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How Agendas Set Policy

Guest Op/Ed


Manatee County voters elect seven County Commissioners to set policy and move our county forward in the best interest of the people. In a truly representative system, everyone would have the opportunity to review proposed policies, speak on these issues and, ideally, have their thoughts heard. This would allow their representatives to make educated decisions in the best interest of the majority.

In practice, however, the decisions being made are neither educated nor in the best interest of the majority. They are made well before the meeting with no consideration of public opinion. As a result, steps have been taken to minimize the inconvenience of having to tolerate public input.

Call-in comments have been eliminated. Your involvement in your government requires time off work and potentially hours of patience for your item to come up for your three minutes. Motions have been made to reinstate this practice but you all know there will never be four votes to make that happen.

Contentious agenda items conveniently wait until the last minute for inclusion. Once we shut down the emailed public comment window, your thoughts and concerns are no longer public record. Make sure to take that next Tuesday off work if you want to participate in your democracy.

Sometimes, however, even not listening to the public isn’t enough. Completely manipulating the agenda to steer policy is even more effective. We’ve witnessed this numerous times over the past few weeks and it really shined in its effectiveness this past Tuesday. Below is a sample.

Future Agenda Items

A question was raised about the deed for land conveyed to the Visible Men Academy. This land has a reversion clause to return the land to the County as of this Thursday if not extended. In spite of the administration knowing that commissioners were speaking with VMA, the item wasn’t included on the agenda since “no one asked to put it on”. As a result, no commissioner had to vote against an extension and start the process of taking the land from a school for underprivileged students. End result, the policy was decided to start the process without a vote on record. Win-win for everyone…except the school and its students.

Agenda manipulation: Running out the clock without adding to agenda.

Item 10: Adoption of Resolution R-23-145, prohibiting County funds to be used for Planned Parenthood or any abortion provider or to provide any abortion services

This item was put onto an agenda based on a previous vote of the BOCC with a resolution that was not remotely in line with the previous vote of the BOCC. The agenda item was presented as being authorized by the Board and was snuck onto the consent agenda to slide it through without discussion. It required a commissioner to pull it or it would have been voted through with the rest of the consent items (since non-profit abortion resolutions are virtually the same as temporary utility easements). Bait-and-switch, misleading items, and hiding controversial items within consent have become more common. One of these days, something may slide through and no commission will have to directly vote on that policy. Saves a lot of explanations.

Agenda manipulation: Hiding important and contentious items on consent

Item 55: Presentation on Historical Resources being supported and managed by Sports & Leisure Services Department

This particular agenda item was “apparently” started at least nine months ago, had absolutely no time-sensitivity and was in no way fully-vetted by the administration or the County Attorney, and yet had to be rushed onto Tuesday’s agenda late Friday night, hours after the write-in public comment period had ended. Forget the overall illogical nature of the plan as it was only on the agenda for political reasons (still approved 6-1). It was clearly an item of one sole commissioner who has outsized control over the agenda. However, it was snuck into the primary agenda as an administration item to give the impression of a county-initiated policy proposal (where have we seen that before?) rather than a commissioner-initiated request.

Agenda manipulation: Late additions; listing commissioner items as administrative

Item 59: Discussion of Finalists for County Administrator

On Tuesday the BOCC voted to name the Interim County Administrator as permanent even though he didn’t apply. The reality is that the item should have never reached September 12. We had a clearly-defined schedule for selecting an outside administrator and it seemed to be going well. The plan had the Board convening on Friday, August 18 for final interviews and to make a selection after an exhaustive search. All seven commissioners had one candidate as a top choice and at least three commissioners were preparing to take a vote to welcome our new Administrator. However, in spite of knowing the plans and the process that were laid out, that August 18 meeting was conveniently noticed as a non-voting “work session” rather than an actionable “special meeting”. As we couldn’t vote that day, it allowed for “others” to give their input and a new candidate emerged who was ultimately chosen this week. An otherwise smooth process had been manipulated and altered through a unilateral decision to ignore a Board-approved process.

