LWV County Commission Meeting Notes: 7/26/2022

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 BBOCC Regular Meeting on 7/26/2022, observed by Coleen Friedman and Ellie Peterson.

ITEMS OF INTEREST  Click Here for Agenda

#60 –  Approval of Piney Point Design-Build and Service Agreement for the underground injection well. 

Discussion centered around the cost and potential liability to the county in the Agreement. In summary, the best-case scenario is the County will be responsible for the first $ 10 million with the State reimbursement potential of $200 million of the total cost.  Ultimately, the county will be responsible for 50 years or more of monitoring the well and the quality of the water for as long as necessary and regardless of cost. Approved unanimously.

#61 – Concealed Carry of Firearms in the Workplace

County Attorney Clague opened referring to his memo to the Commissioners on July 15. He shared that the Second Amendment does not provide a right to carry a firearm at work, but that FL statute allows concealed carry with permit and local entities can establish policies locally. He noted that there is a liability, but difficult to quantify. An insurance broker said costs would go up if a gun-related issue occurred and claims were made. He shared that his bigger concern is that any policy created would need to be carefully administered and managed if adopted.
Commissioner Comments:
  • Satcher said employees are "sitting ducks” and they have currently created a "criminal empowerment zone.” His comments focused on second amendment rights. He immediately proposed a motion to have the administrator draft a policy allowing Manatee County employees to carry their guns to work. 
  • Commissioner Baugh mentioned she had talked with Sheriff Wells and said he had offered his staff to provide classes for people who want to carry their guns at work. 
  • Commissioner Bellamy said, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, adding, we are opening ourselves up for a lot of workforce issues. He expressed interest in hearing from staff and the community. 
  • Several commissioners expressed concerns about certain groups of employees who work outside of an office or utilize a county vehicle having a weapon during work hours and wondered what penalties should be if violations of the policy occurred or guns are improperly secured. Commissioners also discussed that the 9th floor is locked down so they are safe, while other floors are open and not protected. Baugh and Whitmore expressed support for locking down all floors in the County Administration building.
Chair VanOstenbridge said there were a lot of issues to sort out and that they should vote to have Hopes, Clague, and Sheriff Wells draft a policy for further discussion.

Affordable Housing, Astoria on 9th St. and 23rd

Commissioner Kruse introduced Rodrigo Paredes from the Housing Trust Group, a builder of affordable housing from the Miami area, which has already done 3 projects in Manatee County and is proposing a fourth.  The Astoria would be a 120-unit building for people age 62+ in Bradenton.  A loan of $1.2 million was requested from the county to make up a $2.3 million shortfall for construction costs caused by inflation.  The City of Bradenton has already committed to a $1.2 million loan. 

Kruse noted that this type of project is the cheapest form of affordable housing for the county because it amounts to $10,000 per unit (120 units) and represents 50 years of affordability.  The term of the loan is 17 years, and the county money will see an investment return via loan payments.

The motion to approve the loan passed unanimously.

Presentation by Thomas Mantz of Feeding Tampa Bay

Mantz presented the role of his organization, based in Tampa, for providing food distribution in Manatee County.  He requested $1.5 million to help in the construction of a new facility. A lengthy and contentious discussion resulted in a request that Thomas Mantz get in touch with Maribeth Phillips of Meals on Wheels Manatee to see how Feeding Tampa Bay could help feed more people in Manatee County.

Satcher resisted, saying we should stick 100% to state law and not create extra rules that we have to adhere to and enforce, although adding training would be okay.
After public comment (20 against the proposal and 4 in support), commissioners had a lengthy discussion about obtaining employee input and whether to draft a policy that mirrors the State statute or includes options and penalties for those who don’t follow the policy.
Commissioners voted for the administrator, attorney, and sheriff, within 30 days, to draft two options, one that only complies with state law and one that includes other considerations. Baugh, Whitmore, Servia, and Bellamy said that they hoped the administrator would include employee feedback in the process of developing the two options. Approved 6-1, Bellamy voting no.

Link to Good Governance Guidelines 

  • The agenda was posted on Friday, July 22, less than a week before the meeting. Good governance suggests posting the agenda at least a week in advance.
  • The pledge was given by a candidate for county commissioner, Jason Bearden, running against Commissioner Whitmore.  This is not only an affront to a fellow commissioner but could be considered campaigning during a County Commissioner meeting which violates Florida statute 106.15.
  • The "Victory for Life” proclamation celebrating the overturning of Roe vs Wade violated Manatee proclamation requirements.  "Proclamations cannot be issued for matters of political controversy, ideological or religious beliefs, or individual convictions”
  • VanOstenbridge continues to provide a smooth process for comments in-person and by phone. He reminds speakers of the time limits and reminds the Board that they can’t respond to the speakers.  He is extremely temperate in his responses to citizens’ comments.
  • VanOstenbridge did not apply consistent leadership to ensure that commissioners were respectful and listening to each other, especially later in the meeting. He allowed Satcher to rudely interrupt Servia and then echoed Satcher’s rudeness. VanOstenbridge also did not maintain order when Baugh left her seat and began a side conversation with Hopes in the middle of a presentation by Whitmore.
  • Board members continue to allow political beliefs and calculations to drive them. The decision to proceed with the implementation of a policy to allow employees to carry firearms at work did not have careful consideration due to a decision this impactful. The decision only received input from the county attorney, which outlined significant risks and clearly stated that the second amendment does not provide the right to carry a firearm at work. Permitting concealed carry at work was repeatedly incorrectly justified as a 2nd Amendment right in the meeting.  The risks outlined in the county attorney's presentation were ignored. Citizen comments, overwhelmingly against the proposal, were likewise ignored. Although 3 commissioners voiced concern over employee input, no motion was made, nor assurance obtained, that employees themselves will be surveyed. 
  • Satcher became agitated when his position was challenged and then refused to collaborate during the discussion of Concealed Carry of Firearms in the Workplace.
  • Kruse continues to deride "cut and paste” messages from citizens to commissioners. It is inappropriate to discount citizen input of any sort when they have taken the time to contact the commissioners or submit public comment.
  • The League noted in our report on the June 7 2022 Regular Meeting that new procedures eliminating commissioner comments from the agenda and replacing it with Commissioner Agenda had some issues. It appears that all commissioners had the opportunity to add their agenda items for the 7/26 meeting. However, given the length of this meeting, not all commissioners were able to focus, respectfully listen, and respond to these items appropriately.
  • We note the frequent use of "call the question” to cut off discussion and force a vote on issues favored by the majority. This results in closing complete examination of an issue and incomplete information available to the public.
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