CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
JANUARY 16, 2018
CHARTER COMMISSION: District 1 – Josh Strzalko (6:36 p.m.)
- Tom Boyko
- Vice Chairman Tom O’Hanlon
District 2 - Edward L. Schons
- Colleen Hufford
- Michelle Ertel
District 3 - Robert O’Malley
- Robert Levy (7:15 p.m.)
- Pasha Baker (6:34 p.m.)
District 4 - Kevin Grace
- Bob McMillan
- Chairman Larry Strickler
District 5 - James Dicks
- Michelle Smith
ABSENT: District 5 - Robert Turnage
ATTENDEES: Nicole Guillet, County Manager
Grant Maloy, Clerk of Court & Comptroller
Dana Crosby-Collier, Attorney
Terri Porter, Deputy Clerk
The following is a non-verbatim transcript of the CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION MEETING, held at 6:30 p.m., on Tuesday, January 16, 2018, in Room 3024 of the Seminole County Services Building at Sanford, Florida.
CALL TO ORDER AND ROLL CALL
Chairman Larry Strickler led the Pledge of Allegiance. He then called the meeting to order and confirmed that they have a quorum.
Chairman Strickler reminded he would like input from the members of any concerns or issues they have identified that might be addressed by a change to the Charter. He noted that is the main goal of this meeting tonight.
Desmond Morrell, Assistant County Attorney, announced they will begin to place the Agenda on the County website under Charter Review in addition to emailing a copy to all the members. Michelle Ertel requested that a hard copy be provided to them at each meeting.
APPROVAL OF MINUTES
Motion by Tom Boyko, seconded by Michelle Ertel, to approve the Official Minutes of December 19, 2017.
All members present voted AYE.
Chairman Strickler reported that the contract with Dana Crosby-Collier as their legal representative was approved by the Board of County Commissioners on January 9th. He asked Ms. Crosby-Collier to explain to the CRC the way in which something could be placed on the ballot by citizens without going through the CRC.
Ms. Crosby-Collier distributed business cards (not received and filed) with her office number, direct line, and email address to the members of the CRC. She stated Section 4.2 of the Charter talks about how the Charter can be amended. She noted the Charter Review Commission meets every six years to propose amendments and bring them to the voters. However, there are a couple of other ways that one could get an amendment on the ballot. Subsection A of 4.2 provides that amendments can be proposed by petition of the voters. If there is a petition to make a change, it needs to be signed by electors that are in at least 3 of the 5 districts and they must have 7.5% of the electors qualified to vote in the last preceding election. Also, all amendments have to embrace only one subject or matter. It then would go to the BCC who would adopt a resolution to place that question on the ballot for the next General Election. Ms. Crosby-Collier further explained a citizen would then provide that text to the Supervisor of Elections and commence a drive to start gathering signatures. The number of signatures needed would have to be gathered within a six-month time period.
Ms. Crosby-Collier advised that the second way to get an amendment to the Charter on the ballot, other than the Charter Review, is by the Board of County Commissioners. She explained the BCC can propose an amendment to the Charter by adopting an ordinance. That ordinance would go to the voters in the next General Election. If approved, the changes would take effect as of January 1 of the next year. Ms. Ertel asked whether the BCC must do this through a General Election or could they also propose changes through a Special Election. Ms. Crosby-Collier responded that they could only make changes through a General Election.
Tom Boyko asked the attorney to state the steps the CRC must take to propose a change to the Charter. Ms. Crosby-Collier indicated they would have to hold at least 3 public hearings, at intervals not less than 10 days nor more than 20 days, on any proposed amendment or revision to the Charter, which means they need to get input from the public as to what they think about a proposed idea. The CRC would then take a vote as a body and there would have to be a favorable vote by a majority of the CRC members. She noted she is glad the County Attorney included a timeline in their binders; it is very important because the BCC must have any proposed amendments 90 days before the election because the ballot needs to be prepared. The BCC would put forth a resolution to place those questions on the ballot. Mr. Boyko asked who writes the verbiage, and Chairman Strickler replied that would be done by Ms. Crosby-Collier. Ms. Crosby-Collier noted that she would write a ballot summary and create a ballot question, which can be up to 75 words, that clearly asks the voter whether they want the change, and the voter can then answer just “yes” or “no.”
