think it is a good thing to use a court reporter so you would have verbatim transcriptions available for the next meeting as you move along. That way there is no misunderstanding as what they said or thought they said, or what they thought they meant."

Chairman Lane complained about the cost and the CRC turned down the proposal and then agreed to save it for a rainy day.

Columbia County, Florida: the legend continues.

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