CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
MARCH 6, 2018
CHARTER COMMISSION: District 1 – Josh Strzalko
- Tom Boyko
- Vice Chairman Tom O’Hanlon
District 2 - Edward L. Schons
- Colleen Hufford
- Michelle Ertel
District 3 - Robert O’Malley
- Robert Levy
- Pasha Baker
District 4 - Bob McMillan
- Chairman Larry Strickler
- Kevin Grace
District 5 - James Dicks (7:05 p.m.)
- Michelle Smith
- Robert Turnage
ATTENDEES: David Johnson, Property Appraiser
Joel Greenberg, Tax Collector
Grant Maloy, Clerk of Court & Comptroller
Mike Ertel, Supervisor of Elections
Dana Crosby-Collier, Attorney
John Horan, BCC Chairman
Terri Porter, Deputy Clerk
The following is a non-verbatim transcript of the CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION MEETING, held at 6:31 p.m., on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Room 3024 of the Seminole County Services Building at Sanford, Florida.
CALL TO ORDER AND ROLL CALL
Chairman Strickler called the meeting to order. Mr. O’Hanlon led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Chairman Strickler stated they have spent time to become better educated on the various governmental positions within the county, how they interrelate and who is in charge of what. They finally understand, as a 15-member commission, what roles each of the entities play. That was the goal and he said he thinks they have achieved that.
Chairman Strickler advised he received a call from the BCC Chairman who indicated he would like to address the group.
Commissioner Horan stated in regard to the constitutional officers that one of things they should take into consideration is that if there is a problem, the governing body, which is the county commission, usually addresses it. The constitutional officers are independent, but they are not autonomous and they are not unaccountable. He said, for example, this year they had two problems with certain actions taken by the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector is accountable to the Department of Revenue, so the Board of County Commissioners went to the DOR in both instances, sought relief and got the relief. They reached an understanding with the Tax Collector about those particular issues and resolved them. With regards to the Clerk’s Office, he opined they had problems with the budget and he detailed that issue. He noted the Clerk now has a better understanding of that particular aspect of the Clerk’s budget. They took recourse through the courts when the Clerk said he had the right to invest the money. Copies of the judgment were received and filed.
Commissioner Horan pointed out there is really not a structural problem in any of those situations. He opined when there is a behavioral problem that the governing body sees, they have recourse and they can correct it. He added this is a situation where it is not a structural problem that necessarily has to be addressed by this commission. If the governing body, the county commission, perceives that they need a change in the charter structure, they will either come to this commission or they will go to the voters with regard to what that particular change should be. But right now, whatever happens, they will go through the appropriate avenues to address whatever particular problem that they have.
Commissioner Horan stated as the chairman of the governing body of the county, he wants this commission to know that they really appreciate what they do.
Chairman Strickler stated that Mike Ertel, Supervisor of Elections, was not in attendance when the cheerleading occurred, or the team effort by the constitutional officers, so he told Mr. Ertel that he could speak if he would like to.
Mr. Ertel explained he was out of town for the last meeting when the other constitutional officers were, as the Chairman says, cheerleading. He thanked the members of the commission for their service. He distributed the Seminole County Voter Guide (received and filed) and asked that they open up the guide and take out the “I Voted” sticker. He mentioned that tomorrow morning they have been scheduled to register students to vote at Lyman High School. He asked the commission to remember the first time that they voted, and the first time they received an “I Voted” sticker, and the pride that they had when they got that “I Voted” sticker because they knew that their voice was heard. They were electing somebody to an office or they were voting for someone who lost but their voice was heard. He asked that they keep the sticker in front of them today as they are thinking about the construct of their government and their body, be it the Board of County Commissioners or be it the independent constitutional officers. He said he’d like them to just remember the first time they voted to elect someone, and if that person lost, that was okay because in four years or two years or whenever it came around, they had the opportunity to vote that person out. He reiterated what Commissioner Horan said that if you disagree with somebody, you do not change the entire structure of government. He would like them to remember their first vote and how powerful it was, and said that their vote is powerful. There are young voters that have been registered to vote that want to know that the vote they cast counts and that there is not anything happening around the horn, post-vote, to cancel their vote. He requested that the commission members think of that as they make their decisions tonight.
