Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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The Embarrassment Continues at the County 5
A Board That Doesn't Need Rules 

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last Thursday's, October 6 meeting of the County 5 again demonstrated that the lack of civilized rules for agenda preparation and its haphazard meeting procedures have turned The 5 into a continuing vaudeville act. The microphones are iffy at best and half the lights are turned off over The 5 so that the overhead projector images are somewhat visible on the screen behind them. The 5's discussion regarding removing agenda items would have made Abbott and Costello (Who's on First?) proud.

Shutting the Public Up: Background

From the time of the Civil War until 2006, the Columbia County 5 has operated without rules of procedure, even though the State Constitution, Chapter 125 of the Florida statutes, and the County’s own Charter gave The 5 “the power" to adopt its own rules.

In March of 2006, your reporter, who is also a resident of Columbia County, explained to The 5 the importance of meaningful public participation at Board meetings. Some of those remarks are here.

That Board, as well as all Boards in-between, blew off meaningful comments on its agendas, and might well have removed public comment on public hearings if they weren't protected by state law.

Almost a year and a half later, in August of 2007, The 5 approved its first rules of procedure in modern times, without provisions for meaningful public comment.

Robert's Rules: "Too difficult for The 5 to understand"

Various incarnations of Rules of Procedure were approved by The 5 over the years. During the Columbia County Reign of Terror, beginning in the winter of 2008 with the election of District III commissioner Jodi DuPree, things deteriorated and The 5 tried different ways to eliminate or inhibit public comments.

In a conversation your reporter had with the former County Attorney, Marlin Feagle, Mr. Feagle said that Robert's Rules was too complicated for the County 5 to understand.

In 2015, the newly elected County Attorney, Joel Foreman, got together with County Chair Rusty DePratter and hammered out new rules, which ratcheted up the level of inhibiting and disallowing public participation by giving the County Chair the unilateral power to give the thumbs-down on individuals requesting to be put on the agenda.

Longtime County Commissioner Ronald Williams objected to that provision and it was removed.

Joe Negron's SB50

In 2013 the Florida Legislature passed what became known as SB50 (FL Stat. 286.0114). This state law mandated: "Members of the public shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on a proposition before a board or commission."

At the County 5, in many instances this reasonable opportunity may amount to a little over 30 seconds to comment. There is some question if this is what the legislature had in mind as "reasonable."

County Attorney Foreman Takes a Stand: Maybe

On September 9, 2016, County Attorney Joel Foreman took a stand and in an 8 page memo to the board proposed his own set of changes for more effective government.

Neither the County 5, the County Chairman, nor the County Manager has yet to schedule any of Mr. Foreman's recommendations for public discussion.

October 6 at The 5
Nothing Embarrasses This Group

As the meeting got underway, County Manager Ben Scott told The 5: "We would ask to delete item number 26 from the consent agenda." There were no explanations asked for and none were given. Item number 26 was a resolution by the Board. In the civilized world, resolutions generally are not buried in the consent agenda. In Columbia County it is different.

One hour and thirteen minutes later, after The 5 held a public hearing and took care of other business, Chairman Nash got back to the consent agenda.

After Mr. Scott's inadequate explanations of questionable items on the consent agenda Chairman Nash said, "All right. (pause) I will entertain a motion for the approval of the consent agenda."

Commissioner Ronald Williams:  "So moved."

Commissioner Scarlet Frisina:  "Is item 28 (unintelligible)?"

Mr. Nash:  "Yes."

Ms. Frisina:  "Second."

Mr. Foreman:  "Mr. Chair, staff also requests that 26 be pulled."

Not only is it difficult or impossible for the public to hear or understand the commissioners, they many times can't understand themselves.

Mr. Nash:  "Number 26 or 25?"

Mr. Foreman: "26."

Mr. Williams (recalling the beginning of the meeting):  "It was already pulled."

Mr. Nash:  "OK."

Unintelligible discourse. Neither of the Observer's recorders could pick up what was said.

Unidentified:  "For purpose of the motion."

Mr. Nash:  "OK."

Board Clerk Katrina Vercher:  "I'm sorry. Which number? 26 or 25?"

Mr. Foreman:  "26."

Mr. Nash:  "26."

Ms. Vercher:  "Was it pulled for discussion? Or..." (she is cut off)

Unidentified:  (about 3 people talking over each other)

Mr. Scott:  "Deleted."

Unidentified:  (unintelligible) "It was deleted."

Mr. Nash:  "So do I need to amend the motion for the deletion of 25 and 28?"

Mr. Scott:  "26 and 28."

Mr. Nash:  "26 (unintelligible) 26 and 28. Is that the motion on the floor?"

Mr. Williams:  "So moved. Yes sir."

Mr. Nash:  "OK. I have a motion and a second. Any further discussion? (silence) All those in favor say aye."

It was unanimous. All were in favor.

In the Land of The 5, folks voting against a motion also vote "aye."

Mr. Nash:  "All opposed like sign. (silence -- they just all voted for the motion). I'll entertain a motion to adopt the consent agenda."

Mr. Williams:  "Moved."

Mr. Foreman:  "Mr. Chair. Allow public comment before adoption."

Mr. Nash: "OK. Mr. Lilker."

Your reporter walked to the microphone, telling none of The 5 in particular, "You boys just can't get it right."


The Columbia County 5: the embarrassment continues.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On Oct. 11, 2016, a Columbia County resident wrote:

Clearly there is minimal knowledge or understanding of Robert's Rules. I certainly don't claim to be a know-it-all expert but having served on and chaired many boards I can tell you there are certain basics that even a 3rd grader can get right. All I can say is wow, just wow.

An amused and concerned citizen.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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