Mr. Boyko asked whether the attorney will verify that the proposal is constitutional before they go forward, and she stated the role of the attorney is to guide them through the process. Michelle Smith clarified that she believes Mr. Boyko wants to ensure that Ms. Crosby-Collier will be checking early on whether something is not in conflict with the State Constitution. Ms. Crosby-Collier stated once the CRC starts to get serious with an idea, she would then dive in and research and do a legal memo. James Dicks stated that was a problem in the past so they want to get the proposal reviewed early to make sure they don’t go down a path and get to the point of final adoption and then are told that it could be a problem or it won’t withstand a challenge.
Mr. Boyko wondered what happens if a question gets placed on a ballot and the majority of voters want it, but then a judge says that it is no good. Ms. Crosby-Collier explained that it would then go through a hearing process, and she noted Orange County has a bunch of amendments right now that are undergoing judicial review. She stated at that point in time, the County Attorney would have to defend it. Bob McMillan opined it is interesting when the County Commission opposes an item that passed and then the County Attorney has to defend it.
CRC INDIVIDUAL INPUT
Chairman Strickler stated he had asked the members to bring any perceived issues, problems or concerns that might be addressed via a change in the Charter. They are not looking for a solution to the problem or the manner in which it could be solved.
Tom O’Hanlon said as far as he is concerned, they have one man responsible for security in Seminole County, and that is Sheriff Dennis Lemma. He does not want multiple police forces in the county. Ms. Ertel wondered if he is referring to consolidation countywide. Mr. O’Hanlon noted that he is referring to the Constitutional Officer that is hiring his own security force. Josh Strzalko stated he has the same issue on his list; if you wear a badge and are a weapon-carrying employee of the county, you should be under the Sheriff’s Office. Chairman Strickler added they are also saying that there is unnecessary duplication of effort. Mr. Dicks said he doesn’t believe this should just be for the Tax Collector, but if there is any duplication of effort anywhere, it should be looked at. Ms. Ertel asked if they are in a satellite office like Lake Mary and the Lake Mary police force is right there, could they not use a city police force. She thought they may just want to say they want sworn officers. Mr. O’Hanlon pointed out the Sheriff is responsible for security in Seminole County and he does not want another organization doing that. If the Sheriff decides to join with Lake Mary and have a Lake Mary officer there, that should be his decision.
Chairman Strickler asked how the school system handles their security with resource officers. A few commission members thought that it is coordinated through the Sheriff’s Office, and Mr. Dicks stated that is something they can find out. Ms. Crosby-Collier noted that in Orange County, they contract with the local police department to provide school resource officers’ services for various schools. Mr. Dicks stated they already have a process in place so they should identify the process and see if they can make a change to the Charter that would be a little more efficient than the current process.
Issue #1 Sheriff Only
a. Who drives the process of Resource Officers for SCPS?
b. Who has jurisdiction in the current process for security law enforcement of county buildings which are located within city limits?
c. Why duplicate the effort?
Posh Baker stated she would like to identify partisan races. They have partisan races now so she would like to look at the idea of having non-partisan races for all county elections. Upon inquiry by Mr. O’Hanlon, Ms. Smith noted the School Board has non-partisan elections and so do the cities. Chairman Strickler expressed that back in the 90s, it was flexing back and forth. Mr. Dicks said he thinks there was an attempt to change it locally and there was some litigation, and it was determined they did not have the authority to do that in the Charter, so that is an issue the attorney can address.
