The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) meetings for items of interest to citizens and the League and notes adherence, or lack of adherence, to good governance procedures and the Sunshine Law. The following are the major points from the Board of Manatee County Commissioners Regular Meeting on 2/13/2024 observed by Coleen Friedman.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Invocation led by Pastor Mike Harrison, New Wine Worship Center
Pledge of Allegiance – Bob Vagnier, Lt. Col US Army & Marine Corps. 20 year highly decorated veteran who recently joined the Utilities department for the county.
No items were pulled from the Consent Agenda by Commissioners.
Employee of the Month – Jody Fisk, Public Services Director, recognized Ervan White, Code Officer in the Public Safety Department. She described a recent incident at the beach where he identified a woman in distress and called paramedics; he then personally made sure that her five children were safe until the father arrived.
Adoption of Resolution R-24-038, designating a portion of 27th Street East, in Bradenton, as “Roberto Clemente Memorial Way” – Bradenton Mayor Brown said the resolution is an example of collaboration between the county and the city as 27th St. is a county road in the city limits. Roberto Clemente played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, which conducts Spring Training in Bradenton. Clemente exemplified the game of baseball, sportsmanship, and community involvement. The official unveiling will take place Feb. 21; 21 was Clemente’s jersey number.
Presentation of the OnBase Agenda Online New Full Text Search Functionality
The OnBase Agenda Management System is used by County employees, Commissioners, and public to access Board of County Commissioners, Planning Commission, Construction Trade Board Hearing Officer, and Historic Preservation Board Agendas. The system was first implemented In February 2021, and has included several phases to increase the functionality of the system. The latest functionality allows for Full Text Search capabilities through an agenda. This feature allows users to search the text of documents and find search results related to agenda items. Link – How To Access this Functionality
Presentation on the Veteran’s Memorial Park – Deputy Administrator Brian Parnell presented an overview of the concept of a 24-acre Manatee County Memorial Park the County is planning and requested approval of $4 million for planning detail, design and initial construction activities. He noted that the county is home to 40,000 veterans but has no current center or park to honor them. The proposed park would include a welcome center and thirty sites for memorials (which would be donated by organizations) as well as a walking path through the park. The park is located off Buckeye Rd. Beardon is sponsoring the project made a motion to approve the $4 million request.
Kruse asked what is being done specifically with the $4 million. Parnell said that the actual cost to detail the plan is closer to $2 million but they want to be able to add additional steps to have flexibility. The total cost of the park will be about $30 million and would be funded with both county funds and grants to be procured. Sheila McLean, CFO, reiterated the detail cost is $2 million and said that taking $4 million from the general fund will give them the most flexibility because the general fund is unrestricted. Charlie Bishop added that the property was owned by the county and that there is funding through our congressperson for $3 million.
Kruse said again that he would prefer to approve only $2 million since that is the cost to do the detail and if more is needed, then staff can allow transparency by returning to ask for more. Van Ostenbridge thanked staff and said that since the Board hired an administrator who can be trusted to not waste taxpayer money, he is comfortable with the request. He then called for a vote.
Public comment regarding the motion:
- Several citizens expressed support for the project, with a couple of them also expressing concerns about approving more money than was needed for the next step.
- Carol Felts commented on the cost of the rendering for the park, which Bearden distributed at his town hall meeting that she attended. She chided the board to do things prudently and to be better citizens to honor veterans by upholding the values they fought for. She and Carl H asked the BoCC to allow citizens to do the work by a steering committee.
- Keith Green identified himself as a son and nephew of Vietnam Veterans and said he was disgusted by anyone who would vote against funds to honor veterans.
*Felts (District 1) and Green (District 5) are candidates for county commission in the 2024 election.
Motion for $4 million approved 7-0.