APPROVAL OF MINUTES
Motion by Mr. O’Hanlon, seconded by Mr. Boyko, to approve the Official Minutes of February 20, 2018.
All members present voted AYE.
CHAIRMAN’S REPORT (continued)
Chairman Strickler stated they had a couple of loose ends that he picked up in the minutes and one was the budget process as it relates to return of funds to the County by the Tax Collector. Ms. Crosby-Collier stated in regard to the basic budget structure, she thinks the Tax Collector would be better able to describe how fees are collected and funds are returned. She advised the question she looked into had to do with the Legislature frequently taking money from local governments to fund state initiatives. She gave the example of red light cameras. The vendor came into town and they started putting up red light cameras in cities that were ahead of the law like Orlando. The City was collecting tickets for $150 if you ran the red light. So then, the Legislature came in and said well that’s good revenue and we are going to make that a law, and they did. They started taking $75 of that $156 and the City then had to still give some of their portion to the vendor. She added once you put a job or function or some operation under county government, the Legislature frequently comes in and tries to take that money from local government. So, she said she looked into the question that had come up with regard to the monies that are collected by the Tax Collector. There is a constitutional provision that says that the State ad valorem taxes cannot be had by the State; that is not a source of funding for the State. The ad valorem levy is a function of a county and that funding then comes into the county after it is collected by the tax collector. She cited a case in Brevard County that had to do with this issue.
Mr. McMillan stated that his issue was that right now the excess funds the Tax Collector gets come to the County by virtue of state statute. If you make a tax collector a charter officer rather than a state officer, does that in any way lock those revenues to the county rather than being able to be redirected by the State. Right now, the Tax Collectors’ Association could go to the Legislature and say, let’s get the counties out of this and we will just take those revenues, and you take them over and the counties get nothing. The Legislature could pass such a thing and none of those revenues that have been the subject of discussion would come to the county anymore. Mr. McMillan said his question basically was if you made the tax collector a charter officer, does the revenue source change in such a way that the Legislature no longer has the ability to take it. He added he assumes the charter tax collectors are governed by the same rules as the State Legislature has set forth for constitutional officer tax collectors, so that would not in any way change. He noted that is really what he was trying to get at. Right now the Legislature could come in and say all that money is going to the Department of Transportation or going somewhere other than to the county, and does changing it to a charter officer in any way change that to the benefit of a county. He noted that he doubts it because he assumes that a charter tax collector is basically operating under the same rules established by the Department of Revenue and this Legislature. Ms. Crosby-Collier remarked it depends on the source of that revenue too. Mr. McMillan indicated he is talking about what the statute says right now, the excess revenues are given to the county; that is still up for grabs every year when the Legislature meets. Ms. Crosby-Collier noted as she mentioned last time, they are housed within the structure of the county. Mr. McMillan stated he didn’t know, so that is what he was really asking; when you get under the charter does it in any way prevent the State from coming in and saying we have a budget hole, so let’s see if we can fill it with looking at the counties. Chairman Strickler asked Ms. Crosby-Collier to do a little more finite research and bring something back at the next meeting.
Chairman Strickler stated the other issue that he picked up in the minutes was it is believed that the current constitutional officers were put in place by a change in 1968. Ms. Crosby-Collier stated Ms. Hufford had asked the question about when these constitutional officers came into being; what was the history. Ms. Crosby-Collier advised Florida has had numerous constitutions. They had a patriot constitution in 1812 where a bunch of people from Georgia were trying to establish east Florida. Then they had their 1838 constitution which established east and west Florida and made Tallahassee the capital because it was right in the middle. They had an 1865 constitution in which the governor proclaimed election for sheriffs, clerks and county surveyors; so in 1865, county surveyors were constitutional officers. After that, Florida seceded from the Union and they came back into the Union with a new constitution in 1868, which was a post-reconstruction constitution that said that county officers will hold their offices in the county seat. The 1885 constitution established the tax collector and they had what was called an assessor, which she thinks was probably the property appraiser. She said she did not find the supervisor of elections established until the 1968 constitution. Ms. Crosby-Collier remarked it was fascinating reading and it is all accessible online.
