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LWV County Commission Notes: 2/27/24


The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes Manatee County Commission meetings for items of interest to citizens and 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 2/27/2024.


Link to Agenda and Meeting Video

Invocation – Pastor Phillip Hamm, First Baptist Church of Palmetto

Pledge of Allegiance – Brian Parnell, Deputy County Administrator

No items were pulled from the Consent Agenda by Commissioners.


Retirement Award - Jimmie Hamrick, Jr has served his country (retired Army) and community as a specialty charge paramedic (assists in development and training) with 25 years on ambulance service. Mr. Hamrick was presented with a clock and thanked the Board for the recognition.

Presentation on Manatee 311 APP – Manatee 311 provides a central contact point with the county for citizens to report an issue, request a service, seek information/referrals, and direct complaints, compliments and suggestions regarding government service. As of 3/11/24, it can be accessed by app, telephone, or online.

Proclamation Designating March 7, 2024, as "Braden Castle Park Day" in Manatee County in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the unique historical community which is the first site for seasonal tourists. The site has cottages from 1920 and the central area also has the ruins of Joseph Braden’s 1850 Plantation Home constructed of poured lime (oyster shell) tabby.

Selected Citizen Comments for future agenda items

  • Ruth L addressed the recent approval by the Board of $4 million to detail plans for a veteran’s memorial and a total cost of $30 million, which was done without public input and isn’t on the Manatee County comprehensive plan. She said, “This isn’t responsible.” She contrasted this with the Emerson Point expansion proposal, which has been fully vetted by ELMAC and approved by the Board on April 25, 2023. It meets the ecological guidelines and would join the existing preserve. She asked the Board to add this to the agenda.
  • Nick Baden, a Board of Director of the Manatee Fish and Game Association, thanked the Commissioners for agreeing to lease land to expand the Palma Sola Botanical Park and noted that they just broke ground for the project. He spoke on behalf of the Fish and Game Association in support the Emerson Point expansion of 97 acres. He knows that some people say it is too much money, but it is important to assure that the owners that the county is serious about acquiring the property by placing it on the agenda to discuss in the next 2 weeks.
  • Carol F asked the Board to bring back call-in comments or try to schedule the public comments later in the day when people could leave work. She also requested citizen input into developing the “Citizens Academy” (Neighborhood Ambassador Academy).
  • Tim R (identified himself as a citizen of Charlotte County) described Mosaic’s donation to purchase Robinson Preserve and their recent donation to the DeSoto Food Bank as an effort to expand its phosphate mining and have the community approve. He said that the mercury poison released during the mining process is killing birds and fish, which he witnessed on a recent Peace River tour.
  • Joseph McClash, former County Commissioner, supported the purchase of Emerson Expansion Property using ELMAC funds, imploring the Board to bring it to a vote as it has been a year since their vote to approve. He said the land will fall to a developer if the county doesn’t see the $3.5 million as an investment with future value. He noted that the county has been trying to obtain this property since the 1980s.
  • Abbey Tyrna, Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeepers asked the Board to put the Emerson Point expansion on the agenda and then to approve it.

Selected Commissioner Comments

  • Kruse clarified that the April 2023 vote on Emerson Point was not to approve the purchase for Emerson Point but to explore the acquisition and that staff is still trying to negotiate the purchase price (which is less than or equal to the price for Crooked River property).
  • Van Ostenbridge agreed with Kruse’s summary of the status of the issue. He added that the challenge is “the exorbitant price” being asked by the sellers, in addition to no commitment for funding by the state, and that the offer includes some houses on the property with road access for the family. [LWVMC Note - The owner is asking to retain four acres next to an existing development.] His view is that currently, it’s “not a good deal for the county,” but he said the issue is still being negotiated.
  • Turner said there is “no logic in looking at future value rather than as a business transaction.”
  • Ballard supported expanding Emerson Point but sees the price being millions over the appraised value, which is a concern.
  • Kruse was concerned that the Board would “kick this down the road” and said he would like the staff to make a last, best offer and then vote, then made a motion to direct staff to come up with a last, best offer and add this topic to the agenda for the next meeting.

Public Comments:

Four citizens supported the motion, and one opposed it, saying it was too much money “to make people feel warm and fuzzy.” Glen G proposed they zone the property as agricultural for the next decade to protect it.

