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Columbia County Observer

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Charter Review Commission Appointments Tonight No County Outreach or At-Large Members

Photos of the five Columbia County Commissioners: Williams, Ford, Nash, Witt, Murphy

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County's infamous County 5 ran the Charter Review Commission (CRC) appointments right down to the wire, giving Florida's only elected county attorney a case of agita, as the July 1 deadline approached. While reaching out across the County to recruit members, including members at-large was discussed early on, newly elected District 2 Commissioner Rocky Ford put the kibosh on that idea in May.


Read about the last CRC beginning here: Charter Review Commission up and running despite County being homeless
July, 15, 2011

Until 2008, Columbia County was the smallest by population charter county in Florida, when Wakulla County became Florida's 20th charter county.

Florida Statute 125.61 governs the appointment of the CRC members. In a nutshell, the county commissioners appoint the CRC members. There are not any specifics on how this is done. No applications are required; no outreach is required; no public involvement is required. Like the Nike motto, they "Just Do It."

The CRC must have between 11 and 15 members. It can hire its own attorney and consultants. All meetings are governed by Florida's Sunshine Law: the meetings have to be public and noticed.

The County reviews its charter every 8 years.

Responsibilities of the CRC

County Attorney Joel Foreman
County Attorney Joel Foreman. The only elected county attorney in Florida.

The CRC is authorized and empowered to conduct a comprehensive study of all phases of Columbia County government, including long term, regional, and complex issues facing the County in the coming decade and how the County should function to best meet the needs of the people.

The CRC can establish sub committees, such as ethics, governance, human services & public safety, and infrastructure. These committees would report back to the CRC with recommendations for further debate and approval.

The final majority decisions of the CRC are turned into ballot amendments, which are voted on by the people at the general election in 2020.

The County 5: Charter Review

At the conclusion of the October 4, 2018 County 5 meeting, County Manager Ben Scott reminded The 5 that Charter review time was coming up in 2019.

On January 3, 2019, your reporter reminded The 5, "I think now you are going to have to begin thinking about how you are going to pick representatives on the Charter Review Commission."

At the next meeting, January 17, the County's notorious de minimis minutes state the following: "... Staff recommended this Board decide how the members should be selected for this CRC." The minutes are silent regarding who said what or who made the recommendation.

Finally, on March 21, 2019, The 5 voted to have County Attorney Joel Foreman act as counsel for the CRC.

This was a good move, as Mr. Foreman is elected and answerable to the people.

The County minutes show that was the last time County Charter review was discussed in public.

May 16
County Attorney Foreman Tries to Grab The 5's Attention 

On May 16, 2019, Mr. Foreman sent an email to The 5 reminding them it was Charter time.

Mr. Foreman wrote:  "I have been asked in the past few weeks about the process for submitting nominees for the Charter Review Commission..."

He suggested a County on-line form.

Mr. Foreman continued:

"We will ask the general public about their interest in participating and invite anyone interested to complete a form. We will set an application deadline, and once that deadline is passed, each of you will be able to review the forms and make three nominations plus one alternate nominee from the pool of individuals who submit completed forms. Once we have a slate of nominees with alternates, we will put that on the Board's Agenda for approval. Once the appointments are made this will start the calendar for compliance with the charters prescribed process."

Columbia County Commissioner Rocky Ford
Rocky Ford, more inclusive, when he was running for County Commissioner 2018.

Commissioner Rocky Ford
Blows off Public Involvement and the Law

District 2 Commissioner, Rocky Ford, wasted no time in blowing off the County Attorney's suggestion to open up the application process.

The next day, in clear violation of Florida's Sunshine Law, Commissioner Ford emailed the County Attorney, the County Commissioners, and the County staff:

"I don’t know that it would be necessary to advertise if anyone is interested I think we all have our people picked already. Does everyone agree with that?" Sent from my iPhone

It is unknown which commissioner(s) spoke with whom about what, but it seemed that some of them did.

On June 3, Mr. Foreman again contacted The 5 asking for nominations for the CRC. He wrote:

"Back on May 16 I sent the following email. We have to put a slate of nominees together to be appointed at the June 20 BCC meeting (the new CRC must be appointed before July 1, 2019). To get that slate on the agenda, we need to close out nominations on or before June 12, 2019."

He again asked the commissioners to get their CRC appointment applications submitted.

One Week to Go
2 applications – Agita Setting In

June 11, 11:35 am, Mr. Foreman emailed County Manager Ben Scott and his staff, "Please let me know who, if anyone, has submitted completed Committee Appointment forms for the Charter Review Commission to the BCC office. Thanks."

Five hours later, Board Secretary Penny Stanley updated Mr. Foreman, "Ben has 2 appointments that's all I know."

On June 12, Mr. Foreman was up to three forms submitted. He emailed The 5, "Can I do anything to help expedite things? This needs to go on the agenda for the meeting next week."

Agita was setting in.

The 5 Remain Oblivious: "Help!"

On June 13, with Mr. Foreman at a lawyer's conference, he had his office email the County: " Subject: RE: Charter Review Applications - HELP!"

Finally, with the help of the County Manager's office staff, Mr. Foreman met the agenda deadline and had his names. They are:

Ronald Williams (District 1): Audrey S. Bullard, Mario A. Coppock, Ozell Graham

Rocky Ford (District 2): Bradley N. Dicks, Wally Germany, John W. O'Neal

Bucky Nash (District 3): Jody DuPree, Ronald Foreman, Tom Ottum

Toby Witt (District 4):  Robert G. Lane, Robert Sheppard, Kimberly I. Skinner

Tim Murphy (District 5):  Stephen A. Douglas, Charles G. Keith, Glenn Owens

Alternates:  Hunter Peeler, Colton Brewer

Epilogue: not taking charter review seriously

The infamous County 5 could have reached out to the community at large and appointed one at-large member from each district. It didn't. Rocky Ford wasn't the only one to bush-whack the appointments.

The Columbia County 5, not taking charter review seriously: it's business as usual.

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