The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes the Board of County Commissioners’ meetings for items of interest to 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 Commissioner Regular Meeting on 05/25/2021, observed Graciela Greenberg and Maureen Dardinski.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Feeding Tampa Bay –
is part of the national Feeding America network, focuses on providing food to over 1 million food insecure families in a 10-county area of West Central Florida. Thomas Mantz’ comments to the BoCC on Manatee County (MC) included: In MC there is wide gap between income and what people can afford.
- Feeding Tampa Bay in Manatee has a mega distribution program working school pantries and other organizations and groups. One organization delivers cooked frozen meals to families in need.
- Intervention will end when there is no more need for these services; they anticipate by 2025 the county’s poverty levels will improve.
- Two citizens spoke in favor of banning horses in Palma Sola Bay. Pinellas County banned them from water in 2019 and now the commercial stables come to Palma Sola Bay, causing damage to sea grasses and adding manure which could have water borne health hazards. Another speaker commented that the local equine community needs to be included in discussions.
- Six people commented about the imminent loss of the Palmetto boat ramp and parking, including a 5th generation MC commercial fisherman. Already there is not enough parking for recreational boating and commercial fishing.
Resolution Appointing Dr. Scott Hopes County Administrator
A broad ranging discussion ultimately resulted in approving a new contract with Hopes. Topics included removing “acting” from title, increasing salary from $187,000 to $199,000 (to make him the highest paid county employee), retaining a 1 year term with self and board evaluations by year-end and Hopes being required to resign the school board by 6/2/21. Approval of the contract 5 to 2. Kruse and Bellamy dissenting.
Waiving Fees for Missed Filing Deadlines – Agenda Items 13-16, Commissioners discussed the question of whether they make a practice of waiving these fees and ignoring the recommendations of the magistrate who assessed them. Hopes said he would review the process so that the individual cases don’t have to be brought to the BoCC to waive the fee. Servia and Van Ostenbridge asked for a workshop on Code Enforcement so they could learn more about this issue.
Value Adjustment Board Appointments (hear disputes about property value assessments) – As required, 3 commissioners were appointed to serve on this board and 1 alternate.
American Rescue Plan
There was a detailed presentation about the County’s partnership with Ernst and Young working on the distribution of funds coming from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) of $78.2 million.
Topics covered were: ARP Direct Federal Aid to Manatee County, ARP Federal Aid to Cities, ARP Eligible Costs, Public Health Response, Negative Economic Impacts, Equity-Focused Services, Broadband Infrastructure, Water and Sewer Infrastructure, Premium Pay for Essential Workers, ARP Ineligible Costs, Partnerships and Collaboration.
- There will be a work session on this issue on August 11th.
- Glen Gibillina called in to ask if the ALICE citizens would be eligible for ARP money to pay for internet, the answer was yes, with an application process.
Confirmation of Appointment of Deputy County Administrator
Scott Hopes reported there was a national search going on for this position with 40 applicants. The candidate he selected had the most Florida experience and had government and public sector experience. The confirmation of the candidate selected was deferred to June 8, 2021.
Letter to the City of Holmes Beach Regarding Parking on Holmes Beach – Van Ostenbridge noted there are 1600 parking spaces still not released and are greatly needed. The Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter from the BoCC to the Mayor of Holmes Beach expressing their concerns and asking for a meeting to work things out.
- Kruse is proposing an annual event for the homeless with many non-profit, Veterans Affairs and community agency partners. The event would be near public transportation and have free food.
- Servia noted there will be an event on 5/27/21 from 10-11:30 to get community input on the new Cortez Bridge.
- Hopes’ Appointment:
- Attorney Clague said Hopes cannot remove directors at will unless it is for disciplinary issues; he will follow the employee manual.
- Kruse said citizens were told there would be a national search and that didn’t happen and is not happy they are proposing to increase Hopes’ salary.
- Baugh increased the salary because another employee would have made more than Hopes.
- Bellamy described 3 “doozies” about the process:
- This move goes against any HR hiring process
- They promised a national search and didn’t do it
- If they approve Hopes before the end of 90 day probation period it sets a precedent for all other directors to skip the 90 day probation.
- Horses: Whitmore – there’s always been horses in PS Bay for 5 decades; Attorney Clague – the causeway is under the control of Department of Transportation; Van Ostenbridge – the horse issue should go to the City.
- Boat Ramp: Bellamy – we need to give commercial fisherman more credit; Whitmore – this is a Palmetto issue, not for BoCC; Kruse – the reality is we can not provide everything and satisfy everyone. Van Ostenbridge was tasked with finding potential locations for boat ramps and parking.
- Lack of consistency and not following agreed upon processes for County Administrator hiring led to an imperfect process which has led to acrimony and attacks within the BoCC, which in turn is reflected in public discontent. More sharing of information and coordination with each other and following their own rules will lead to more things being accomplished and better relationships between the commissioners.
- Contract negotiations with Hopes by Baugh without input from other commissioners concerning terms and supporting information is not working collaboratively with each other and striving to achieve a consensus. Commissioners did not have time to consider broad impacts.
- Baugh slighted Bellamy twice when she forgot that, as planned, Bellamy, as a veteran, was to lead the pledge and subsequently to do the proclamation of 5/31 as day to recognize Memorial Day.
- In two cases, Commissioners ignored advice of their staff/administration: Commissioners. Relying on the experts advise or asking those experts for alternative solutions will speed meetings meeting a lead to better solutions. The two cases were:
1. The County Transportation Department recommended denial of an application to vacate a right-of-way because it would reduce the area for children to walk through the property to reach their school. There was a long discussion about this issue including Deputy County Attorney Pamela D’Agostino and comments by County Attorney Clague. A motion passed unanimously to vacate the right-of-way and adopt Resolution R-21-058.
2. Magistrate $28.50 fees. Fees frequently waived when citizen complains over magistrate decision.
- Information and documentation on the proposed deputy county administrator was not provided to the commissioners during the evaluation process nor at this meeting.
- Hopes effectively closed down the conversation about waiver of $28.50 fees shows that he recognizes the need to improve the process, get more consistency and let the BoCC focus on more important issues.