CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
DECEMER 8, 2011
CHARTER COMMISSION: District 1 - Jeffrey Bauer
- Regina Bereswell
- Tom Boyko
District 2 - Patti Green
District 3 - Daryl McLain
District 4 - Robert McMillan
- Allen Sneath
- Larry Strickler,
District 5 - Stephen Coover
ABSENT: District 2 - Mark Wylie
- Imogene Yarborough
District 3 - Michael Bowdoin
- Kimberly Carroll
District 5 - Sherry Bellomo
- James Dicks
ATTENDEES: County Finance Director Jenny Spencer
Citizen Donald Epps
Deputy Clerk Carylon Cohen
The following is a non-verbatim transcript of the CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION MEETING, held at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday, December 8, 2011, in Room 3024 of the Seminole County Services Building at Sanford, Florida.
APPROVAL OF MINUTES
Motion by Mr. Strickler, seconded by Ms. Bereswell, to approve the Official Minutes dated November 10, 2011, as submitted.
All members in attendance voted AYE.
Motion by Mr. Boyko, seconded by Mr. Strickler, to accept the minutes of the CRC Subcommittee dated October 21, 2011 and November 4, 2011, as submitted.
All members in attendance voted AYE.
SHORT LIST OF ATTORNEYS
CRC Subcommittee Chairman Larry Strickler reported on the Subcommittee meeting held on December 2. He said of the four law firms short-listed, they received responses from Goren Cherof Doody and Ezrol, Wade Vose and Bryant Miller Olive. Cobb & Cole did not respond. The Subcommittee met last week and decided on the best approach to move forward with what the CRC recommended at the last meeting. In preparation for their January 6, 2012 meeting, the three of them individually will identify bullet points that would go into a contract with one of these law firms, should the CRC need legal representation. They will meet the first week in January to compare notes on those things.
Mr. Boyko and Mr. McMillan added, also, they are to work on the criteria for selecting the firm. Those are the two things they were supposed to be working on individually.
Mr. Strickler said the Subcommittee is not convinced yet if there are some issues to be brought by the public or the CRC to require legal representation.
Mr. Boyko reviewed that some of the attorneys replied with simplicity. The contract was quite simple, easy to understand and clear; and it was not in the typical legal words they have heard in the past. He thinks that makes the contract quite easy to understand. That will be one of the bullet points. He said Mr. McMillan brought up discussion about a blended rate for the contract. He thinks that is the kind of contract they should be thinking about.
Chairman Coover said without knowing whether they are going to do an RFQ for an attorney or not, he thinks at this point it will probably make sense for the entire CRC to go ahead and ratify the four firms that the Subcommittee selected. Mr. Strickler advised that there are only three firms now. Whereupon, Chairman Coover asked if Mr. Strickler was not going to allow Cobb & Cole to go forward because they did not respond. Discussion ensued. Mr. Strickler said he would be open to another contact with Cobb & Cole if Mr. McMillan is willing to make that contact. Mr. McMillan said he would do that.
Chairman Coover stated he forgot to invite Clerk of Court Maryanne Morse to tonight’s meeting, so she was not available; and depending on what they discuss tonight, that will determine if they want to talk to the Clerk in January.
Mr. Boyko said he thinks it is important for the CRC to hear from the Clerk. He thinks she should explain how these audits operate. Then, if they are not satisfied with that, they may want to say, let’s revisit this referendum. He suggested putting the Clerk back on the agenda for next month.
Mr. McMillan said he is not sure what they are asking the Clerk to provide to them. He thinks they should have some specific requests for specific information. Chairman Coover said he thinks Bruce McMenemy, Chief Deputy Clerk, suggested they send questions to the Clerk in advance.