DISCUSSION RE: OFFICE OF THE TAX COLLECTOR
Chairman Strickler stated he looked at the situation they inherited as a 15-member commission and looked at what went on since the election last year. He tried to look at it as what can they learn from this; if he were being paid as a consultant, what would he recommend to all the parties involved. He said when you think about organizations, public versus private, they really are apples and oranges. The advantages of the private side in his mind are a free-spirit, free-minded, entrepreneurial-type approach versus somebody who is a department head under a government organization which is usually very bureaucratic. He opined that is why a lot of private sector people do not last too long in the public sector because they get frustrated.
Chairman Strickler asked the commission to try to put themselves in the role of a constitutional officer, and also in the role of a county commissioner. The county commission is in a pretty untenable situation. As they heard all the presentations from the constitutional officers and from the county chairman, what became apparent to him was from the public’s perspective, the only one that has “his neck on the line” is the county commission. They are the only ones that can deal with the tax issue, raising or lowering taxes. If you have a constitutional officer that is making demands that are far beyond the expectations of the county commission and the only answer is raising taxes, the constitutional officer does not get blamed for that, the Board of County Commissioners does. He said that is number one.
Chairman Strickler continued stating that number two is when you look at the last election and the constitutional officers who took the role that they have now, what also became apparent to him was the transition. He pointed out that Sheriff Lemma had a transition, but it was “blinking his eye” because he had been running the show for two or three years because Sheriff Eslinger was preparing him to replace him as he retired. He added when you look at Grant Maloy, the previous clerk did not train him, but as a previous county commissioner, he knew how to get through the mazes and process work and those types of things. Chairman Strickler said, however, when looking at the Tax Collector, he tried to walk in his shoes. He opined that was not a fun campaign for him or for the former tax collector and he would be surprised if, before the date that Mr. Greenberg took office, that he was ever inside that office. He never got any cooperation from the former tax collector because there was a lot of bad blood going on there. He had to hit the ground running and he didn’t know anything. Talk about a learning curve; that is probably unfair. And then you get to the surprise by the county commission when he presented his budget to them, which they don’t approve. They were surprised and he was probably surprised that they were upset. He didn’t know what their expectations were. So there are a lot of causes to go around.
Chairman Strickler expressed what he has come away with in this whole scenario, if he has to measure the importance of managing an organization with a private sector mentality versus folding it under the umbrella of a governmental entity, and he noted this is generic and not specific to Seminole County or this tax collector, he would rather take his chances with fresh ideas. He added there may be some revenue out there that is yet to be discovered that might help this county even more than trying to assume all they can get is what they’ve got now under the county umbrella.
Chairman Strickler explained he has gone from being really strong in bringing this tax collector under the county umbrella to leaving it like it is with this caveat. He will challenge the constitutional officers and the board of county commissioners because in three years there will be another election and in six years there will be another commission. He indicated the real key to this is getting all the players to work together, which is what they said at the first meeting. And he thinks the way to do that is to understand what occurred and how it occurred. He opined they could get them to come up with an annual or semi-annual report card that comes from all the constitutional officers and the board of county commissioners about what they have achieved together and what this means to the big picture. He remarked the conversation they have been having for the last few months does not have to happen.
Robert Levy stated that after listening to previous conversations about the Tax Collector, he spent the time to go to his office and walk through the system. He went to a couple of the facilities that collect taxes to understand for himself, as a prior business consultant, how this was run. He said he was exceptionally impressed; everything ran smoothly and the people seemed happy. He likes the concept, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He added he thinks the system is working very well even though it is not what people had previously expected because it is a substantial change and a lot of people would prefer the status quo, writing the old name on their checkbooks when they pay their taxes. Mr. Levy asked if any of the other commission members had gone to the tax facilities to see how they operate, and several replied they had. Bob Turnage stated that he had, and as he said previously, he thinks Mr. Greenberg has made some great changes and the facilities are very user friendly.
