Packed BCC agenda full of financial land-mines

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners agenda is a whopping 1,743 pages packed with land-mines for the unwary.
 
The agenda features massive spending projects and questionable proposals for changes to our Comprehensive Plan that are presented in a confusing mish-mash compounded by website issues that make it difficult if not impossible for citizens to figure out what is being considered.
 
In Agenda Item 101, Commission Chair Doug Smith asks his colleagues to adopt a resolution opposing legislation that prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances regulating businesses, occupations or professions. House Bill17 and Senate Bill1158 would eliminate local control over businesses, which would be governed only by statewide regulations.
 
The proposed legislation should certainly be opposed by all local governing bodies.  What is interesting about Agenda Item 101 is that Commissioner Smith is actually asking his fellow commissioners to discuss and vote on proposed legislation in a public meeting, rather than simply notifying legislators of the County’s opposition based solely on Smith’s own opinion.  Earlier this month, Smith sent letters to the sponsors of another proposed law advising them that the Martin County Board of County Commissioners opposes bills that would require members of Community Redevelopment Agency boards to comply with ethics rules and county procurement and purchasing policies.  On March 14, 2017, Smith sent letters “on behalf of the Martin County Board of County Commissioners” objecting to the legislation despite the fact that there was no public discussion or vote by the Commission to oppose HB13 and SB1770.
 
Agenda Item 101 makes it clear that Smith knows the County Commission acts as a whole, not by fiat issued by the Chair.  The March 14 letters, however, raise concerns about what Smith tells legislators during visits to Tallahassee or in communications that suggest he determines by fiat the position of the Commission on issues that have not been discussed in open public meetings.
 
You may want to hold onto your wallets while reviewing much of Tuesday’s agenda.
 
The Consent Agenda – items that are automatically approved without public discussion – includes requests for approval of contracts costing up to $18 million over the next five years to be issued by the Engineering Department, the Airport, Parks & Recreation and the General Services Department (Agenda Item 4B1).  This amounts to giving department heads a blank check to spend millions of taxpayer dollars for unidentified “miscellaneous projects.”
 
Another Consent Agenda item (Item 4B2) seeks to facilitate funding for a U.S. Customs facility at the Martin County Airport which, as many residents are keenly aware, has seen a massive increase in the number of planes with increased noise and disruption caused by aircraft flying in and out when Palm Beach County airspace is restricted due to presidential visits.
   
And, finally, without public discussion or consideration, the Consent Agenda (Item 4D1) seeks approval of an extension of a “sole source” lease of cell tower space by the County with a $1,200-a-month rent increase for Public Safety Radio System.  With the growing number of cell towers throughout the County, it is not clear why this lease is being considered under “sole source” rules that apply to products or services that are not available from any other source.
 
Item 81A seeks approval to apply for grants to provide $900,000.00 in state funding to be matched by more than $1.9 million in local funding for the unpopular, unnecessary, and environmentally harmful Jensen Beach Mooring Field in the Indian River Lagoon. 
 
And the Engineering Department wants to transfer $300,000.00 in gas tax proceeds to pay for cost overruns for the $5.8 million Highway I-95 interchange “improvements” off Kanner Highway.
 
There are several items related to Community Redevelopment Areas which are slickly packaged but not particularly substantive.  The budget figures presented in Agenda Item 8A3 and 8A4 are difficult to follow but appear to reflect millions of dollars of spending for CRA projects that were previously proposed at far lower anticipated costs.  Item 6C seeks a modification of the CRA vision plans to incorporate “creative placemaking” – a bureaucratic term which is not defined but which appears to involve public art projects within CRAs. 
 
Agenda Item 5A is the appointment of four members of the Animal Care and Control Oversight Board which was established to replace the Domestic Animal Care Task Force. There are several excellent applicants, including animal shelter advocates Polly Campenni and Keri Burgess and long-time Hobe Sound veterinarian Richard Smith, DVM.  Rita Nelson, a former officer and director of the old Animal Rescue League that ultimately became the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast, is also a worthy candidate with decades of commitment to animals.
 