Proclamation Designating February 17 – 24, 2024, as “Florida Cracker Trail Ride Week” in Manatee County – The term “cracker” came from the sound of the whip used by the Florida settlers to drive livestock across the only dry route in Florida. For 37 years the Florida Crackers have sponsored the same trail ride to commemorate those settlers. This year 178 riders will ride 135 miles from Bradenton to Ft. Pierce. On Saturday morning there will be a small group riding out from Kibler Ranch on SR 64. The official ride begins Sunday.
Proclamation Designating February 17 and 18, 2024, as the “Forty-Second Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival Days” in Manatee County – The festival celebrates 140 years of the commercial fishing industry, which also supports the FISH preserve. Angela Collins of the UF Sea Grant highlighted that saltwater fishery contributes $7 billion annually to Florida and commercial fishing creates 7,000 jobs.
Selected Citizen Comments- Future Agenda Items
- Several citizens commented on the issue of homelessness and more attention being paid to the issue(s), as well as the need for advisory committees.
- Pat S. reminded the Board that there are 70,000 people living with disabilities who don’t have a voice in the county.
- Andra G said she was speaking as a child advocate and chided the Board for never having a conversation about children.
- Carol F. acknowledged the website improvements and appealed for the Board to restore public comment call-ins. She challenged them to revitalize advisory committees.
Commissioner Responses/Comments on Citizen Comments – Future Agenda Items:
Van Ostenbridge said that the Board has addressed issues for children citing a new PAL facility, shelter for families with children and $70 million allocated for a new ADA accessible playground for children. He said it isn’t true that the county doesn’t do anything for vets and cited Fresh Start, a new site for temporary housing that once opened will allow Salvation Army and Turning Points to have more transitional capacity.
Time Certain – Item 50, Execution of a County Deed, Donation Agreement, and Use Agreement with the New College of Florida Board of Trustees for property located at the Powel Crosley Estate – District 4
The property acquisition manager gave a brief overview that nine acres of Crosley estate that the Board approved on October 10. Today the Board is being asked to approve the execution of a deed, donation agreement, and use agreement. There will be an easement on the property to allow the county to complete a capital improvement project already in progress. The property is being deeded the NCF exclusively for use in public education.
President of New College Corcoran thanked the Board for supporting events at New College and said that their Board fully supports the land acquisition so that new dorms can be constructed
No public comment. Approved 7-0
Consent Agenda/Approval of Consent Agenda – Motion to approve passed 7-0
Items of Interest
Deputy Administrator DePol presented slides which showed that Manatee County is one of the most dangerous places for pedestrians. Analysis of data shows that slowing down can be effective in reducing the fatality rate. The 2023 Florida Legislature passed HB 657 which went into effect July 1 2023 and allows automated enforcement in school zones. An in depth study demonstrates the high rates of drivers exceeding school zones by 10 mph or more The consequences of exceeding the speed would be civil only; no points assessed.
Ballard asked if the enforcement window is just during drop off and pick up or all day. DePol said the statute allows all day although the Board can specify. Rahn was supportive and wanted to clarify how, given the many people who contested red light cameras, enforcement would work. DePol said that an interlocal agreement with the Sheriff’s office allows them to decide when tickets would be issued. Kruse noted that school zone enforcement “is completely different” than red-light cameras as speed isn’t subjective.
Andra G. was opposed because the underlying data commingled children with all pedestrians. She wanted more details about the impact of speeding in school zones.
LWVMC NOTE: “Piggyback Contracting” is a procurement method that allows public agencies, schools and community college districts to acquire personal property outside the competitive bid process by utilizing, or “piggybacking” onto, a pre-existing contract from another public agency as allowed by Public Contract Code.
From the County’s Background Material: The item being presented is for the County to enter into a piggyback contract for the turnkey installation and operation of an automated speed detection and enforcement system at school zones located in Manatee County, utilizing the terms and conditions of the competitively solicited and awarded contract between the City of Alpharetta, Georgia and RedSpeed.