Motion passed 5-2, Ballard and Bearden voting no.

Approval of Consent Agenda with no public comment, 7-0

Items of Interest

Item #41 - Adoption of Ordinance 24-28, Amending and Restating Ordinance 04-39, the Manatee County Phosphate Mining Code

Charlie Hunsicker, Director of Natural Resources, and Alissa Powers, Environmental Protection Division Manager, presented an overview of the proposed amendments. Background summary:

“The proposed amendment to Ordinance 04-39, the Manatee County Phosphate Mining Code, codified as Section 2-20 of the Manatee County Code of Laws, allows for operating permits to be approved administratively. The types of activities addressed in an operating permit application include incidental, site-specific operation details like updates to production and reclamation schedules, updates on volumes of clay disposition, sand tailings balances, environmental monitoring data, and surety and reclamation bonds. The master mining plans, significant amendments, and vested rights exemptions are presented in duly noticed public hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board and will continue to follow that procedure.

The text amendment also reduces the number of annual progress report hard copies, reflects the department name change, adjusts time frames to conform with Chapter 125, FS, and corrects scrivener's errors. The text amendment clarifies that an operating permit cannot be approved unless and until a Master Mining Plan has been approved by the Board and the applicant has demonstrated, with competent and substantial evidence, that the operating permit will be implemented pursuant to the requirements of the Phosphate Mining Code and the Master Mining Plan.”

Staff are requesting a change to allow them to approve the 5-year operating plans after the Board has approved master mining plans.

Kruse questioned the language in the proposed ordinance, and Staff responded that, in practice, any change in the master mining plan must be brought to the Board. Attorney Clague said that he wrote the original ordinance in 2004 during a moratorium on mining, and it was a very litigious time with the mining companies.

Selected Public comments:

  • Bob B stated he previously worked for the County and was involved in the 2004 ordinance, saying the intent in 2004 was to protect Lake Manatee. He supported the change, but wanted to provide context for the ordinance.
  • Tim R (Charlotte County) said it would be a good time to “slam the brakes” on the phosphate mining process, saying he doesn’t support taking approval from elected officials and giving it to unelected staff.
  • Glen Compton, Chairman of Manasota 88, expressed concern about shifting decisions to staff, particularly with phosphate mining. He recommended that if oversight for operating procedures shifts to staff that the county limit the number of applications that can be reviewed at one time.
  • Carol F cautioned that we need to consider the impact of development moving further east toward the mining areas and consider the environmental impact.

Kruse noted the importance of the Board continuing to oversee the major mining plans but that the operating details are best left to staff with more knowledge.

Motion to adopt Ordinance 24-28 passed 7-0.

Items 42 -

Approval and Execution of the Recreational License Agreement for a 3-acre portion of Crooked River Preserve (Parcel Number 860000058)  

And 43.

Acceptance of the Crooked River Preserve Special Warranty Deed for Parcel Number 860000058

Staff reviewed the agreement between the county and the Skidmore Family Trust, as described in the summary:

“Manatee County closed on the Fee Simple purchase of the 64-acre Crooked River Ranch on February 12, 2024. The Licensee was one of the owners of the Crooked River Ranch. The Licensee’s use of the property is subject to the County’s right to manage the parent tract as a public nature preserve. The Recreational Use License does not provide for exclusive use of the three acres. Rather, it provides a right to access three acres for passive recreational use such as family gatherings, cookouts, fishing, and camping. Allowed and prohibited uses defined in the License Agreement are consistent with the goals and objectives of the nature preserve and will not degrade or damage the natural habitat and/or wildlife.”

Natural Resources Director Hunsicker said accepting a special warranty deed is the “keys passed over” from the owner to the buyer. He noted that this is the first acquisition of land using ELMAC funds, and a celebration is planned for March 1.

Motions to accept 42 and 43 passed 7-0.

