BOCC considers restrictin​g public comment, annual reorganization and election of chair



Martin County Commission Chambers, 2401 SE Monterey Road, Stuart


Civic analyst and local attorney Virginia Sherlock provides important details on the upcoming Martin County Board of County Commission meeting, Tuesday, November 18:

Tomorrow’s Martin County Commission meeting agenda is lighter than in previous meetings – thank goodness – but still has items of interest for consideration.


At the top of the list is the annual reorganization of the BOCC. We hope Sarah Heard will agree to serve a second term as chair and that her fellow commissioners will support continuation of her leadership of the Commission. Commissioner Heard, who, after a decade has been allowed to chair the commission for only one year, has done a great job and deserves to extend her role as chair for at least another year.


There are some troubling aspects to the proposed revision of the BOCC Procedures Manual, which seems designed to restrict public participation. There are inexplicable changes to long-standing language in the manual and complete elimination of procedures related to public records and public comment. Hopefully, the commission will delay approval of the revised procedures until the public has had an opportunity to review the changes and provide comment.


There are a series of matters to be considered by the BOCC sitting as the Board of the Community Redevelopment Agency, starting with a projects update that is pre-set for 4:30 p.m.


There are still inappropriate matters on the Consent Agenda, including an item to accept into the County’s road inventory a rural road to be designated as an “open, private road” without specifying who is going to maintain it.


Public hearings are scheduled on a resolution to dispose of some County-owned properties which are not productive and may be used to generate either funds or proposals for affordable housing and a request to revise aspects of the Christ Fellowship Church construction project in the Tropical Farms area.


Here’s a brief rundown:


Agenda Item 2.A. is the reorganization of the Board of County Commissioners for FY2013-2014. In addition to electing a chair and vice chair for the year, making appointments to various boards and committees, and establishing the meeting schedule and holidays, the Board is being asked to revise its Rules of Procedure. There are a lot of “tweaks” which do not appear to have any basis (such as substituting the word “proposition” for the word “subject” in several places where the public is given an opportunity to speak about various “subjects”) and more extensive revisions which appear to restrict public participation. Where the language formerly provided for public comment on virtually any subject, the revisions limit public comment to “a reasonable opportunity to be heard” on a specific “proposition” before it is voted on. Most troubling, quasi-judicial hearings are exempt from the requirement that the public be permitted to speak.


Although a the Legislature enacted a “right to speak law” in the last session, the intent of the statute was to broaden, not restrict, public participation. It establishes minimum requirements for public participation. Martin County already had good public participation policies which are now being jettisoned in favor of the more restrictive state policy.


The proposed changes to the BOCC procedures should be given more review and the public should be given “a reasonable opportunity” for review before the BOCC votes to approve them.


Agenda Item 2.C. is a Proclamation declaring Bible Reading Week in Martin County. This proclamation clearly violates the basic constitutional tenet of separation of church and state and has no business on the County Commission agenda. The resolution language is inappropriate for a document generated by a government that is supposed to represent all citizens of all faiths. This item is a 1:35 pre-set.


Consent Agenda Item 4.C.1. is a resolution accepting SW Stable Run into the County’s road inventory as a private, open road. A residential structure and lake apparently were constructed on a 100-acre parcel located between the Trailside and Sunlight Ranch subdivisions without County permits, resulting in a code enforcement action against the property owner that was commenced in January of 2012. The property owner acquired after-the-fact permits but In order to make the construction fully compliant with the County Land Development Regulations, the structure must front on an “open road”. SW Stable Run is a private road on the plat of the Trailside subdivision. The Trailside Property Owners Association has not requested that the road be “opened” and accepted into the County’s road inventory. Nonetheless, the consent agenda item asks the BOCC to accept the road to cure the violation by the non-compliant property owner, whose property is not in Trailside. Staff says the road will be privately maintained, but it’s not clear from the consent agenda item who will be responsible for maintenance. This item should be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion. Who “owns” the road? What is the position of the Trailside Property Owner’s Association? Is the property owner who violated the code being rewarded by having the County accept a road into its inventory that will later become the responsibility of the County to maintain? This is not an appropriate item for the Consent Agenda.


Agenda Item 5.A. is the appointment of a member of the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Former BOZA member Rod Sturm is an ideal candidate for this position. He did an excellent job in the past and is well-versed in the responsibilities of BOZA.


Agenda Item 6.A. is a public hearing regarding disposition of several County-owned parcels of land. The BOCC should take a broader look at County-owned properties and consider appointing a committee or a consultant to evaluate the thousands of parcels in County ownership and make recommendations for disposition or retention of many more than the six parcels which are up for consideration tomorrow.


Agenda Item 7.A. is an update on the Allapattah Restoration project. This item is pre-set for 2:30 p.m.


Agenda Items 8.A.3., 8.A.4, 8.B.1., and 8.B.2. are matters to be considered by the BOCC in its role as the Board of the Community Redevelopment Agency, beginning at 4:30 p.m. In addition to an update of CRA projects county-wide, there are several issues being brought forward for the Rio CRA.


Agenda Item 8.C.1. is a revival of the Land Acquisition Selection Committee and revision of the LASC manual to establish organizations to provide representatives to the committee that screens properties to be acquired by the County for conservation. Commissioners should consider adding representatives from the Martin County Conservation Alliance, the Guardians of Martin County, the Indian Riverkeeper, and Stuart or Jensen Beach Garden Clubs.


Finally, Item 8.D.1. is a hearing on the Christ Fellowship Church proposal to construct large worship center complex on 321 acres between South Fork High School and Pratt-Whitney Road in the Tropical Farms area. The applicant is seeking a change in required preserve areas, release of unity of title, and acceptance of road and drainage easements. This item is pre-set for 11:00 a.m.


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