Mr. Strickler clarified that he talked to Mr. McMenemy, and there was obviously some miscommunication among the three parties (CRC, County and the Clerk). He thinks there was a lot of assuming that the message was carried, and they found out this week the meeting was not on her calendar. It is on her calendar now for January. He suggested to Mr. McMenemy that he could bring to the CRC if there were any members who wanted to submit specific questions ahead, they could, but any questions that come up at the meeting in January, she should be prepared to address those too. He said there have been some messy situations between the Clerk and County Commission as it relates to potential charter issues on auditing and those types of things. He thinks it is important for them to understand, from the Clerk’s standpoint and County Commission’s standpoint, what caused all that. He said it was probably a mixture of management, business, politics and power plays. He thinks it is important for them to get a feeling of how important that is to them as it relates to potential charter issues. The Clerk is willing to come. He has spoken to Mr. McMenemy so the Clerk has that formal invitation, and Mr. McMenemy has assured him that the next CRC meeting is on her calendar. Mr. Strickler said Chairman Coover may want to follow up with an official request as well.
Mr. Boyko said he doesn’t feel they should have to give the Clerk questions in advance. It should be an open forum where they can ask questions of the Clerk. Mr. Strickler said it’s not a “one or the other” situation. Whatever questions they have, they can give those to the Clerk upfront and, at the meeting, they can ask questions.
Mr. McMillan questioned if the Clerk will be asked to make a presentation on her role as County Auditor and how it functions, explaining the process and how it works, as opposed to specific questions. This will be more like an educational presentation. Mr. Strickler said he thinks it is two-pronged. This is so they have an understanding of what oversight the Clerk has with the County Commission and how she is audited by the State and what is her role, responsibilities and possible liabilities.
Mr. McMillan stated the proposals in 2006 to transfer the Clerk’s audit responsibilities were defeated by the voters. He doesn’t know if there was consensus to revisit that or is this in relation to some of the proposals that were passed. He reviewed the proposals that were passed by the voters. He said he is not sure if there is consensus to get into the issue of whether they should take audit responsibilities away from the Clerk and put them under the County Commission like it was proposed the last time. Mr. Boyko said they received documentation why the amendments were turned down by the courts. Mr. McMillan explained what was defeated and what was passed by the voters, but went to court and was overturned. He asked if anyone was interested in readdressing that item. He understood that only one person spoke at the public hearing.
Chairman Coover said he doesn’t think they need to go any further with this discussion at this time, but he now has the impression that everybody wants to have a discussion with the Clerk. She can explain the function to them and anyone can ask questions when she’s in attendance. Based upon Mr. Strickler’s contact with Mr. McMenemy, he doesn’t think it would be objectionable to give her questions in advance if they choose to do so.
Chairman Coover stated the 2006 election results were provided to them by County Attorney Bryant Applegate; and the only things outstanding, as far as he is concerned, are Proposed Amendment 5, Ethics Ordinance regulating Commissioner lobbying and tax collector bidding on tax certificate sales; Proposed Amendment 8, Creation of a Volunteer Advisory Audit Committee; and Proposed Amendment 9, Constitutional Officers subject to internal audit for certain county funds. These are the ones which the voters said yes, but the County was prohibited from taking action.
Chairman Coover referred to Mr. Applegate’s letter of September 23, 2011, and said those are the items they were to talk about tonight to see if anyone wanted to revisit them. He said he agrees with Mr. McMillan that he doesn’t see any sense going back over ballot items where the electors said “no.” If someone wants to go back and revisit items that passed and then had an ordinance enacted, tell him which ones and why. He briefly reviewed the judgment from the lawsuit and said it appears the court ruled that the amendments were overturned based on the fact that the Clerk, Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections would have to have their offices abolished prior to enacting the amendments.
Mr. McMillan said he thinks some of the amendments were considered so intertwined that the rest could not survive without them.
