LWVMC Notes from 4/25/2023 County Commission Regular Meeting 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 4/25/2023 observed by Ruth Harenchar and Coleen Friedman. ITEMS OF INTEREST Link to Agenda and Meeting Video Invocation delivered by Harvest United Methodist Church Pulled from Consent Agenda – Adoption of Resolution 23-078, appointing Jon D. Mast as Acting County Administrator (immediately discussed) Commissioner Kruse re-stated his objections to hiring Mast as the Acting Administrator, made at a previous Board of County Commissioner (BOCC) meeting: the timing was terrible given the timeline to produce the next county budget – exacerbated by the start date of May 22 rather than immediately. the financial terms of the proposed contract set up the national search for a County Administrator for failure; i.e., no candidate for Administrator would accept less than what Mast would get as Acting Administrator and the amount was too high. the contract term guaranteeing Mast a position as Deputy Commissioner was illegal because by statute the Administrator is solely authorized to select their own staff. Commissioner Bearden said he agreed completely with Kruse and that the total annual compensation package was worth $258-265,000 and would be the most the county had ever paid to an Administrator. Chair Van Ostenbridge made the point that he negotiated the current contract with Washington for $200,000 but the board voted to remove him from the Mast contract negotiations. Commissioner Ballard said the proposed contract needed to be revised with someone from the BOCC part of the re-negotiation. Kruse proposed Bearden be the commissioner to join Clague in the contract negotiations. Public Comments: Martin Hyde, Sarasota Republican politician – Hiring Mast as Acting Administrator is the same as hiring a bank robber to run a bank. Commissioners were choosing the interests of the few, the developers, versus the interest of the 412,000 Manatee residents. Kevin Wright – Likes the current commissioners and voted for them but the infighting needs to stop and the timing of this hire could not be worse. Glen Gibellina – Commissioners have sidestepped the process and created a corrupt system. Stacy Jessee – All those commenting are conservative Republicans yet they do not agree with the commissioner’s actions. There was not sufficient public notice and they are creating a lack of public trust. The musical chairs among commissioners is unacceptable. Motion to have Bearden and Clague re-negotiate a contract with Mast passed 7-0. Awards/Presentation/Proclamations Proclamation Designating April 28, 2023, as National Arbor Day in Manatee County, Florida. Presentation of Certificate of Recognition to Debra Gonsher Vinik for presenting and sharing a documentary to the Manatee County Community addressing the disparate impact of opioid addiction for women titled: “Attention Must Be Paid”. It will be shown on April 27, 2023 at the Manatee County Boys & Girls Club in Bradenton. Citizen Comments for future agenda items Denise Elswick asked the BOCC to think first of the environment on any topic or decision in the future. Advertised Public Hearings The term of Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Committee (ELMAC) members appointed by each commissioner should be the same as the commissioners that will appoint that ELMAC member so the newly elected commissioner can appoint the person of their choice. Passed 6-0 (Rahn absent) Prohibiting Jake Braking on a portion of Tallevast Road. Passed 6-0 (Rahn absent). Citizen Comment – Glen Gibellina suggested prohibiting Jake Braking across the whole county then passing exceptions rather than passing prohibitions piecemeal on portions of specific roads. Commissioners directed staff to investigate this option although Clague said that alternative may not be possible. Item #42 – Discussion of Veteran Transitional Housing In Spring of 2022, two non-profits, Tunnels 2 Towers and US Vets, approached Manatee County government on their desire to bring supportive services and housing for Veterans to Manatee County. There is no cost to the county for direct building cost nor for on-going operating expenses for this project. The land site is currently valued at $6.1 million and the title to the property would be conveyed to the project’s two non-profit agencies at no cost. Kruse pointed out that the Utilities building currently on the land has to be vacated because it’s no longer safe or usable. Although the title in the agenda is “Transitional” housing, the actual proposed project is for 122 permanent rather than transitional housing units. The goal is for “permanent supportive housing” as the success rate of transitional housing was low. Wrap around services would include mental health and wellness, workforce development, and homelessness prevention. Van Ostenbridge, Bearden, and Baugh made statements expressing concern that this project might make Manatee County a magnet for attracting additional homeless veterans. Kruse staunchly defended this specific project and the specific proposed location. After lengthy commissioner discussion, Satcher stated that this project is clearly the most effective, least expensive, and courageous option to actually address veteran homelessness in Manatee County. Motion to accept the staff recommendation to move forward with this project passed 7-0. Item 43 – Florida Department of Transportation “Cortez Road Vision and Action Plan” Keith Robbins of the District Safety División of FDOT presented safety data on Cortez Rd, between Cortez Bridge and 301, which informs the need for the safety plan. Since 2015 there have been 3 auto fatalities, about 57 serious injuries per year, plus 6 bike fatalities and 5 pedestrian fatalities on Cortez Rd. It is in the top ten most dangerous segments in the entire district. Frank Kalopakis of Renaissance Planning reviewed the proposed schedule to create a plan to