Agenda manipulation: Noticing meetings against the will of the Board (note that this has been utilized in the past in reverse to allow for off-agenda items to appear and be voted upon in what should have been “work sessions”)

Item 60: Discussion on Alternative Veterans Housing Site

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, we discussed a Commissioner Agenda Item for Veterans Housing (see, this is how commissioner items actually work). It’s an interesting concept that I’m not against but it was odd that it was the only item regarding this topic on the agenda. The County has been working with Tunnel to Towers for over a year on a proposed Veterans Housing Site. On August 18, at the request of the Board (7-0 vote), the final deed and documents were brought back to finally move this great opportunity forward with this reputable nonprofit for the benefit of our homeless veterans. At that time, however, it was tabled for “up to six weeks”. As another commissioner stated, “on or before six weeks”. That would bring it back “on or before” Sept 19. However, this Tuesday was the last meeting before that deadline. The Board voted and set a policy to bring this item back yet the will of the Board was ignored simply by omission from the agenda. No vote was made to extend this deadline. No discussion was had. The administration, or a commissioner with control of our agenda, superseded the will of the Board.

Agenda manipulation: Administration setting policy by ignoring Board decisions and preventing decisions being made in the interest of the public. (I’ll ignore the other manipulation of commissioners hiding in the building - or even in the chambers - to avoid recording votes on agenda items.)

As you can see, there are many ways to manipulate the agenda to override a democratic process and remove the representation of the people. We saw it in numerous forms on Tuesday. There is one more way that I’ll finish with after the video, but, if you’d like to watch Tuesday’s meeting, here it is.

BONUS MANIPULATION: Another way agendas are used to set policy without the Board going on record is to simply delay items…over and over again…to avoid ever having to discuss them in public.

The most blatant use of this agenda manipulation is happening right now with our impact fees.

The BOCC voted on April 18 to start the process of finalizing our fee schedule for the next five years (Manatee County is presently three years late in its update). At that time, the Board voted on a presentation that reflected this important item coming before us in “August 2023”. I had confirmed ahead of that August date that all steps have been finalized, public comment periods have been held and the study was ready for adoption.

However, with no further vote of the Board, the scheduled hearing date was inexplicably moved to September 7.

Then, with no notice, it was moved to October 5.

As of the most recent hearing list sent out, without any discussion, it is now (tentatively) scheduled for November 2.

The Board voted in April to finalize our long, long overdue impact fee update in August. It has now slid three months without “official” Board direction - although I doubt it’s without board member(s) input. I’m sure these delays are allowing some people additional time to comment (not you though) and putting it dangerously close to a point where it becomes a stale report, thus conveniently (for some) requiring a much longer delay to redo the study.

I won’t go into the details and specifics on the implications of this incredibly costly agenda manipulation here. That will be forthcoming soon enough and requires a full write-up unto itself. (Don’t forget to subscribe to see future write-ups.)

Just be aware of what is occurring with this item as it’s not being discussed in any manner, much less in a manner of transparency.  

Elected in 2020, George Kruse serves as the District 7 Manatee County Commissioner (at-large).  This post originally ran on Thursday in his blog, For Lack of a Second, and is republished with the commissioner's permission. You can subscribe to the commissioner's free blog here.


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  • EPG2002

    Thanks for this. But as someone who used to be part of the cabal and no longer is, you now have the opportunity to shed light on some of the core issues leading to the rot in Manatee County government. How did you become a candidate for District 7? Did it require the blessing of certain parties? How did that process work? And where did the idea originate to fire Cheri Coryea, a very capable administrator and long-time county employee? What sorts of conversations took place behind the scenes leading to her ouster? You are already on the outs with the parties that control power in this county, so why not be courageous and expose the full truth?

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • N_Alice_Newlon

    "The most blatant use of this agenda manipulation is happening right now with our impact fees."