A discussion on small upland preserve areas that is scheduled as Agenda Item 8C3 arose from problems generated by the Flash Beach Grille dispute several years ago in which the owners of a Hobe Sound restaurant complained that they should not have to follow County rules requiring property owners to set aside a property for wildlife and native vegetation.  The dispute was eventually settled, and the owners of the restaurant have now put their business up for sale.
 
Agenda Item 8C6 is a 213-page presentation on amendments to the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan as part of the Evaluation and Appraisal Report.  This item is far too complex for a 15-minute staff presentation and deserves a workshop to allow the public and commissioners to understand and digest the proposed recommended changes.
 
Item 8A6 proposes revisions to the Commission’s Rules of Procedure.  The item was not available for downloading on the website in a manner that would allow for identification and review of the proposed changes.  E-mails exchanged between the County Administrator and the  County Attorney’s Office earlier this month suggest dissatisfaction with existing rules related to “emergency meetings” and propose a new category of “special meetings” that can be called for non-emergency items with only 24 hours notice to the public.  The new commission has regularly scheduled meetings only twice a month, making it difficult to give timely and full consideration to some issues that may come up. The answer is not to hastily schedule “special meetings”, however.  County Commissioners are elected to full-time positions and should devote the time necessary to do their jobs.  For many, many years, commission meetings were scheduled once a week.  By cutting the number of meetings in half, the current commission has significantly reduced the ability of the public to participate in local government activities.  By attempting to reduce notice of “special meetings” to be held on non-scheduled days, public participation would be curtailed even more dramatically.
 
Other items of interest on Tuesday’s agenda include:
 
– Item 86D, inexplicably listed under Martin County Airport presentations, presents a new contract between the County and the Business Development Board which proposes to fund the BDB at a rate of $400,000.00-450,000.00 a year in taxpayer dollars to continue what has proven to be an extremely ineffective, costly, and discriminatory economic development program that favors certain local businesses and industries (marine, aviation, health care) at the expense of others (retail, restaurants, service, professional).
 
– Item 8A2 requests approval of a contract for newly appointed County Attorney Sarah Woods, at an annual salary of $155,000.00 until she is required to terminate her employment on December 31, 2018, pursuant to the State of Florida employee retirement program.  
 
– Item 8A5 purports to offer a “solution” to a problematic Interlocal Agreement between the City of Stuart and Martin County to convert County-leased space in Willoughby Commons to County-owned space for the tax collector and other County offices.  I am unable to figure out what is being proposed, except that it appears the County will pay the City $10,000.00 a year for some years for something for some reason.
 
– Several land use matters – Items 8C5 (Florida Club PUD amendment), 8C2 (Savanna Oaks PAMP amendment), 8C4 (revision of Palm Cove PUD preserve area), 8C1 (Stuart Jet Center revised major final site plan approval), and 6D (Placid Cove re-zoning) – are too complex to review (and which have been impossible to review due to website problems retrieving applicable files).
 
It is apparent that with a limited number of regular meetings established by the current Commission, it will be increasingly difficult to provide full and comprehensive review of the number of agenda items that will have to be addressed in each meeting.
 
Does anyone really believe that all of the Commissioners will have actually reviewed all 1,743 pages of the agenda before Tuesday’s meeting?
 
It is also apparent that the new Commission Chair and County Administrator want to limit access by the public to information and meetings of the Commission.
 
Does anyone really believe this Commission wants to have meaningful public participation in local government affairs?
 
As always, let commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the meeting at 9:00 a.m. in Commission Chambers or by e-mailing commissioners at  sheard@martin.fl.usefieldin@martin.fl.ushjenkins@martin.fl.useciampi@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and the Interim County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us and swoods@martin.fl.us.

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