integrate land and transportation vision for Cortez Rd. The Project would launch in Summer 2023 and be followed by data collection and existing conditions analysis and community visioning in Fall 2023. Policies and strategies would be developed in Winter 2023. The implementation plan would be ready in Spring 2024. Motion to support moving forward was passed 6-0 with Rahn absent. Item 44 – Execution of Memorandum of Understanding for Remote Site Education at the Bishop Animal Shelter between the School Board of Manatee County Manatee Technical College and Manatee County Government Sara Brown, Chief of Division of Animal Welfare, presented an overview of the plan to create a Veterinary Assistant training program to be located within the Bishop Animal Shelter. The 188-day program will provide students with the necessary skills to work in an animal shelter or veterinary hospital and upon completion to sit for the Certified Veterinary Assistant (CVA) exam. The program would begin in January 2024 with 8 students, who would be learning and helping within the Bishop Shelter. Motion to approve passed 7-0. Item 45 Environmental Lands Program Update and Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Committee (ELMAC) Recommendations Presentation by Charles Hunsicker, Director of Natural Resources and Debra Childs Woithe, Environmental Lands Manager (ELM). The Natural Resource Value Criteria include: ELMAC (2003) ▪ Ecological Quality of species or habitat ▪ Rarity of Species or Habitat ▪ Connectivity ▪ Importance to Water Resources REFERENDUM LANGUAGE (2020) ▪ Drinking Water Protection ▪ Water Quality Protection ▪ Prevention of Stormwater Runoff Pollution ▪ Preservation of Fish Habitat ▪ Preservation of Wildlife Habitat ▪ Provision of Parks The two properties discussed are: Emerson Point expansion – 98-acre parcel which would expand the existing Emerson Point which receives 250,000 visits per year. The parcel has been on the 2021 Florida Forever 5-year plan which could result in a significant contribution for the state toward the purchase as well as a possible restoration grant through the Tampa Bay estuary program. There was a plan for Snead Island Project to construct 98 private homes. The price recently dropped to $16 million. Mixon Fruit Farm – a 38–acre site along Glen Creek is proposed as a Stormwater Park and was chosen because it has high value as a water resource to improve water quality and flooding issues and to provide a much-needed park in a highly developed area. The asking price is $15 million. Four acres are under consideration for purchase by a non-profit, Citiserve to continue to utilize the existing warehouse on the property for its activities. The property was proposed by the architect of Robinson Preserve and a Stormwater Park can provide trails, birdwatching, and environmental education. Kruse supported the identification of the Mixon farm but questioned why funds could not be used that are available under Utilities or Parks. Is it environmentally sensitive? Ms. Woithe pointed to the 2020 Referendum Language on Prevention of Stormwater Pollution which notes that acquisition of conservation lands can allow restoration of channelized streams, which can take place on this property. Public comments: Jan and Dean Mixon, current owners of the property noted that the property has been in the family for 84 years. Of 350 citrus farmers in Florida, they were one of 14 existing farms, and they would like to leave a legacy for the community. There were 5 other public comments supporting the purchases. Motion to approve both properties for continued due diligence passed 7-0. GOVERNANCE Link to Good Governance Guidelines There are two significant lack of good governance issues with the item to review and approve Jon Mast as acting county administrator: First, It was placed on the agenda on Monday evening, within 24 hours of the meeting. As stated numerous times previously, the late addition of material items to the agenda does not allow the public and stakeholders time to review in advance and comment. Commissioners are reminded of their own Rules and Procedures: The Manatee Board of County Commissioners Meeting Rules and Procedures – Resolution R-22-051 – adopted 4/26/2022: 4.4.4 Items Not on Agenda. Matters that do not require separate public notice may, without objection of the majority of the Commissioners present, be considered and acted upon at any regular or special Board meeting pursuant to an amendment to the agenda adopted by majority vote of the Board. Commissioners should not, however, bring matters forward for action by the Board without placing them on the agenda pursuant to section 4.4.2, except when there is an urgent and unforeseeable need for Board action. Second Placement on the Consent agenda. “Consent agenda items are used to facilitate approval of a number of noncontroversial, routine, or technical matters with a single motion without discussion.” Immediately upon the item being pulled and discussion beginning, Attorney Clague said he meant it to be a Regular item, not Consent. This error was consequential, further eroding the public trust in this commission. The discussions on the shelter, ELMAC land purchases and veterans supportive housing are examples of the work needed to improve the county. We note that Mr. Hunsicker was treated respectfully and acknowledged as being resourceful in creating Robinson Preserve for “pennies on the dollar.” The League of Women Voters of Manatee County agrees with Commissioner Kruse and public statements that bringing in a new interim county administrator at this time is inappropriate given, among other reasons, the upcoming budget process, the ongoing national search for a county administrator and the lack of agreement in commissioners that there is any reason for removing the current acting county administrator, Lee Washington. Click here or information on how to phone or email the commissioners.