LWV County Commission Meeting Notes: 6/7/2022

League of Women Voters Manatee County
The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes Manatee County Commission meetings for items of interest to the League and notes adherence, or lack of adherence, to good governance procedures and the Sunshine Law.  The following are the major points from the board's regular meeting on 6/7/2022, observed by Eileen MacLaren and Karen Curlin.

ITEMS OF INTEREST  Click here for agenda


Proclamations adopted honoring:
  • June 19, 2022 as JUNETEENTH DAY in Manatee County. Manatee County first celebrated Juneteenth in 1996 under the leadership of Willie Clemons (deceased), Ruby Fobbs, McArthur Sellars, and Floyd Roundtree.  Dr Sharon Jefferson outlined this year’s celebration which will begin with a Literacy Festival on 6/16 and events throughout the weekend.
  • July as PARKS AND RECREATION MONTH.  Kudos mentioned to the staff who have worked tirelessly to offer programs at our many parks.  Mention was made that lifeguards are needed.  Requirements: min 18yrs, swimming ability; starting salary of $18.40/hr.
# 73 - Adoption of Ordinance 22-43 Amending Section 2-22-24 of the Manatee County Code Concerning No Stopping, Standing, and Parking Designations
Because of traffic backing up from picking up children at a school in Satcher's district, the sheriff’s office requested amending the code to not allow stopping, standing, or parking in an area where parents waiting for students are blocking the right-of-way. There was much discussion about the problems of pick up and drop off at different schools. The shortage of school bus drivers is causing inordinate time waiting for or on the bus, so parents feel it necessary to drive.
 
Commissioner comments included:
  • Satcher - was annoyed that he was not alerted and consulted concerning a problem in his district.
  • Baugh - the school needs to come up with a better solution.  
  • Attorney - the county is liable for safety issues and this is also a liability issue.
Ordinance passed unanimously.
 
# 62 Amending Consolidated HUD Action Plans    Some projects have been dropped and the funds are reallocated and presented for approval.  Included are funds for Turning Points and St Vincent de Paul to fund temporary housing for the homeless through discounts in places like motels.  Servia will be again visiting areas where the homeless gather with Deputy Joy Jewett who has related that the number of homeless families has grown exponentially.   
 
# 63 – Request Appointment of a Substitute Member to the Manatee County Canvassing Board
Traditionally the chair of the BoCC sits on the County Canvassing Board. This year none are eligible either because they are running for reelection (Bellamy, Servia, Whitmore) or due to their political activities on behalf of candidates for election (VanOstenbridge, Kruse, Baugh, Satcher).
 
Since no member of the Board of County Commissioners can be appointed, the BoCC will request that the Chief Judge of the 12th Circuit Court appoint a substitute member who is a qualified elector of the county who is neither a candidate with opposition in the election being canvassed and who is not an active participant in the campaign or candidacy of any candidate with opposition in the election being canvased. (Florida Statutes 102.131(1)(d)). Passed unanimously.
 
# 74 – Confirmation of Deputy County Administrator
Courtney DePol joined Manatee County in January of 2022 as the Director of Development Services.
Approved unanimously.
 
# 65 – Approval of New Manatee County Precinct Boundaries
Scott Farrington, Assistant Supervisor of Elections, stated that changes in the precincts are necessary due to growth within the county.  For this reason, Farrington anticipates further changes next year.  School Board districts are no longer the same as County Commission districts but polling places will serve both. Because precinct boundaries are changing, there are fewer precincts, and with the usual attrition of available locations, there will be more changes for voters than usual. In 2020 there were 6 early voting sites however, this year the Department of Transportation has withdrawn its facility for use as a polling place.  There are 70 precincts and only 68 polling places. Approved unanimously.
 