Item #44 – Report on Florida Department of Transportation "Cortez Road Corridor Vision Plan"

Clark Davis, Deputy Director of Public Works, introduced Tanya Merkel, FDOT, to give the midpoint update on the vision plan. The vision plan was initiated due to safety concerns and anticipated growth. Cortez Rd (301 to 121st St.) is one of the 3 highest areas of traffic accidents with 5100 crashes over a 7-year period. Manatee County is anticipated to grow by 215,000 residents by 2050. FDOT held stakeholder discussions with governmental representatives, citizens, and business members resulting in the plan. (See linked presentation)

Commissioner Agenda Items

Ballard- Community Cat Diversion Program

She raised concerns about removing feral/community cats from private property without the owner's permission.  Some neighborhoods have dozens of cats, which are creating problems for the residents. 

Ballard made a motion to direct staff to review the ordinance to find a way to amend the guidelines to assist the residents whom community cats adversely impact.

Public comment:

Lauren, a resident affected by community cats described how she and her family are unable to use their outdoor living areas due to cats spraying and using the lawn as a litter box; how her dog is constantly upset; and how other wildlife is drawn to the community cat feeding areas.

Ballard’s motion was approved 7-0.

Satcher- Safe Haven Baby Boxes

Satcher made a motion to have staff create a safe haven program for Board review, where babies can be safely and anonymously surrendered, locating the boxes at EMS stations.

Van Ostenbridge and Ballard expressed concern about liability, given that the station would have to be staffed 24/7, as well as the role of the State’s current safe haven laws. Kruse mentioned that in Citrus County, the boxes are $16,000 each and were funded through private donations. Note: Manatee County has 18 EMS stations.

Motion approved 7-0.

County Attorney Comments

Chair Rahn noted that today’s meeting was the last for County Attorney Clague and thanked him. Clague thanked the county, saying that he and his wife had raised two sons here, and he appreciated that.

Selected Commissioner Comments

  • The Chair requested that the Investment Oversight Committee have an additional member appointed by the county financial manager. Sheila McClean, the CFO came to the microphone and said that the policy would need to be amended to increase the number of members as the chair requested. Motion to do so passed 7-0.
  • Satcher moved to have the words “In God We Trust” conspicuously added to the county chambers. Van Ostenbridge pointed out that the Chair has responsibility for the chambers, so the motion was amended. Motion passed 7-0.

Link to Good Governance Guidelines

The agenda was posted on a timely basis and was subsequently updated twice.

Chairperson Rahn demonstrated reasonable flexibility with citizens’ comments going beyond the 3-minute mark and was respectful in establishing the proper way to address commissioners.

There was no opportunity for public comments or input, as is required before a vote, on two items brought up during commissioner comments: adding a member to the Investment Oversight Committee and adding “In God We Trust” to the County chambers. In addition, these two items should have been brought to a vote at a subsequent meeting since they were not properly placed on the agenda as per their Rules and Procedures.

Commissioner Turner stated, “There is no logic in looking at future value rather than as a business transaction.” However, let's examine whether or not it would be a good "business" decision to acquire the Emerson Expansion property by paying more than the appraised value.

  • Businesses acquire properties frequently above appraised value. They put weight on the value to their business to determine their willingness to pay a premium. This property will provide such values to the county with unrivaled tourism, recreation, and wildlife habitats.
  • The property's value is also determined by what those purchasing are willing to pay. In this case, there appears to be another buyer willing to pay the asking price or potentially more. The owner reportedly wants this land in conservation.
  • In businesses, one also evaluates based on marginal cost. In this case, the state of Florida will provide the funding for the appraised value and the dedicated land acquisition funds will provide funds above the appraisal. A bargain.
  • Good business practice is to use the dedicated land acquisition funds for properties that meet the criteria, and this one does.

 More Information on ELMAC and the Natural Resource Evaluation Criteria

Click here or information on how to phone or email the commissioners. 

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  • Cwright

    So, let me get this straight, according to KVO, 3.5 million is “an exorbitant price” to purchase 97 acres to expand the preserve & protect the environment from over development and insure the preserve is expanded for future generations… but our corrupt commissioners are happy to plunk down 40 million (40 MILLION?!?!) dollars to fund a veteran’s memorial park on the outskirts of the county?!?!


    Friday, March 1 Report this

  • jimandlope

    I agree there’s something “fishy” in this 40 million dollar park being, OK? I detect an alternative agenda here. Jim Tierney

    Friday, March 1 Report this