    This is costing current taxpayers untold millions. Impact fees is the fee per home in new developments to put in necessary water/sewer, roads, schools, emergency facilities, etc that the county must provide. Developers pay the fee and build it into the cost of the new home. Currently (and for the last almost 9 years) the impact fees are calculated at 90% of 2015 costs. Year after year the county commission has taken no action to bring fees anywhere near the costs to the county, pushing the cost of all those improvements on to us because once the new homes are built, you cannot go back and get more money to cover their costs and you must provide those services to the new community.

    At a recent BoCC meeting there was a request to just increase the part of the impact fee to provide water and sewer to new developments, which was costing the county (ie taxpayers) $1,700 per house to provide. George could not even get a second from the other 6 Commissoners.

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • Carolannfelts

    Great piece reiterating what WE…

    the public, environmental groups, The Bradenton Times, assorted activists, former county staff, small children and even dogs have been saying for years.

    Years meaning when we went through the last promised “national search” for a new county admin and got Hopes, years when the FDAB move was “just a transmittal”, years when we packed the chambers in support of the race track, and wet lands protection, years when we were ignored with our call in pleas for our voices to be heard, years when we begged for better notice and communication, years when half our BOCC was under investigation for ethics or Sunshine Law violations, theft and misuse of funds, years when good people lost their jobs, their homes, their quality of life, years when our Constitutional rights were violated,

    And years when every commissioner endorsed or supported every other commissioner that is on the board now.

    Yet, not a peep then. Nor any explanation as to the reason or source of these personal epiphanies or any credit given to those who have been saying the same thing for years.

    This is “old news”.

    The bigger question that requires leadership, courage and a sincere commitment to accountability, civility and ethics is,

    what do WE do about it now?

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • Cat L

    Nicely summarized. Taking from the constituents they represent is beyond unethical, and for any of these characters who are alleging to align with ANY morality is farcical.

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • san.gander

    Manatee County's present County Commission screams... get a broom and clean house. Their dishonesty is appalling!

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • Dave

    It seems obvious that Mr. Kruse's fellow commissioners have violated sunshine laws. Where is law enforcement?

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • Fishhead

    So. Maybe a call to the DOJ might get someone’s ear? Way overdue

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • Dianna

    Thank you for addressing just a few of these issues- you are the only Commissioner who will actively engage with the public or respond to e-mails. I only get responses from Jorge Arana -District 3 commissioner lol and a non-response from Bearden. The September 12 meeting should be required viewing before voting in 2024. This meeting provides just a small sampling of what is wrong with 6 of our commissioners- who no longer care about what their constituents want for our community. During the Port Authority portion of the meeting, I am baffled by “the 6” commissioners’ inability to comprehend the simple statement that once a spill is reported, the Coast Guard becomes fully in charge of the investigation, they do not take direction from the county at any level, nor do they have to report to the county in any manner. This was made abundantly clear three times by USCG Warrant Officer-Mr. Bueros and you. The actions of Van Ostenbridge and Bearden during this meeting are an embarrassment to the public, as was removing you as the Chair. In addition to all the other issues it is frustrating that “the 6”, headed by Bearden, are intent to blow up any veterans housing by Tunnels to Towers and are now seeking an alternative site and will waste tax dollars on a venture they have no expertise in, when we have a willing partner and it will not cost the taxpayers more than the donation of land (that clearly a developer wants.)

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • sandy

    The site recommended for homeless veterans by Bearden is a joke. Yes, it is near the port for possible job opportunities and closer to Bay Pines in St. Pete, but no mass transit, no grocery stores, any retail. Most of these homeless do not have a car. How are they going to get there? Is the county now going to be responsible as this is their property? The site on Cortez is close to retail, grocery, pharmacy, job opportunities within walking distance, and on a major mass transit route. Tunnel to Towers is a reputable organization willing to take the responsibility. The whole meeting was a major embarrassment to watch. Taking over a department that has been run successfully for 40 years is not making BOCC led government smaller. Denigrating one commissioner who is now called an agitator by mini me and because not front and center for photo-ops shows no civility.

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this