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CRC, Feb. 13, Part III: Chairman Robert "Rambo" Lane Refuses to Answer – Ethics Confusion

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County's charter review continues with the public left out of the loop and ill-conceived subcommittees doing the heavy lifting on issues that should be coming before the Charter Review Commission from the start.

CRC (Charter Review Commission) news linksThe February 13 Charter Review Commission (CRC) meeting may have had one member from the general public in attendance – there are almost 42,000 registered voters in the County.

Who was there: the mainstream print media; a member from the Republican party, who was there to keep her eye on the local Republican Chairman, Hunter Peeler, who just took a seat on the Commission; Hunter Peeler's grandpa; someone, who may have been in the shadows; Chairman Lane's wife, who has attended all the CRC meetings; and County Commissioner Toby Witt.

In past Charter and Charter review cycles (2002,2006, 2012) all the County Commissioners and Constitutional Officers appeared before the Commission to explain their operations and give their views on areas in the charter that may or may not have needed improvement.

In this cycle, with Chairman Robert Lane at the Helm and County Attorney Joel Foreman acting as general counsel and advisor to the CRC, the elected officials of the County were invited to appear at committee meetings. They balked, and wrote letters instead. Of the County 5, only Commissioners Nash and Witt sent correspondence to the subcommittee.

The Public: How Does it Get Involved?

CRC Commissioner Robert "Rambo" Lane
CRC Chairman Robert "Rambo" Lane. (file photo)

As the meeting got underway, your reporter told the CRC that it was impossible for a working person to show up at subcommittee meetings. "They are all during the day."

Your reporter then asked Chairman Lane, "Mr. Chairman, how is the public supposed to get involved in this process and when do they do it?"

Chairman Lane's response – an icy stare.


Subcommittee Reports

Chairman Stephen Douglas of the Finance subcommittee said they met and were working on stuff. He did not say what it was.

The Finance subcommittee agendas tell the story of the lack of transparency of the subcommittee structure. Mr. Douglas's agenda shows nothing going on.

Chairman Lane called for a report from the Operations subcommittee.

Jody DuPree, CRC Commissioner
CRC Commissioner Jody DuPree

Operations subcommittee chairman Jody DuPree may have been one of the greatest talkers in the history of the Columbia County 5, however, he said, "Instead of me given' a report, I defer to you (General Counsel Joel Foreman)."

There was laughing; it was not clear what the joke was. A surprised Mr. Foreman was not laughing.

Attorney Foreman reported, "Operations has several issues. I have a series of findings that have been approved that I am preparing verbiage on. I believe Ms. Hoshihara [outside counsel] has four, maybe five issues that she is briefing. I have not seen any of that work product, yet."

Mr. DuPree's minutes of the January 23 subcommittee meeting articulated the issues. General Counsel Foreman did not.

Charter Compliance Subcommittee

Subcommittee Chairman Ron Foreman (father of General Counsel Joel Foreman) also deferred to Attorney Foreman.

There are still no Charter Compliance subcommittee minutes on the County website.

The Charter Compliance subcommittee is legislating. They came up with a county manager evaluation form which they would like the county commission to use. It was explained that County Manager Scott provided the original form.

It is not clear why Mr. Scott just didn't give the form to the County 5 and ask to be evaluated.

Sandra Smith, CRC Commissioner
CRC Commissionre Sandra Smith

The subcommittee wants an Ethics Code. The only code considered by the subcommittee was the Leon County code. CRC member Sandra Smith said she hadn't seen the code.

Commissioner DuPree, who also sits on the Charter Compliance subcommittee, gave his take on ethics code: "Not the idea that we're gonna' come up with policy – we're gonna' come up with a ballot that required the board to adopt an ethics code, but we're gonna' have specific bullet points or somethin' that kinda' defines the body of what they have to draft?"

Attorney Foreman explained that the recommendation now is to draft an ordinance. He said, "The committee wants an actual model ordinance that the BCC would be required to adopt... The fine details would be subject to the public hearing."

Ron Foreman, CRC Commissioner
CRC Commissioner Ron Foreman.

Mr. Ron Foreman gave his take on the ethics issue, "The committee requested that the County Attorney prepare a draft ethics ordinance that would be approved by the CRC for attachment." He added that ordinance would be approved in full on the ballot, but only to contain certain things.

Mr. Foreman continued, "The ethics code has no teeth. We instructed the County Attorney that we wanted to make the violation of interference a significant violation... The mechanism to do that is to pass a county ordinance."

This is not true. The mechanism is to do what other Charter Counties have done: modify the Charter making a violation of the non-interference clause "malfeasance." ed.

Mr. Foreman continued, "I'm asking the CRC – is your opinion – do you share the opinion of my committee that we consider interference to be a significant violation and therefore there should be significant penalties for those violations. That's the basic issue.

Glenel Bowden, CRC Commissioner
CRC Commissioner Glenel Bowden

CRC member Glenel Bowden had something to say. It was completely unintelligible in the audience.

Commissioner DuPree said the Leon County ethics ordinance deals with a lot of "issues that are not Columbia County issues."

Attorney Foreman weighed in, "I think Commissioner DuPree is suggesting that I take a swipe at that and maybe bring it back for further action."

Mr. Foreman said, "I'm just looking for the CRC to adopt the basic concept, which is that we ascertain that an interference violation and the public's ability to make complaints is a serious nature and one (unintelligible) into the realm of county ordinance and put teeth into this whole issue."

An unidentified Commissioner asked, "Is that a motion?"

John O'Neal, CRC Commissioner
CRC Commissioner John O'Neal

CRC member John O'Neal added to the conversation. In the first row of the audience the majority of what he said was unintelligible. He liked the idea of something.

CRC member Glenn Owens agreed with Mr. O'Neal. Mr. Owens wanted Attorney Foreman to come up with something.

CRC member Sandra Smith asked, "Did you look at the Alachua [County] Charter?"

Mr. O'Neal said Attorney Foreman would have the opportunity to review that and come up with something solid. "That seems to be the next step," he said.

Mr. Foreman announced, "I recommend to adopt the recommendations of Compensation [Compliance] Committee as outlined."

CRC member Charlie Keith: "Second."

Charlie Keith, CRC Commissioner
CRC Commissioner Charlie Keith

Mr. Keith was recognized:  "Clarification. What we're voting on tonight is that we feel that there is a need for change or clarification and we have all types of opportunities to enact that change. We're just okaying the fact that we recognize there is a problem there and we want to move forward."

"I'd love to hear the public's comment on it and if we need to do a better job to get these minutes and stuff on the website so people can see it. I've looked myself and have not found it."

Mr. Keith concluded, "We're  not tonight sayin' we're gonna' adopt this situation. We're just agreeing that there is a need that we need to address. That's the motion. That's the fact."

After Mr. Keith's clarification it was clear that it wasn't clear on what the CRC was voting.

No one asked to have the motion read into the record.

Mr. Foreman's motion passed unanimously.


Columbia County Charter Review: lowering transparency and keeping the public out of the loop.

Columbia County: "Who's on first?" The legend continues.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Feb. 23, 2020, a reader from Columbia County wrote:

How do people get away with this? These are our elected officials? Paid at that.

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

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