Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Central Florida Regional Planning Council: Keeping the Public Informed About Its Meeting Times – Not a Good Idea For Its Exec. Director

Scott Koons, North Central Florida Regional Planning Council Exec. Dir. with headline
Columbia County Observer photo and graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The North Central Florida Regional Planning Council (NCFRPC) is one of ten planning councils in Florida. Of the 12 member counties in the region, only one is not what has been known as a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern or RACEC* – Alachua County. Recently, the Council’s Executive Director has intentionally refused to keep the Council meeting calendar up-to-date, and the new Council Chairwoman has rewritten the Council rules to not allow questions from the public.

Madison County's Rick Davis, Scott Koons on left
In 2017, Rick Davis made the NCFRPC Calendar a reality. Executive Director Scott Koons (left) was never keen on the idea.

It was back in 2017, after the urging of your reporter, that a compiled calendar was added to the Council website. At that time, Madison County's Rick Davis was the Chair of the Council. During an Executive Committee meeting, your reporter mentioned that it would be a good idea for the Council to have a calendar on its website so that everyone would know when Planning Council meetings or sponsored meetings would occur.

Long-time Executive Director Scott Koons dragged his feet and did not want to add to the Calendar, saying that "all meetings had to be noticed." It was only after many monthly complaints that the Council Calendar became a reality, thanks to then-Chair Rick Davis.

Sometime during last year, Calendar maintenance went by the wayside. Executive Director Koons stopped adding meetings.

Your reporter complained to then-Chair Anthony Adams of Lafayette County about the Calendar upkeep. Mr. Adams said he learned it was technical difficulties. However, this didn’t seem to be, as some events were calendared after meetings occurred.

The complaints went nowhere as the Planning Council’s Executive Director Scott Koons dug in and refused to keep the Council Calendar up-to-date.

July 14, 2023, NCFRPC monthly meeting calendar
By July 14, 2023, Exec. Dir. Koons just left the Meeting Calendar Blank. The yellow is the date the calendar is being viewed. +++ Click to enlarge.

At the same time this was occurring, Executive Director Koons began sending out personal notices about some meetings. Your reporter did not receive notifications of the Finance Committee. The last Finance Committee meeting didn't make it to the Calendar until after the meeting. The Finance Committee meeting was not noticed in Florida Public Notices, but in the Department of State's Administrative Register, which is not generally known to the public and not easy to use for the uninitiated.

One can find the Florida Administrative Register here. Good luck finding the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council meeting notices.

A look at the Executive Director’s Calendar maintenance can be seen by first looking at the July 14, 2023, Calendar above. It is blank. Four Transportation Disadvantaged meetings had already occurred by July 14.

By July 20, the Calendar was still unpopulated except for the NCFRPC meeting. As the law requires 7 days' notice for Planning Council meetings, Mr. Koons made sure to post that meeting 7 days before.

July 20, 2023, NCFRPC meeting calendar, one scheduled meeting
On July 20, 2023, Exec. Dir. Koons added the Planning Council meeting. Other meetings had occurred, but they were not there (yet). +++ Click to enlarge

On July 25, your reporter sent Mr. Koons an email asking for an explanation of the unpopulated Calendar.

The email:

Good afternoon Scott,

As you are well aware, over time and for months and months, information from the NCFRPC Internet calendar disappeared, leaving the public in the dark about the meetings of the NCFRPC, subservient committees of the Council, or committees that the Council facilitates.

I have attached calendar examples.

While Anthony Adams was chair, I made a few inquires. I was informed that there was an IT problem.

Please also explain the IT problem, which is keeping the staff of the NCFRPC from keeping the Calendar up-to-date.

Please explain how the failure of the executive director to facilitate the population of the Calendar benefits the taxpayers that financially support the Council.

Also, if the decision to not publish anything but the monthly meeting of the planning council was not your decision, please provide information regarding how that decision was made.

The July 14 Calendar was attached (see first calendar in the story), as well as the May 2021 Calendar, which had the meetings filled in.

May 2021, NCFRPC Calendar
On May 3, 2021, the NCFRPC Meeting Calendar was populated with the month's meetings. Exec. Dir. Koons didn't think the calendar was a good idea. The yellow in the calendar indicates the day the calendar is being viewed. +++ Click to Enlarge

The Executive Director responded:

Please be advised that all public meetings of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and its committees, as well as all public meetings of public agencies that the Council provides staff services, are legally noticed in either the Florida Department of State, Florida Administrative Register or local newspapers of general circulation, and/or noticed directly to regional news media.

When your reporter checked last night, the Planning Council Calendar was mysteriously filled in with meetings that had already occurred. Someone went back and backfilled some of the other monthly calendars.

The yellow highlight is the day the calendar is being viewed. This screen shot (7/26/2023 @ 11:04 pm) shows that the calendar was filled in before the planning council meeting with meetings that had already occurred.  +++ Click to Enlarge

Tonight the Council Meets

This evening, July 27, the North Central Planning Council meets.

A logical question would be, “Do you plan on keeping the Planning Council Meeting Calendar up-to-date in the future?”

However, the most recent Chair of the Planning Council, Janice Mortimer of Starke, has Nazified the public comment section rule adding among things that “Questions Are Not Allowed.”

This change flies in the face of the Council by-laws. There is nothing in writing from the Planning Council Attorney that he approved the change.

Columbia County, the largest RACEC county in the region, universally believes that attending Planning Council Meetings is a "waste of time."

In January 2023, former Columbia County Commissioner Toby Witt was given a "Resolution of Appreciation" for "representing Columbia County on the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council" for the preceding year. The resolution claimed he "ably discharged the duties of a representative on the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council."

NCFRPC Chairman Anthony Adams of Lafayette County made the motion to honor Commissioner Witt without telling the Planning Council membership that Commissioner Witt only attended one meeting the entire year; the motion thanking him for his "dedicated service" passed unanimously.

Other than maps and helping small counties with their land development regulations, the NCFRPC is considered a waste of time and a place to get free chicken dinners and a piece of chocolate cake for those attending the monthly meetings.

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