Issue #2 Elections–Partisan Races of the BCC and Constitutional Officers
Kevin Grace stated it is not a problem now, but to prevent a problem in the future, he opined they should prohibit political activity in the County Manager’s Office. He added two charter counties, Hillsborough and Sarasota, have that prohibition. He explained that basically you prohibit the County Manager from being involved in political activity while sitting in that position. Chairman Strickler asked if that is already covered for the Constitutional Officers. Mr. Grace stated it is not. The Chairman noted he was referring to employees of Constitutional Officers. Mr. Grace responded they may have their own rules and regulations. Ms. Ertel indicated there is no political “anything” in the Supervisor of Elections Office and it only makes sense. She opined running political campaigns from any of the Constitutional Offices is a really bad idea.
Issue #3 Prohibit County Manager from any political activity, i.e. Hillsborough and Sarasota counties.
Mr. O’Hanlon questioned why this would not be expanded to all the Constitutionals. Mr. Boyko responded that is because they are governed by the State. Chairman Strickler noted that it depends on what the Charter says. Mr. Grace remarked that Hillsborough also included the County Attorney and their Internal Auditor. Ms. Smith wondered why they couldn’t extend the prohibition to all Constitutional Officers. Ms. Crosby-Collier advised that if they are considered a Charter Officer, they can be regulated by the Charter, but as long as they are a Constitutional Officer, they are regulated by the State. So the first step in prohibiting political activity is they would need to make them a Charter Office and then seek to regulate that office like you would any other Charter Office, like the County Administrator, the County Attorney and the County Commission.
Chairman Strickler stated they would have to step back and see how they ended up with their Charter from the beginning. At the last meeting, he noted that the Chairman of the BCC said he would be uncomfortable having the Property Appraiser or the Supervisor of Elections in essence being a department head under the county because there would be conflict of interest. Mr. Grace stated if they want to look at the Constitutionals, they should keep it separate, because it is totally different from the County Manager; the County Manager has a Code of Ethics that prohibits them from doing that and elected officials don’t. Mr. McMillan pointed out they are either Charter Officers that they can regulate or they are Constitutional Officers and they have no authority to regulate their individuals behaviors. He thinks you cannot pick and choose single issues to regulate Constitutional Officers. Mr. O’Hanlon added with this new understanding, he does not want to get that deep into Charter or Constitutional Officers; he would leave it alone.
Chairman Strickler stated under the current Charter, there is no team approach required for management of all tax dollars in the county. There is nothing that requires cooperation or collegiality or joint planning. What concerns him is with the SunRail expenditure requirement for the County; the last he heard it was up to $30 million. He said they have got to make sure that all the tax dollars and the planning for those tax dollars are as tight as they can be. The problem is there is no way the current Charter guarantees the taxpayer that the planning for spending of that money is going to be a team effort, so he thinks that means there is a good chance for waste. Mr. Boyko asked him to define tax dollars, and the Chairman responded they are the taxes that Seminole County taxpayers pay. Mr. Boyko expressed that fees are considered tax dollars, and Chairman Strickler explained that they are not.
Chairman Strickler stated this only became obvious when the new Tax Collector came on board. He can legally do all that he has been doing, but there was no effort to say the County is used to getting $3 million to $4 million at the end of the year, and they probably won’t get that this time because he is spending more money than his predecessor did. He is not saying that is right or wrong, but he is saying the taxpayers in the county are going to be on the hook for a lot more money in the future than they have been in the past. He opined they need to put something in place in the Charter that mandates there is collaborative effort for the planning and spending of money. Doing away with some Constitutional Officers and making it a department under the County is one possibility, but they are not talking about solutions, they are just identifying the problems.
Chairman Strickler said he believes this is a major fiscal problem that needs to be addressed. Ms. Smith questioned whether they can create a new position or Constitutional Officer. Chairman Strickler said it couldn’t be a Constitutional Officer if it came under the County; it could be someone appointed by the County to run an office. Ms. Ertel stated that she thinks that is what the Comptroller does; the Clerk and the Comptroller are the same position. Chairman Strickler stated that is only the BCC; the Clerk has no control over the other Constitutional Officers. Grant Maloy, Clerk of the Court and Comptroller, stated they write the checks for the Sheriff’s Office for the draws they get from the budget, and that is authorized by the BCC. Currently, the County Commission puts the budget together and the Clerk’s Office works closely with them on that through the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report). When it comes to execution of the warrants for payment and payroll, the Comptroller’s Office oversees that. Clerk Maloy noted there is a lot of cooperation that goes on right now.