The proposed contract with RedSpeed Georgia, LLC (RedSpeed) provides a speed detection camera system and program that is exclusively violator funded and includes all speed detection cameras and systems inclusive of permitting, installation, repair, maintenance, and signage to detect violators. RedSpeed is responsible for mailing citations to violators. The system also provides a secure website accessible for violators to view images and a portal to pay for citations electronically. The implementation of this program will be at no cost to the County and revenue positive, as the vendor will make the initial capital investment for purchase and installation of the cameras.
Jake Erickson, Purchasing Official presented himself for questioning.
- Kruse asked why piggybacking and not using a full procurement process? Jake said that for the sake of efficiency and time it was hoped to immediately implement based on the RFP process conducted in Alpharetta, Georgia in 2019. Kruse stated that the FL law went into effect on July 1 2023, so there was time to conduct a study, asking why wasn’t one done, why use another states’ study and does someone want to give someone a contract, and how do we know it’s still an “real” (valid) bid?
- DePol answered that it is a zero-dollar contract, so the vendor puts all the money upfront and then gets a percentage of fees; competitive bidding might only result in a percent or two advantage. She was concerned about staff time to do RFP’s.
- Turner said that parents in his district are concerned about safety for their children. Zero cost and profit share make it worth supporting.
- Satcher recounted early experience as Commissioner getting sidewalks put in for kids, saying it was a priority and done quickly.
Selected Public Comment
- Andra G acknowledged that she is on the wrong side of this issue, asking can anyone document how many children have been hurt? She said she doesn’t want taxpayers to be “bamboozled.”
- A representative of Genoptics Smart Mobility (a competitor to Red Zone), a Florida company based in Jupiter, said he is against piggybacking based on a 5-year-old contract. He pointed out that there isn’t language about assignability for studies by another state.
Motion to approve passed 6-1; Kruse voting No.
A vacancy exists on the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, seat #8 is stipulated as a citizen who is actively serving on the local planning agency. Of the 2 eligible citizens who applied, Satcher nominated Keith Green and Van Ostenbridge moved immediately to close nominations.
No public comment. Motion to appoint Keith Green passed 7-0.
Commissioner Agenda Items
Satcher: asked the Board for support to look at the current Handi-Bus protocols that require a long lead time to book a ride for those in further out areas such as Myakka. Handi-Bus service is a door-to-door public transportation service provided for individuals with disabilities who are unable to use the regular fixed route buses. Sarasota is now using an Uber model.
Van Ostenbridge said he would like to move to direct staff to come back to the board in 90-120 days with a proposal to incorporate smaller vehicles or a ride share model into the fleet. Satcher would also like to add a 24-hour lead time. Motion as stated by Van Ostenbridge was put forward.
- Andra G agreed with the concept as there are a lot of elderly residents. Administrator Charlie Bishop invited Chad Butzow to talk about current updates to Handi-Bus staff is investigating. He said that most of the ideas presented here are being considered as they address more services for veterans. Currently there are two services: one for ADA (disabilities) that has a 24-hour window for booking and the one for those who are transportation disadvantaged, which has a 48 hour window.
Motion passed 7-0.
Chairperson Rahn allowed citizens to be interrupted by commissioners during citizen comments, and for disrespectful comments by commissioners against other commissioners. This lack of respect should not be tolerated and is not in alignment with their Rules and Procedures.
The Rules also stipulate no personal attacks and Chair Rahn should be exceedingly cautious of citizen comments by those who are actively running for a commission seat (Felts, Green) and making attacks and campaigning in the guise of citizen comments should not be tolerated.
On a positive note, Chair Rahn did allow extra time for a citizen’s comments when her obvious voice disability impacted her ability to complete her statement in 3 minutes.
Despite exhortations that commissioners are “running the County like a business”, and despite the fact that Government is not a business and running it effectively differs, approving expenditures for the Veterans Park significantly greater than what the projected costs for planning and initial construction and approving a contract without a request for proposal (RFP) and analysis of the vendors and their products is neither running the county like a business nor managing the county using good governance procedures and principles.