Erosion of citizen participation in Martin County government

 

Langford Landing site: A resident who requested an agenda item was curtly advised that there will be no discussion of Langford Landing by the Commission until it is “deemed necessary.” It is not clear who will do the deeming, but it is clear is that the public is being shut out of the process. (Photo source: Paul Shidel)

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The general election is less than six weeks away, but citizen participation is already being discouraged when it comes to issues of public interest that should be brought before the Martin County Commission.  Consider: A resident’s request for an agenda item update on the status of the Langford Landing property was rejected last week, and negotiations with the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast regarding the County’s expired domestic animal services contract continue behind closed doors while animal advocates desperately seek changes to save the lives of healthy, treatable, adoptable animals at the Palm City shelter.

 

Tuesday’s BCC agenda is short and mostly routine.  The River Conditions Update will be delivered by staff at 9:15 a.m. and there are two hour-long shade sessions scheduled at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. to allow the County Attorney to meet with Commissioners in private to discuss settlement or strategy in the Lake Point litigation and the All Aboard Florida legal battle.

 

The owner of the Just Believe Recovery Center on Indian River Drive in Jensen Beach has requested postponement of a re-zoning request until December 6. 

 

Proclamations, grant requests, a code enforcement fine reduction, and a request to accept a utility easement on South Kanner Highway make up the balance of the agenda, which is more notable for what is NOT being brought before the Commission.

 

County Administrator Taryn Kryzda has advised residents to just move along, there’s nothing to see here with respect to the Langford Landing property. 

 

Commissioners directed staff on June 14 — three and a half months ago — to investigate residents’ complaints about clear-cutting, off-site hauling, and other questionable practices on the Langford Landing property, which still looks like a sand mine from the Roosevelt Bridge and is a blight on the riverfront panorama viewed from downtown Stuart.  There apparently have been staff communications with developer Meritage Homes, but the public has been kept in the dark about what, if anything, is going on at the site and what efforts, if any, staff has made to collect hauling fees that may be due to the County based on inaccurate estimates that were submitted with the initial site plan. 

 

A resident who requested an agenda item was curtly advised that there will be no discussion of Langford Landing by the Commission until it is “deemed necessary.” It is not clear who will do the deeming, but it is clear is that the public is being shut out of the process. 

 

A memorandum prepared to provide a status update says: A number of different departments are “working together to review past actions for recommended corrective actions.”  What more do you need to know? 

 

Similar secrecy is being used to try to keep the public out of discussions between the County Administrator and the chief executive officer of the HSTC, which has been the County’s official domestic animal impoundment facility for more than a decade.  The contract expired last week amidst complaints from many former employees, volunteers and members of the public about operation of the Palm City shelter, including a high euthanasia rate for healthy, treatable, adoptable animals and concerns about the use of “heart stick” (intercardiac injection) as the primary method of euthanasia at the shelter. 

 

The BCC appointed a Domestic Animal Control Task Force to review contracts, policies and ordinances related to the care and treatment of stray, abandoned and feral animals in Martin County.  The Task Force has had several extremely productive meetings and has made formal recommendations to the Commission regarding extension or renewal of the HSTC contract, which costs taxpayers $560,000 a year. 

 

The Commission is not scheduled to address the matter until October 18, but it appears that the administrative officers of the County and HSTC have entered into an arrangement to extend the existing contract for another 30 days (although the plain language of the current agreement prohibits extension beyond September 30, 2016) at the current rate of $46,670 per month.  The DAC Task Force extracted a commitment from the County Attorney that a member of the Task Force will be included in further negotiations with HSTC, which should ensure at least some level of public participation in the process.  Information on the work of the Task Force is available on the County’s website by typing “DAC Task Force” in the search box at the top of the home page at www.martin.fl.us.

 

Please let your Commissioners know how you feel about these issues and any other matter of concern to you by attending the BCC meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday at the County Administration Center or by e-mailing them at ascott@martin.fl.usjhaddox@martin.fl.ussheard@martin.fl.usefieldin@martin.fl.us, anddsmith@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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