BOCC to Vote on Allowing County Employees to Carry Firearms

Dennis "Mitch" Maley
BRADENTON — At Tuesday’s Manatee County Commission meeting, Commissioner James Satcher proposed to direct the county administrator and county attorney to draft an ordinance that would codify employees of Manatee County to carry a concealed weapon while at work.

Satcher noted that current state law prevents weapons from being brought into a government chamber by anyone other than law enforcement and that his proposal did not seek to change that.

Commission chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge indicated that he supported such a policy but said that he did not support the deviation from an agreement commissioners on the board had made not to add "last-minute” items to the agenda.

Satcher said that he felt that because there was a month between meetings, the idea that a preventable incident might occur was worth breaking board protocol.

Commissioner Misty Servia also had an issue with rushing the item and said that she would like a lot more input before making any kind of decision. Servia asked whether the administration had received complaints or support for such a policy and whether there were safety incidents regarding employees that she was unaware of. 

Servia said that she would like to know whether any other counties have such a policy and what results they have had, adding that, given the current difficulty in finding employees in the labor market, she would be reluctant to add any sort of divisive policy that might make that more difficult. 

Servia also noted that the state was currently considering changes to gun laws and that she wouldn’t want to waste time getting ahead of an issue the state was considering, as the board has done in the past (presumably a nod to Satcher’s ill-fated attempt to pass a local abortion ordinance). 

Commissioner George Kruse said that Satcher’s hypothetical seemed a little "wild” in terms of creating a sense of urgency and also discussed the governor’s promise to pass constitutional carry, noting that it could be done as early as a special session on property insurance scheduled for later this month. Kruse added that the state has a tendency to preempt local legislation. 

Kruse said that under current Florida law, employers would have the right to make their own decision, however, suggested that the state could very well pass a statute that would prevent employers from prohibiting employees from carrying a firearm, which would render the local issue moot and any energy spent on it wasted. However, Kruse said that because the motion only directed the county attorney to begin a process that would have to come back to the board for additional conversation anyway, he would support it.

Satcher indicated that his efforts to "advance the discussion” on the abortion issue might have had an effect on anti-abortion legislation that passed in Tallahassee and that he hoped that might be the case this time as well. He said that his motion was only to "direct people to work on it” and that it would have to come back to the board for additional debate and a vote.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said that his motto in all things is to "make good decisions and avoid the unnecessary." Bellamy said that in just the brief time during the meeting that the board had been discussing the issue, he’d come up with several scenarios that might result. 1. County employee shoots citizen; 2. County employee shoots coworker; 3. County employees have shootout.

Bellamy, an army veteran who said he holds a concealed carry permit, noted the difference between implementing thoughtful safety protocols and creating a "Wild West” environment and said that he preferred the former.

County Attorney bill Clague called it a double-edged sword that must take into consideration both the inability of employees to feel as though they can properly protect themselves and the liability the county would take on, adding that they would need to consult with their insurer on the matter. Clague added that when the state passed legislation preventing all employers, including the public sector, from preventing employees from keeping a weapon in their personal vehicle when they come to work, the state shielded employers from liability in such cases and said that any future state legislation might consider that component as well.

County Administrator Scott Hopes reminded the board that the public cannot be prohibited from bringing weapons into public buildings (other than chambers) while the employees in them, himself included, are prohibited from doing so. Hopes did say that when he was a school board member the district did face a situation in which many teachers said that if a policy allowing their coworkers to carry firearms were to be implemented, they would quit, noting that the employee aspect was definitely something to consider. 

Servia made a motion to ask the county attorney’s office to gather information on the subject to be brought before the board at a special meeting after the July recess. Satcher attempted a hostile amendment to bring back a policy change for a vote, which was seconded by Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore asked Satcher what he was trying to accomplish with a last-minute policy, suggesting his motivations might be political. "Let’s do this right,” said Whitmore. "We’re doing this on passion today. Where are the facts?”

A move to call the question on the hostile amendment failed and Satcher devolved into a somewhat incoherent rant regarding "the left,” the Supreme Court, and other partisan matters that was difficult to parse. 

While Satcher wanted to take up a vote at the very next meeting (May 24), both the county attorney and the county administrator indicated that it would not be nearly enough time to properly prepare. Ultimately, after a tremendous amount of confusion on all parts as to what had been amended, agreed upon, etc, a new motion was created by Seriva to direct the county attorney and administrator to "bring back a policy change that respects and codifies Manatee County employees 2nd amendment right to carry firearm s while at work, at the next regularly scheduled board meeting following the recess" (currently scheduled for July 26).

The motion passed 6-1 with Bellamy dissenting after his proposed amendment to have a work session between this meeting and the vote was not adopted. 

Reader Comments
Debby Pellom
MAY 11, 2022  •  How is Satcher a Commissioner..?..he is unfit to fill the role ..He has a hard time putting together a sentence let alone handle a we not have other important issues in this county?. UNBELIEVABLE BUT NOT SURPRISING with this PATHETIC BOCC
MAY 11, 2022  •  What exactly happened last week? They skirted around an “incident” where someone was arrested or removed and the ability to lock down the “floor with the important people”. Apparently, it involved a Code Enforcement issue, why is that not a surprise? Also, discussion of a “hostile workplace”, and the best solution would be to give everyone a weapon to defend themselves? Is the public supposed to feel safer if a county employee can further bully them because they can carry a weapon? Perplexing!
Phyllis Nourie
MAY 11, 2022  •  What a waste of time! They could be doing so much more than this. I don’t think my garbage guy or the meter reader needs a gun! Will “code”enforcement be packing?
MAY 11, 2022  •  Having county employees carry concealed weapons to the work place? What urgent problem is being solved? What purpose does it serve? Does not the county have an obligation to make the workplace a safe environment? I believe the county has more pressing problems than a concealed weapons issue. Next, why not at the high school level (provided your of age) or college? Yes, that should make a parent, student or teacher feel safe. And this person is a minister and a father of six?????