# 67 – FDOT Study Updates/Informational Presentation
Background Discussion Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) staff presented updates on two ongoing studies. Route 41 has been identified as an area with high accident and traffic rates.
  1. U.S. 41 Corridor Mobility and Safety Study (CMASS): This is an ongoing study focused on identifying mobility, accessibility, and safety improvements in the U.S. 41 corridor extending from University Parkway in Sarasota County to 17th Street East in Palmetto.
  2. Bradenton-Palmetto Connector Alternative Corridor Evaluation (ACE) Study. This study arose from the Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis Study. Its purpose is to evaluate potential, additional Manatee River crossings intended to improve safety, capacity, and mobility between Bradenton and Palmetto. In effect, this study will screen corridor options to inform a subsequent Project Development & Environmental Study.
In light of complaints of previous top-down mandates from FL DOT, it was stressed that FDOT is very committed to public engagement and coordination with projects already underway and planned in the comprehensive plan. 

Elimination of Commissioner Comments
Commissioner comments, which previously has come after citizen comments, did not appear on this meeting's agenda. Servia proposed that "Commissioner Comments" be added back to the agenda. Whitmore seconded.  
 
Baugh objected and stated that it is inappropriate to offer a motion when another issue is on the table. Servia responded that Attorney Clague "said this is how to handle." Clague commented that the issue of Commissioner Comments is not a "legal” matter but is more concerned with their responsibility as Commissioners as a deliberative, political body that acts by majority rule.
 
Whitmore stated that she had hoped to discuss the Washington trip and medical examiners. Because Hopes had declined to meet with her 3 times she has questions and needs answers today. No staff report has been given about the Washington trip.
 
Commissioner Baugh interrupted to "Call To Question” (stop discussion and vote). The vote to stop discussion passed and the motion to reinstate Commissioner Comments failed 4:3. (Bellamy, Servia, and Whitmore)
 
# 69 – Gulf Coast Trail
Charles Hines, previously a Sarasota County Commissioner, made a presentation on a plan to link hiking/biking trails from Pinellas to Collier County, such as the Legacy Trail in Sarasota. Hines stated that there are many "isolated segments” of property in Manatee that may be used for trail, but the option for planning and purchasing properties to bring this to fruition is necessary soon before properties are built on. Hines explained that Trust for Public Lands (TPL) can find donors to purchase/protect lands and that Sarasota raised property taxes in order to do so.
 
Discussion among commissioners was supportive. Kruse stated there is support from US Rep. Buchanan and FL Rep Robinson. Servia suggests putting it in the comprehensive plan.
 

GOVERNANCE/SUNSHINE

Link to Good Governance Guidelines

Items 1 – 3 taken together show a clear effort to control information that the public can receive and that certain commissioners can give and receive.  It may not be a technical violation of the sunshine law, but it certainly is one in spirit.
 
  1. Refusal of County Administrator Hopes to meet with any commissioners until after budgeting and the recess (after August).
    • Poor decisions will invariably be made without all working together and with full communication.
    • Budgeting sessions are ongoing right now, the Chief Financial Officer has resigned, and now is the time for everyone to pull together to bring full information to decision making.
    • The Board is to give directions to the Administrator.  It is impossible for them to fulfill their duty if the administrator will not meet.
       
  2. Removal of Commissioner Comments from BoCC Meetings
    • There are citizen comments, county attorney comments and county administrator comments still on the agenda, but commissioner comments have been removed in what can only be seen as an attempt to silence commissioners.
    • As with the refusal of Hopes to meet with the commissioners, important information will be missing or covered up in decision making.
    • The County Administrator controls the agenda, allowing him to refuse items to be placed on the agenda, further controlling the flow of information to commissioners and the public. 
    • Information commissioners would like to convey to the public or share with all the commissioners will be missing.
       
  3. Frequent use of "call the question” to cut off discussion and force a vote on issues favored by the majority and not allowing complete examination and information to be available to the public is poor governance.
     
  4. Political Activities - The business of the commissioners is hampered by the political activities of the commissioners not running for office themselves. Not one commissioner can serve on the Canvassing Board due to partisanship. This activity poisons the atmosphere of the commission too often and results in an inability to work collegially on many issues. Please be reminded that the work of each of the Commissioners is on behalf of all citizens. 
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