Mr. Boyko noted, as he said before about the constitutional officers, the BCC did not bring anything to this commission that they were unhappy with any of the constitutional officers or the way that they are functioning. As Commissioner Horan just mentioned, they did not bring anything to them that they were unhappy with the way it was functioning. Secondly, when people voted in the election, they voted against the old tax collector; they were not happy with something there. In the area of the Clerk, that was because of a vacancy; they did not vote because they were unhappy with the Clerk, there was a vacancy there so Grant Maloy ran for that office. So, the BCC did not bring anything to them saying they were unhappy with any of the constitutional officers. If they were unhappy, that was a time to say well let’s work on that particular constitutional officer that is before us and let’s correct that issue.
Chairman Strickler said he would like to give a different opinion on that. The BCC’s presentation did indicate they were unhappy with what was happening with the Tax Collector. They did not address the structural changes that might need to be done, but they were unhappy with what had happened about the lack of money they were going to get back compared to what they got from the previous tax collector. He noted though that Mr. Boyko is right, and he thinks Commissioner Horan addressed that earlier by saying that that is history, that is old stuff, and they need to get beyond that. He said he thinks that is the message he heard.
Mr. McMillan stated, as he said before, he is not really interested in the personalities involved when it was a structural issue, but the issue was raised that anyone who would make a decision based on the performance of a newly elected official in his first year in office is just way off base. He noted he was with the county for 30-something years and he probably saw 25 or 30 commissioners come and go. In the first year a commissioner gets elected, it is rookie mistake after rookie mistake because they have a learning curve. And those commissioners are joining a five-member board where they really don’t have to do anything but listen and learn for the first year because they are only one of five votes. He opined you cannot judge any of that stuff by the first-year performance; you have to give them a chance to find out who is who and where to go to and how that all works if you are going to make a decision based on that. Chairman Strickler added that Mr. Greenberg never got in the door until after he was elected.
Michelle Ertel stated it seems as if they are changing gears a little here and she is glad they have had some time to think about this. She noted they have talked about this for a long time, since the first meeting, and she gets that there may be some things about the different personalities that they don’t like, but 2020 is coming up and they have a system in place to take care of personalities that they don’t like.
Motion by Ms. Ertel, seconded by Ms. Hufford, to recommend that no structural changes be made in connection with the five Constitutional Officers.
Under discussion, Mr. O’Hanlon stated he will continue to be the broken record and he has always been. He hoped to have Mr. Greenberg in there with some fresh perspectives and some tremendous ideas on how to try and collect monies for the county; however, he said he talked to a bunch of the public and you see all these corporate mergers and everything else, and the reason why they do it is to consolidate services and save costs. He added they are spending taxpayer dollars and he thinks there will be significant savings in consolidating the office under the county. The other question he has in his mind is if you do that, you made then other county things that you can go pay for, services or whatever, at these different offices, because now they are not tax collector offices, they are county offices. Or maybe you can do other county business at these offices also all over the county and not have to come up here. He expressed from the start that he walked into this for taxpayer money and how do they most efficiently spend the taxpayer money. And, that does not preclude if it changed at the end of his term that he doesn’t then work under the county; it does not mean he has to go, it just means that the position moves under the county’s wings and this way he can integrate with all of the other county services, which most of them are a replication of all his services that that office provides.
Chairman Strickler opined he agrees in principle, but the thing he thinks Mr. O’Hanlon is missing is what if the revenues that are going to be produced under the county umbrella versus revenues that might be produced under a more creative thinking entrepreneur are even, but he does not believe that. He stated he has been around long enough in the public and the private sectors to know that entrepreneurs figure out ways that people in government would never think about. Or if they think about it, there are too many rules that do not allow them to do it. Other than that, he agrees with Mr. O’Hanlon, but he is leaning the other way because he is thinking fresh ideas and new ways of doing things might actually generate more revenue for the county than doing it under a department umbrella. Michelle Smith stated that she agrees with Chairman Strickler.
