Tuesday’s shocking agenda: BOCC asked to eliminate oak trees; applause; 9:05 public comment


Some of the more egregious proposed changes in BOCC rules of procedure include:eliminating the pre-set 9:05 public comment period; allowing the Commission chair to limit or preclude “repetitive” public comment; and, prohibiting members of the public from “calling out individual Commissioners” (although Commissioners are not prohibited from calling out individual members of the public).  

Renowned local attorney and civic activist Ginny Sherlock details the upcoming June 9 Board of County Commissioners’ shocking agenda:

After a three-week hiatus, the Martin County Commission returns to an agenda that seems designed to keep the public from meddling in the affairs of local government.

New rules of procedure that may stifle public participation will be considered by commissioners in a 2:00 p.m. workshop on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.

Other pre-set items include a proposal to establish a maximum civil penalty in animal control cases to be heard at 10:00 a.m., a private attorney-client session at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the federal lawsuit filed by the County to block public financing for All Aboard Florida, and a 3:00 p.m. workshop on the Secondary Urban Services District.

An item seeking the go-ahead for a $375,000 project to repair and beautify the Administration Center parking lot was discussed by commissioners in private individual meetings with staff and has now been placed on the Consent Agenda to avoid public discussion. Item 4E1 revives a 2013-2014 proposal (not included in the FY15 Capital Improvements Plan) to replace the parking lot’s concrete surface and “failing” drainage pipes. After further evaluation, staff says the pipes are actually OK and most of the concrete is satisfactory, so the scope of the project has been changed to replace only portions of the concrete surface, to reconfigure vehicular and pedestrian traffic patterns and to install speed bumps in the parking lot. Staff also wants to remove and replace 5 live oak trees with 7 or 8 royal palm trees because “oak tree droppings [are] a pedestrian hazard.” Placing the item on the Consent Agenda avoids having to explain this extravagant expenditure to residents who have been told the County doesn’t have enough money to repair roads in their neighborhoods, critical bridge and drainage infrastructure.

Another questionable proposal seeks authorization to use more than $160,000 in unallocated “road and pedestrian pathway impact fees” to make up shortfalls in the cost of the Kanner Highway-I-95 interchange project which is the first phase of widening Kanner Highway from I-95 to Monterey Road. (Expect public comment at Tuesday’s meeting from residents opposed to the plan to turn Kanner Highway into a 6-lane expressway lined with 12-to-16-foot-high concrete noise walls.) The request for BOCC authorization to divert impact fees from other road projects to the Kanner Highway project is contained in Agenda Item 8A1.

Agenda Item 6B, pre-set for 10:00 a.m., establishes a maximum civil penalty of $500 for violating the Animal Control ordinance. Staff wants the Commission to also consider proposals related to tethering pets and leaving animals unattended in parked vehicles.

Workshops scheduled for 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. will be conducted in a workshop meeting room rather than Commission chambers, which means the proceedings will not be televised. This has become a common practice in recent months, making it harder for residents to follow or participate in Commission workshops (and forcing residents to expose themselves to the dangers of tripping over hazardous live oak tree droppings if they come to the Administration Center to attend workshops.)

The Secondary Urban Services District workshop at 3:00 p.m., Item 8C1, is designed to address Comprehensive Plan policies related to development in the SUSD, including extension of water and sewer utilities into rural residential areas , as developers set their sights on cheaper, undeveloped land outside the Primary Urban Services District and promote urban sprawl.

The Rules of Procedure workshop, Item 8B1, scheduled for 2:00 p.m. offers a how-to guide for inhibiting public participation in local government. Staff advises that some of the proposals evolved from “stakeholder meetings” conducted by the County Attorney’s Office and the Growth Management Department.

NOTE TO BOCC: “Stakeholders” means “developers”. Residents and representatives of citizen advocacy groups were not included in “stakeholder” meetings that generated these proposals. Invitees were primarily development attorneys, landscape architects, land planners, and out-of-county professionals.

Some of the more egregious proposed changes in BOCC rules of procedure include:

– Eliminating the pre-set 9:05 public comment period. The 9:05 public pre-set was a long-standing tradition in Martin County until a pro-development Commission several years ago relegated public comment to an uncertain time, depending on when proclamation presentations were concluded. The pre-set public comment period was restored after a citizen-friendly Commission was seated, but the proposed rules change would trash the 9:05 tradition and again make it harder for citizens to address the BOCC before heading off to work.

– Eliminating public comment during quasi-judicial hearings “unless the person (who wants to speak) has a right to be heard as otherwise provided by law.” This rule change is designed to restrict public comment during re-zoning, variance and similar proceedings. A homeowner who does not live within 300 feet of the subject property or a citizen who lives in a different part of the County could be prohibited from speaking during a hearing on a site plan, zoning application, or other development order. This and other changes are supposedly designed to comply with Florida’s “Right to Speak Law,” which establishes minimum requirements for allowing citizens to speak at public meetings. The rules change proposal uses the law to suppress public participation which historically has been maximized, not minimized, in Martin County.

– Prohibiting members of the public from “calling out individual Commissioners” (although Commissioners are not prohibited from calling out individual members of the public).

– Prohibiting the public from applauding during a Commission meeting or otherwise expressing approval or disapproval in a “raucous or boisterous” manner.

– Eliminating requirements for placing items on the Consent Agenda. Staff says language identifying items that can be placed on the Consent Agenda appears in the Agenda Policies and Procedures Manual. However, the language in that manual can be changed at any time without BOCC approval, which means requirements for placing items on the Consent Agenda will once again be established by administrators who abused the Consent Agenda for many years to obtain approval of new projects and expenditures without public discussion before the Board adopted the current rules.

– Requiring visual displays accompanying public comment to be submitted for approval at least one week in advance of the meeting at which comment is to be made.

– Allowing the Commission chair to limit or preclude “repetitive” public comment. Individual speakers have 3 minutes to speak. Representatives speaking on behalf of a group of persons would be given 5 minutes to speak. This is an effort to eliminate similar comments being delivered by different residents who share the same views and could eliminate the right of some residents to speak if a neighbor expresses the same concerns. This proposal is designed to limit, not to expand, public comment when a group of residents is concerned about a particular issue.

The proposed changes to the rules of procedure are heavily weighted against individual citizens and seriously threaten decades of determined efforts that have made Martin County a model for citizen participation in local government.

Please tell Commissioners how you feel about these measures – while you still can.

If you can’t attend Tuesday’s meeting at 9:00 a.m., contact your commissioners by e-mailing 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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