BCC: Lack of transparency with packed Consent Agenda


From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Commission appears to be telling the public this week that when it comes to public business, just move along. There’s nothing to see here.


At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioners are being asked to review and evaluate the performance of two high-level employees and a pilot program to raise money selling advertising to private entities in public parks. All three “review and evaluation” items are on the Consent Agenda, which consists of items that are approved without public discussion, public comment, or public vote.


Another Consent Agenda item involves conversion of two warehouse buildings to a 12-unit condominium storage facility with a resolution that asserts that the “Board has considered such request at a public meeting” where “all interested parties were given an opportunity to be heard.”


Commission rules limit Consent Agenda items to routine items that implement previously approved directives, plans or programs which require no discussion before a vote is taken. The Consent Agenda has been used in the past to shield costly or controversial items from public scrutiny and to keep the public out of public affairs.


Consent Agenda Items 4B3 and 4C1 this week are the annual performance reviews and evaluation of the County Administrator and County Attorney. The agenda item summaries indicate that Commissioners were individually asked in private meetings to evaluate the County Administrator and County Attorney, using forms that are conspicuously absent from the agenda packet. Placing these items on the Consent Agenda defeats the purpose of contractual requirements for annual review and evaluation by the BCC as the employees effectively evaluate themselves and the BCC simply rubber-stamps its approval.


Consent Agenda Item 4E1 seeks continuation of a “Revenue Enhancement Program” that was approved a year ago on a trial basis to allow the Parks Department to charge private entities to sponsor recreational events and to advertise in County parks. The program was supposed to be reviewed and evaluated after the first year. By placing this item on the Consent Agenda, the Commission abdicates its responsibility to review and share with the public the success or failure of various aspects of the program, allowing staff to make the decision to continue the program without meaningful review or public discussion.


Another Consent Agenda item, 4D1, asks the BCC to release a unity of title so that two buildings which were approved as warehouses on the Treasure Coast Commerce Center site plan can be converted to 12 individual units to be sold separately as condominium storage facilities. It isn’t clear whether an amendment to the site plan has been approved. The Resolution presented for adoption on the Consent Agenda states that the BCC’s decision was made at a public meeting where members of the public were given an opportunity to be heard. It looks like a very nice project that would take only a few minutes to present to the BCC. Trying to slip it through on the Consent Agenda with a resolution that is patently false does the applicant as well as residents a disservice by raising unanswered questions.


On a more positive note, two ordinances on Tuesday’s agenda merit approval.


Agenda Item 6A, pre-set for 9:30 a.m., will extend a County-authorized Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program aimed at reducing the number of feral (free-roaming) cats in Martin County. The 5-year-old program has produced an estimated 42% reduction in the number of feral cats in identified colonies. FULL DISCLOSURE: I work with the sponsor of this pilot program, Caring Fields Felines, and played a role in drafting the original TNR ordinance as well as the proposed extension.


Agenda Item 6B, pre-set for 1:30 p.m., is a proposed ordinance that allows the County to correct Code violations on private property to protect public health and safety. Instead of merely levying a fine against property owners who violate the Code, the proposed ordinance authorizes the County to correct violations and to seek reimbursement of costs from property owners who allow violations to continue unabated. The proposed ordinance is well-crafted and worthy of approval.


The staff presentation and discussion about County-owned property that might better serve taxpayers if sold to private entities is once again on the agenda, as Item 8A2, pre-set for 10:30 a.m. More than two dozen parcels of property are the subject of staff recommendations for sale to generate revenue for the County and to return the property to the tax rolls. This item has been continued several times from earlier meetings and should finally be heard on Tuesday.


In other matters:


– Members of the public will continue to urge Commissioners to require staff to explain how the Langford Landing property has become stripped of virtually all vegetation and turned into what appears to be a sand mining operation rather than a residential subdivision


NOTE TO BCC: Residents are still trying to understand how a private company like US EcoGen manages to get an agenda item before the Commission the very next meeting after making a request during public comment while residents are unable despite months of pleading to get agenda items scheduled on issues like Langford Landing and the County’s contract with the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast.


– The BCC is being asked to accept a utility easement and lift station easement for County utilities equipment to be installed at SE Federal Highway and SE Miami Avenue.


Let your Commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the meeting beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday or by e-mailing them at sheard@martin.fl.us, efieldin@martin.fl.us, ascott@martin.fl.us, jhaddox@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us and mdurham@martin.fl.us.

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