Ms. Hufford said she thinks that each of the independent constitutional officers work their business, they work their work, and then if they do a good job and have a lot of revenue, it comes back to the taxpayer to be part of the county commission’s budget. She added she thinks it is important they realize that each of the constitutional officers do report to a state entity and as Commissioner Horan made the comment, when they had questions, they went to the Department of Revenue, so they solved those questions and the system worked. She noted the other system that they all talked about for any of them that have been in public office, in two, three or four years, you do get a bill of health, and you get voted in or voted out. She agrees that they should move on and said she thinks in regard to Chairman Strickler’s comment about the players really needing to work together, that that is really up to them, that comes through policies and procedures that the county commissioners could put in place. Ms. Hufford commented when she first became a commissioner, she had a learning curve but at the same time, she had staff to go over things with her to make sure she understood everything. Then she could be the entrepreneur and be independent or she could try to figure her way through the process. She thinks there are good checks and balances, and she hopes they can go on ahead and approve this motion and move on.
Chairman Strickler called the question.
All 15 Charter Review Commission members voted. Mr. O’Hanlon voted NAY and the remaining 14 members voted AYE. Therefore, the motion passed 14 to 1.
Chairman Strickler stated at the last meeting they talked about reading in detail the packet that the Tax Collector put together, and Mr. Greenberg had offered to answer any questions anyone might have. He advised that Mr. Greenberg did get two contacts and two visits, and neither had anything to do with his packet, which tells him it was pretty self-explanatory.
DISCUSSION RE: CITIZEN PROPOSALS
Chairman Strickler reminded that they had proposals from two citizens (received and filed) that he had emailed to the commission members. One was from Don Menzel and one was from Jesse Phillips. He said his challenge to each of the members was to read them and see if there was any total proposal or parts of a proposal that any of them would like to recommend they consider. He pointed out that one of the proposals that Mr. Menzel brought up at the last meeting was talking about term limits. Ms. Ertel clarified it was elections with term limits and stated they do not need them here in Seminole. A few commission members expressed their concurrence.
With regard to public participation, no one in the audience spoke and public input was closed.
Ms. Crosby-Collier advised they have Kevin Grace’s proposal that everyone has been favorable towards. She noted they need to keep in mind with their timeline that they will have to have three public hearings on the proposal within a 20-day period prior to getting the information to the BCC. Chairman Strickler asked if anyone had any other issue that they need to be considering other than the one that Mr. Grace brought up several weeks ago, which is the political activity under the BCC, which right now would apply to the County Attorney and the County Manager.
Upon inquiry by Chairman Strickler, Ms. Crosby-Collier explained they could take a motion to approve the initiative and she could then go forth and create the proposed language; they can certainly approve that language to the point they could take it to public hearing.
Motion by Mr. O’Hanlon, seconded by Mr. Grace, to approve moving forward the proposed initiative and authorize counsel to draft ballot language which would prohibit certain political activity by those that hold the positions of County Manager and County Attorney under the Seminole County Board of County Commissioners.
All members present voted AYE.
Mr. Grace confirmed that after Ms. Crosby-Collier drafts the proposed charter language, they will have a public hearing so the public can give their input on that. In regard to a suggestion made by Chairman Strickler in connection with setting the dates for the mandatory three public hearings, Mr. Crosby-Collier recommended they establish those at the next meeting after they approve the language.
Mr. McMillan stated he assumes they can withdraw their direction to counsel to research the handling of excess fee revenues. Chairman Strickler agreed and thanked him for bringing that up.
NEXT SCHEDULED MEETING
Chairman Strickler announced the next scheduled meeting is March 20, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Services Building.
Hearing no objections, Chairman Strickler adjourned the meeting at 7:30 p.m., this same date.