The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes the Board of County Commissioners’ (BoCC) 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 Commissioners Regular Meeting on 11/16/2021, observed by Rose Arnone, Ruth Harenchar and Ginger McCallum.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Manatee County 2022 Legislative Priorities
The 2022 annual list of county priorities for state legislators is due on November 17 to Representative Gregory’s office. A draft, prepared by County Administrator Hopes from individual meetings with the commissioners, was not included in the updated agenda packet nor given to the commissioners until Monday evening. The commissioners had 3 being top issues: Piney Point Cleanup, the widening of Moccasin Wallow Road and funding for Community based Foster Care.
Some of the other issues for legislative priority included, in no order:
- DeSoto Bridge
- Anna Maria Bridges and Fort Hamer Bridge
- Affordable Housing
- Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge over Route 41 in Palmetto
- Environmental Lands
- Anna Maria Island Beach Erosion Control
After discussion in the morning and afternoon, the commissioners moved to authorize the amended priorities. Approved unanimously.
Funds for Replacement Radio Equipment for Sheriff’s department.
This request is in addition to 2021/22 Sheriff’s Department budget. The current radios are substandard for law enforcement work and starting to fail. Hopes recommended replacing 25% of the current radios and a rolling 25% replacement annually thereafter. After discussion, commissioners decided to replace all the radios at once for approximately $10 million. Passed unanimously.
Parks and Natural Resources Master Plan.
The Professional Services Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) Master Plan was approved as part of the consent agenda.
Consultant Guthrie presented 3 maps that were discussed at the 11/09/21 meetings with boundaries cleaned up per discussion at that meeting. He stated they could be made available to the public via electronic PDF files, interactive GIS via a link to a county site, and large printed maps.
The 3 maps are:
- Map A – prepared by Guthrie
- Map B –submitted by Baugh/cleaned up by Guthrie per the 11/09 discussion
- Map C –submitted by Servia/cleaned up by Guthrie per the 11/9 discussion
Servia expressed concern that Map B changed the boundaries to include a subdivision into District 4 that was the home to someone who said they would run against Servia.
Kruse commented that all 3 proposed maps dilute the current minority representation of District 4 (currently 33%). All 3 proposed maps would decrease minority voting age population to approximately 23%. None of the maps identify partisan leaning, a Florida Constitution Fair Districts criteria.
Servia, Bellamy, and Whitmore commented that Map A, prepared by the consultant, should be the only one presented to the public for consideration. Satcher, Baugh, Kruse and VanOstenbridge all endorsed Map B, initially created by Baugh, to also be posted. The final vote, unanimously, was to present Maps A & B, but not Map C to the public.
County Library Master Plan
Key finding of the study is that the Manatee library system does not meet 2 of 14 national standards that rate library systems. Manatee County needs to hire 38 people and double the square footage of library buildings to meet the minimum standards. The recently approved east county library would improve the space deficit but not eliminate it.
Kruse brought up whether the county should sell the GTE Building to a nonprofit theatre group (Manatee Players) for $150,000, which was proposed approximately two years ago. The discussion centered around the dilemma of making downtown Bradenton into a “destination” versus the cost to renovate the building into additional office space for county personnel. Servia noted that the sale was not being fiscally conservative. Proceeding with the sale was passed 4/3 with Baugh, Servia, and Satcher voting no.
Florida has an interest in acquiring Rattlesnake Key in Bishop Harbor as a state park. State Senator Boyd contacted VanOstenbridge asking if the county might contribute $5 million towards the purchase from the referendum funds. Commissioners were enthusiastic about the possibility of another preserve or recreational area, but ownership would need to stay with the county to use those funds. Kruse also questioned the large percentage of the fund it would use and felt the purpose of the levy would be better served elsewhere. VanOstenbridge will continue the dialog with Boyd.
- Late additions to the agenda continue to limit Commissioner and the public’s ability to consider and review items fully.
- The legislative priorities topic was contentious:
- Board members did not have sufficient input into the priorities nor a shared understanding of the process.
- During the commentary, there was blaming and an unnamed individual was called out by Baugh for a list being sent to Representative Gregory’s office without the BoCC knowledge/approvals. Misty called several times for the commission to hold off on public comments about staff until they had all the information.
- The commissioners did not have a copy of what was submitted to see what needed to be amended, nor were they able to get a copy of the 2021 priorities that a citizen sent to Baugh.
- They got caught “in the weeds” on several items in terms of cost and project scope, rather than identifying a high-level priorities list.
- When Servia had the floor and was speaking, she asked the Chair and County Administrator to stop a sidebar conversation. Baugh responded inappropriately, saying. “ when you are chair you can run the meetings.” which violates the governance standard, “Commissioners listen attentively and act respectfully to each other”.
- The proposal to outlaw abortion in Manatee County, which has no abortion providers, locks the commission and the citizens in a recurring cycle of divisive debate and discussion at every meeting. It can only end when this proposal is withdrawn, or a motion to no longer pursue a ban is passed.
All 3 maps considered, and the two maps selected for public view and comment, preserve the minority character of District 2. However, all 3 dilute the current level of minority representation of District 4, from 33% to 23%. The LWVMC feels the BoCC can do better and draw a map that preserves the minority character of both Districts 2 and 4. None of the maps show partisan levels, which should also be highlighted per the Florida Constitution, Fair Districts Amendments.
A clear process for public view and comment is needed as well as the remainder of the steps with dates.
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