Issue #4 Budget Team Effort
Chairman Strickler stated the public perception of management services, accountability, etc. within the County was brought up several meetings ago. People assume that if Seminole County is in the name, it must fall under the Board of County Commissioners. He stated they found out from the presentations by the Constitutionals that nothing could be further from the truth. He opined that as far as the public is concerned, there is lack of transparency and accountability, so somehow they need to educate the public better or have an organizational change where it becomes automatic because the people running the show are all working together. Mr. Dicks stated it is simple, if the public thinks it is Seminole County and it is not, then there needs to be some more transparency. Chairman Strickler said they found out in one of the presentations that the County, in certain situations, is liable; they are carrying the insurance policy for some of the management decisions that are made by people they have no control over, and that does not make sense to him.
Issue #5 Transparent Process for the BCC and Constitutional Officers (Public Perception)
a. Liability Exposure
Mr. Boyko inquired about the funding of SunRail. Mr. McMillan stated that at the time of the agreements between the County and the State, the local governments committed to take over the responsibility to fund it at $7 million a year and there was no revenue stream. County Manager Nicole Guillet explained that at the time of the initial funding agreement, the operational obligation of the funding partners, collectively, would be about $7 million per year, and that responsibility starts in 2021. For anything over that, an individual entity can voluntarily pay or the partners can collectively decide they are going to pay it or they are not going to pay it. Now the estimates have changed to above $30 million. Chairman Strickler noted if they are losing several million dollars a year because of a lack of cooperation and collaboration, then the taxpayers are stuck “holding the bag.” He added that is why it is even more critical that they “play hardball” with this thing, however it turns out, because they represent the taxpayers and nothing has changed. It’s just that they are getting a clearer picture about what the taxpayers are in for.
Ms. Ertel stated she thinks the public is generally very confused about the spending of all government monies. She wondered if there is a way to improve transparency by having them put their budgets and their spending on the website. Chairman Strickler clarified she is talking about expenditures by line item.
Issue #6 Transparent Process of Budget/Expenditures/Line Items for the BCC and Constitutional Officers
Mr. O’Hanlon asked who among the County Commissioners and Constitutional Officers are allowed to buy and sell real estate. Wade Vose, attorney representing the Tax Collector’s Office, advised the Board of County Commissioners has the statutory home-rule right to buy and sell real estate. In addition, the Tax Collector’s Office, pursuant to a particular state statute, has the right to buy and sell real estate; the Tax Collector is the only Constitutional Officer statutorily authorized to buy and sell real estate. The Department of Revenue is the agency that oversees the Tax Collector’s budget and its budget amendments and expenditures. He noted as the CRC probably was aware, the Department of Revenue looked at the proposal that was before them at the time from the Tax Collector and they declined to approve it. Mr. O’Hanlon said that philosophically, he is against the government competing against private industry. Mr. McMillan noted his information is older, but early on there were any number of opinions that the government could not buy a building to rent out the space and make money on it; he does not know if that has changed or there has been an update, but the Attorney General said then that that was an improper use of government money, which was buying property for purposes of investment.
Colleen Hufford asked when you have government properties, is there a way to repurpose those buildings for other agencies rather than just sell them; for example, using it for a remote police station. Mr. Dicks said in this situation, the buildings the Tax Collector wanted to purchase were not government buildings. Ms. Hufford said they have to recognize that they do have intelligent citizens and if they are uncomfortable with a certain elected official, they can vote them out. She thinks they have to recognize that if someone has the philosophy that they don’t want to waste money, then when they see waste, they find someone else and it cleans itself up rather than this Commission trying to legislate it. Ms. Ertel added she looks at this group in the way an auditor is to a company, and they are looking at systemic problems. If there is nothing that is a huge systemic problem, that is not a tragedy. It is possible that they may change absolutely nothing because things are okay, so that is also something they should think about.
