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CRC, Feb. 13,  Part II: Overstepping Its Bounds, Working Without Legal Authority


COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Columbia County Charter Review Commission (CRC) met on Feb. 13 for its 7th Commission meeting. This was the first time the Commission discussed the actual content of the Charter.

CRC (Charter Review Commission) news linksUnlike in past review cycles, there is no set meeting schedule for charter review. Agenda supporting information is not being reviewed by the whole Commission and it is not clear if many of the members know where to find the material.

The plethora of this cycle's subcommittees is not described on the County website. The Charter Review section of the website does not define which meetings are CRC meetings and which are subcommittee meetings, nor are subcommittees big on preparing minutes.

Background: Charter Counties

Charter County compared to non charter county
                                                                click to enlarge

20 of Florida’s 67 counties have adopted a charter form of government: Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Leon, Orange, Osceola, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, Volusia and Wakulla. Columbia is the second lowest in population.

In 1968, revisions to the Florida Constitution and acts of the Florida Legislature gave many powers of "home-rule" (self-government) to non-charter as well as charter counties, making routine powers of charter and non-charter counties essentially identical.

Additional powers are given to a county if they are expressly provided for in its charter. These powers must be consistent with state law, but may include such topics as the structure of the County Commission and offices such as the Clerk and Sheriff, the manner by which commissioners are elected, and policy on delivery of county services, etc. (FAC)

All changes to the county charter must be heard and approved in public hearings held by the Charter Review Commission. Then, before they are implemented, they must be approved by a majority vote of the registered voters of the county.

2002 Charter Commission: the only Commission authorized to do a top-down review of county government

Florida Stat. sect. 125.63 provides that the original County Charter Commission: "shall [must] conduct a comprehensive study of the operation of county government and of the ways in which the conduct of county government might be improved or reorganized."

In 2002, the County Charter was approved and the original Charter Commission was dissolved. The new Charter established a "Charter Review Commission...to review the Charter of the county." The CRC is appointed by the County 5.

The new County Charter does not say to do a top-down review of the county government. If that was the will of the voters, the Charter would say so.

Florida law is clear and specific: if the law says how to do something, it is the way one does it.

A 2013 Pam Bondi Attorney General opinion explained, "Where the Legislature has directed the manner in which something is to be accomplished, it operates as a prohibition against its being accomplished otherwise."

The original Charter Commission and the people voted to establish a "Charter Review Commission" and did not vote to establish a Government Review Commission.

Chairman Lane's Committees

CRC Commissioner Robert "Rambo" Lane
CRC Chairman Robert "Rambo" Lane

On August 12, 2019, CRC Chairman Robert "Rambo" Lane, out of the blue, proposed the establishment of 5 subcommittees: financial, administrative, safety, operational, and charter compliance.

Only one had anything to do with Charter Review: "charter compliance."

It was common knowledge that the committees were established to thoroughly review all aspects of the operation of the County government, before review of the Charter.

The subcommittees made wild and outrageous record requests to various departments within the county.

Subcommittee meetings were held all over town, at different times and scheduled when working people could not attend.

There is not a record or archive of subcommittee document requests.

Outside counsel was hired and seems to have worked primarily for Commissioner DuPree and the operations subcommittee and has done some work for the finance subcommittee.

General Counsel Joel Foreman said at the last meeting that he did not know what was requested by the finance subcommittee.

Other Counties: what have they done?

Of the twenty Florida counties that have charter review, only 4 have included in their Charter Review language that their Charter Review Commission is authorized to do a comprehensive government review.

Former County Commissioner and Bucky Nash's pick for the CRC, Jody DuPree, recently claimed he read all the county charters in the state. He must have missed those parts.

Columbia County Charter Review History

In 2005-2006, the first County Charter Review Commission reviewed the Charter for the first time. Comprehensive government review came up.

County Commissioner Dewey Weaver told the CRC, "I don't believe the review of the charter is to reinvent the wheel, but is a procedure to balance the wheel. A procedure that will make the wheel roll a lot smoother."

Then County Manager Dale Williams opined, "That in order to have a true Charter Review Process, the question of whether the charter should remain in place should be posed to the voters."

Newsman and CRC member Karl Burkhardt told the Commission, "There doesn’t appear to be an outcry from the public to address or change anything already in the charter. I don’t want to see us 'try' to fix something that isn’t broken... I don’t think we’ll need to do any major overhaul, but we need to give the public a chance to come before the committee and speak."

CRC member Marc Vann said, "I think it is safe to assume that most of these issues were studied and addressed in detail by the original Charter Commission when drafting the Charter. I think we’re supposed to be looking at areas that may need tweaking or fine-tuning. We need to be sure we all know what our job is."

Original Charter Commission member and 2006 CRC member Audrey Bullard said in 2006, "We [the 2002 Charter Commission] thoroughly covered all of this. We weren’t supposed to come and try to re-write the Charter. I say, 'stick to reviewing the document, not attempting to re-write or rebuild it.'"

Karl Burkhardt added, "The Committee needs to stop trying to rebuild the Charter and get busy with reviewing the existing Charter."

Epilogue

The Charter Review Commission would do well to heed Mr. Burkhardt's advice, "The Committee needs to stop trying to rebuild the Charter and get busy with reviewing the existing Charter."

Columbia County Florida: the legend continues.

Part III will review what went on during the February 13 CRC meeting. As the old adage goes: if you saw how sausage is made, you wouldn't eat it.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

Posted Feb. 26, 2020, James wrote:

I would bet 90 % ( +/-) of county residents are not aware of this Charter.  Please take note of the VIPs and business owners, etc. That wrote and control contents of charter The residents of this county should vote on charter.

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