Renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor Ginny Sherlock provides an update on troubling events in our county government: Martin County staff has rejected the direction of County Commissioners to bring the Langford Landing and Sharon Street mega-garage matters before the Board for discussion, with no mention of either of these matters on Tuesday’s extremely light BCC agenda.
In an item that did make it on the agenda, staff urges Commissioners approve a three-month extension of the County’s expired animal care services contract with the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast without including any of the recommendations of the Domestic Animal Control Task Force that was appointed to review County policies, ordinances and contracts regarding animal care and control.
Item 8A3 is a request to approve an extension of the HSTC contract through December 31, 2016, without making any revisions. The item is not scheduled for a pre-set time, making it impossible for residents to know when it will be discussed.
Staff has put together an agenda packet that notably fails to include a combative letter from HSTC’s President and CEO advising that HSTC does not acknowledge any authority of the Commission-appointed Task Force to review its shelter operations as a key component of the HSTC’s $560,000-a-year taxpayer financed animal care contract. A copy of the letter is attached to this e-mail.
Instead of opening its doors and offering to cooperate with the Task Force and other rescue organizations and shelters to provide the best care and treatment for feral, abandoned and stray animals in Martin County, HSTC has slammed its doors shut and launched an effort to divert attention from the merits of complaints about Palm City shelter operations. HSTC’s President expresses dismay that the Task Force does not include a representative of HSTC and attacks animal advocates as liars who are spreading “vile and false statements” and have been “uncivil” in their criticism of the way the Palm City shelter is managed.
HSTC declined to provide documentation requested by the Task Force, suggesting that a formal Public Records Act request should be made to review the materials. Despite the requirements of Florida Statute Chapter 119 and language in the HSTC contract which requires adherence to public records disclosure laws, the HSTC says that since document inspection has been requested by others, it is not necessary to duplicate efforts by producing documents requested by the Task Force.
This position, of course, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Public Records Act (an agency is not relieved of the obligation to allow one citizen to review documents simply because another citizen previously asked to review the same documents) and reflects HSTC’s aversion to transparency and cooperation with a County board that is trying to fulfill its assigned mission.
The DAC Task Force is comprised of six volunteer members, including a licensed veterinarian, who have spent many hours meeting, discussing, debating and reviewing County ordinances, policies and contracts. At the request of the County Commission, the Task Force prepared recommendations for provisions to be included in any extension or renewal of the HSTC contract (see attached).
Staff recommends, however, that the BCC simply ignore the hard work and efforts of the Task Force by rejecting all of the recommendations and approving a three-month HSTC contract extension that was drafted in secret discussions between staff and the HSTC.
County staff also has asked Clerk Carolyn Timmann to withhold the results of an audit of HSTC’s use of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in performance of the animal care contract. The audit was completed in August and has been undergoing “review” by County staff and administrators who, Clerk Timmann says, have asked that public disclosure be delayed. Since the report has been withheld from the public, it is not known what period was covered. The HSTC contract authorizes the County to audit five years worth of receipts and expenditures, which would amount to more than $2 million in taxpayer funds. The HSTC contract has never been audited by the County which has engaged in absolutely no oversight of contract performance.
The Commission should carefully consider continuing its contractual relationship with HSTC, especially without an opportunity to review the results of the audit and in light of the Task Force recommendations. At the very least, a three-month extension of the HSTC contract should incorporate the key recommendations of the Task Force, that is, elimination of the “heart stick” method of euthanasia, installation of security cameras in the euthanasia area to ensure that proper protocol is followed, implementation of flea control and heartworm prevention programs, and transparency with respect to data and statistics related to shelter operations.
Other agenda items include a River Conditions Update, pre-set for 9:15 a.m., and confirmation of appointment of William A. Schobel as Martin County Fire Chief, pre-set for 9:30 a.m.. Commissioners also are being asked to approve grants for various projects and programs as well as to transfer more than $1 million from budget reserves to pay for continued litigation against All Aboard Florida and the defense of litigation initiated by developers in the Lake Point and Little Club Cell Tower disputes.
What you will not see on the agenda is any discussion of Langford Landing or the Sharon Street mega-garage.
At the October 4, 2016, meeting, Commission Chair Anne Scott asked staff to arrange for BCC discussion of issues related to activities on the Langford Landing development site in Jensen Beach and construction of a two-story, free-standing, industrial-style garage on Sharon Street in the Hobe Sound residential community of Hobe Hills. Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding echoed the Chair’s request.
Nonetheless, County Administrator Taryn Kryzda has advised residents of Sharon Street that staff does not intend to present any item for discussion of the mega-garage that is being built in their neighborhood, where a wetland area was filled in and a waiver of wetland buffer requirements was issued years ago for a single-family home that was never built on the property.
County Attorney Mike Durham has told Jensen Beach residents that “jurisdiction” over the Langford Landing site rests with his office and the County Administrator, suggesting that the Board of County Commissioners has no business discussing the project that has produced intense public interest due to the appearance of the clear-cut property perched on the riverfront. The devastation of the Langford Landing property is visible to pedestrians and motorists crossing the Roosevelt Bridge and from downtown Stuart gathering places.
There has been no explanation from staff about the developer’s failure to pay required hauling fees for trucking fill on and off the site without proper permits. How much money have taxpayers lost in unpaid fees?
County staff is telling both commissioners and citizens to butt out when it comes to issues of concern to many residents – and our pocketbooks.
Let your commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the BCC meeting beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday in Commission Chambers or by e-mailing commissioners at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org, with copies to the County Administrator and County Attorney at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.