BRADENTON – The Manatee County budget presentation scheduled for Thursday afternoon was postponed after Governor Rick Scott announced that he would be adding Bradenton to his campaign stump schedule this week. Not all of the commissioners, or the public, were happy with the last-minute cancellation and lack of public notice.
|Commissioner DiSabatino talks to a constituent who showed up for the scheduled meeting. Photo: John Rehill|
|Commissioner Michael Gallen in the lobby of the chambers. Photo: John Rehill|
Scott, along with Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, visited Marine Concepts, a company that recently moved to the Whitfield area from Cape Coral. The company makes marine equipment, helicopter simulators and truck trailers.
On Wednesday afternoon, Manatee County Information Outreach Coordinator Nick Azzara confirmed rumors that the budget meeting would be postponed for Scott's visit, and would instead take place during the June 3 BOCC meeting. However, formal notice never went out to the press or public, some of whom showed up for the presentation, at which public comment on budget matters can be given.
Azzara took responsibility for the lack of communication, saying that he mistakenly thought that an email from board staff to commissioners had gone out to the media distribution list.
Upon learning Thursday morning that many of her constituents still did not know the meeting had been canceled, Commissioner Robin DiSabatino decided she would forgo the meeting and make herself available to anyone who showed up.
“I had received an invitation to the (governor's) event a couple of weeks ago, but declined, citing the budget meeting,” explained DiSabatino. “Tuesday, I was told they wanted to postpone the meeting to go to the event, but it started to become clear that the public had not been informed. I support the governor and I support Marine Concepts, a business in my district, but I didn't feel that there was enough notice, and I couldn’t attend the rally if there were people who were going to show up. I was just upset by the way this thing was handled, and I question the administration's policy as to how much notice you're supposed to give to cancel a public meeting, especially when it's not an emergency."
Commissioner Michael Gallen also skipped the event upon learning that the public had not been informed. He said he spoke to several citizens on the phone and another in the lobby outside of the commission chambers. “This definitely should have been handled better,” said Gallen.
One group that was particularly perturbed was the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations. The FMCCA, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has historically been very active in the county's budget process. Earnest "Sandy" Marshall, who has served the organization for 45 years (including 12 as President) said he learned of the postponement by accident when he contacted Commissioner DiSabatino about a different issue Thursday morning.
"I said, 'I'll see you at 1:30,' and she told me the meeting had been canceled," said Marshall. "I couldn't believe it. I'd just sat in the Manatee Convention Center for three hours the night before for their health care workshop and every commissioner was there. None of them mentioned the cancellation. This is not the way county business should be conducted."
The budget presentation is when the county administrator and his team presents their proposed budget to the board. The board then goes through a series of public hearings before voting to adopt the final budget.
"Budget meetings are the county's business," said Marshall. "The governor doesn't do the county budget. We were notified of the schedule for these meetings back on April 28. It takes a lot of time for us to plan who is going to attend, schedule our personal calendars to account for that time and then prepare the remarks we present to the board. This is the time to do that. By the time of the public budget hearings, most of this stuff is set in concrete and you're not going to get them to change much. These early meetings are the time when the public has the chance to make their case and have input. They're some of the most important meetings the board has.”
When asked if a campaign stop from the governor was a good reason to postpone one, Marshall was both frank and loud.
"Hell no!" he shouted. "And I'm a Republican!"
Commissioner DiSabatino alone at the dais on Thursday
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