Mr. O’Hanlon commented that several people approached him about whether their Charter has provisions for recall of Constitutional Officers. Ms. Crosby-Collier advised that recall of Constitutionals is handled under the State. Mr. O’Hanlon wondered how exactly that law is stated and Ms. Crosby-Collier said she could get that information for him. Mr. O’Hanlon noted if they become Charter Officers, then they would fall under the Charter and said he would like Ms. Crosby-Collier to provide that information so he can respond to those inquiries.
Mr. Boyko pointed out that the BCC has excess property and asked if that falls under the Property Appraiser or the County, how they would get rid of it and what they do with the money. Ms. Crosby-Collier advised there is a process in law for government to surplus property. So the County would first declare it surplus and then they can get rid of it; they can also give it away to certain non-profits. Mr. McMillan added after declaring it surplus, they could give it to another government entity, there are ways of giving it to non-profits, or they can put it out for bid. Mr. Boyko asked when the County sells property whether it goes into the General Fund. Ms. Crosby-Collier responded in the affirmative and added unless it was purchased with some kind of a trust fund, then it would go back into where it was purchased from. Mr. McMillan mentioned for example, if it is a utility property and purchased out of the Water and Sewer Fund, it would go back into that fund when it was sold.
Robert Levy stated SunRail looks like it is going to be a tri-county, multimillion-dollar train wreck. He wondered before it goes off the rails, if anyone has talked to the other counties to see what they are thinking. Ms. Guillet advised there are five funding partners and they have put together a transition committee through the SunRail commission. They are looking at the different options as to how they will transition from DOT management to the rail commission managing it. Mr. Levy asked if they would be putting out a report on the results. Ms. Guillet said they will actually provide a report to the rail commission who will ultimately share that with the BCC.
The Chairman asked if anyone had anything to add to their list of issues or concerns. Mr. Boyko questioned whether they should add any of the issues about the items he has been reading in the newspapers like term limits and so forth. He added he asked Mike Ertel, Supervisor of Elections, about open primaries and he explained that would be a state issue and not necessarily a charter issue because they would have to cover everybody in the state. Ms. Crosby-Collier stated Florida is a closed-primary state so people can only vote within their party and people with no party affiliation or who are independent cannot vote in the primaries; that is per state law.
Motion by James Dicks, seconded by Tom Boyko, to discuss all six issues to determine if they are important enough to move them forward to the next meeting.
Mr. Dicks stated if a majority does not think they are important enough to move forward, then they should delete that item from the list.
Under discussion, Ms. Hufford said she thinks it is difficult to discuss all the points tonight because point #1 is about security and the police force, and they need more information before they can even decide as to whether this is an issue or a problem. Mr. Dicks clarified that he is suggesting they decide as a group if all six items they listed should be included for further discussion, whether they are important enough to be moved forward. Edward Schons asked whether they will have the opportunity to get more detail before making the decision, because they need to know whether or not these are constitutional or appropriate or legal to do. He believes all six are worth looking at and would like to get more detail by the next meeting. Mr. Grace agreed.
Mr. Dicks stated he would like to withdraw his original motion.
Motion by Bob McMillan, seconded by James Dicks, to carry forward the six issues identified as follows: (1) Sheriff Only, (2) Elections – Partisan Races of BCC and Constitutional Officers, (3) Prohibit County Manager from any Political Activity, (4) Budget Team Effort, (5) Transparent Process for the BCC and Constitutional Officers, and (6) Transparent Process of Budget/Expenditures/Line Items for the BCC and Constitutional Officers.
All members present voted AYE.
With regard to public participation, no one in the audience spoke and public input was closed.
NEXT SCHEDULED MEETING
Chairman Strickler announced the next scheduled meeting is February 6, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Services Building.
Hearing no objections, Chairman Strickler adjourned the meeting at 7:55 p.m., this same date.