Chairman Coover asked Mr. McMillan how the County would proceed to do what they were attempting to do; would they have to create new positions within County government. Mr. McMillan said one of the attorneys who specializes in charter issues would know how to rewrite the charter to get it done. He stated this never went to the Appellate Court; there was no political will to appeal. His point was if an amendment passed and the voters were in favor by 76% or 80%, is there a way to set up an audit function so the other Constitutional Officers are audited in the same way that the County is audited by someone independently. That was one of the things the voters wanted to see happen. He doesn’t know if they can get that done. If they want to achieve that result, one of the experts will have to figure out how it can be done consistent with the Constitution. He was never asked to do that, so he did not do any research on it. If interested, they would get the CRC’s legal counsel to see how they could do it. He can’t tell how a voluntary audit committee would function. The last Charter Review Commission had a number of people who seemed to know a lot about audits. They were trying to bring the concept of an audit committee’s role in a corporation to local government. If the CRC revisits the creation of an audit committee, someone would have to come in and explain that whole proposal.
Mr. Boyko explained the reason he would like to have the Clerk come is to see what the procedure is on how to perform the audits. Then they, as a body, can say if they are satisfied with that approach, and they don’t have to go any further. He stated if things are done in a satisfactory way and it’s been done that way for many years with no problems, why would they need to change anything. He and Mr. Strickler said they want the Clerk to educate them.
Chairman Coover asked if anyone had anything else they wanted to cover about the charter other than the three audit items.
Mr. McMillan said he asked if they wanted to revisit some of the amendments that passed to see if they are being implemented consistent with what the voters’ intents were. He said he is not on a mission on his own. He had anticipated there would be people at the public hearing who would have come forward and raised those issues and the CRC could have addressed them. He thought there would have been a lot of things in view of the government these days. He thought there would have been a bunch of people wanting to make changes in the way government is structured. He said if the public is not interested, then he’s not interested in proposing them.
Chairman Coover apologized again for not having the Clerk present tonight and said he doesn’t think they can make a lot of progress until they can have her in attendance to explain how she audits the County and how she gets audited.
Mr. Sneath asked if there had been any issues with the audits in the past; have things occurred that caused the people concern. Mr. McMillan said absolutely.
Mr. Strickler said he doesn’t know how much was real and how much was political, but there was a good mix.
Mr. McLain stated a substantial amount was very political.
Mr. Strickler said Orange County has a comptroller. Seminole County could try to do something like that, but when you look at that, it’s just another entity that costs money and adds to the bureaucracy. He does think it is important to have Ms. Morse come and explain what her role is with respect to auditing and then how the State audits her. If they can get this information in layman’s terms, they will feel very uncomfortable or very comfortable; and if they’re comfortable, they won’t do anything. If not, they can go to Plan B.
Discussion continued. Mr. Boyko stated what Mr. McLain said is true. Mr. Strickler said further that suppose the State comes behind the Clerk and says they disagree with her. He asked where does that put her; is there some liability for the Clerk. He doesn’t know what the laws are with respect to her liability, should she make a mistake.
Mr. McMillan advised that the Clerk has personal liability for some things.
Mr. Boyko said he feels like Mr. McLain does, that there was a lot of politics. Mr. McLain added that he thinks the Clerk’s relationship with the County Commission is much better now than it was, and Mr. Boyko agreed.
Chairman Coover asked if the existing meeting day of the second Thursday of each month at the same time (6:30 p.m.) is good for everyone, and the consensus was yes. Therefore, Chairman Coover said the CRC will continue with this schedule until another decision is made.
Regarding the attorney issue, Chairman Coover said it is probably premature to do anything on that at this point. Mr. Strickler said he thinks the Subcommittee can go ahead and put their checklist together for the interview process for a potential contract. Even if they end up not needing legal representation, he doesn’t feel like they have wasted their time because they are already in process.
Mr. McMillan confirmed with Mr. Strickler that he wanted him to contact Cobb & Cole on getting a response from them. Whereupon, Chairman Coover said the CRC won’t ratify the short list of attorneys until their next meeting.
Mr. Boyko said things have changed in the world today from the time the Charter was initiated originally. He asked if they should review the Charter and see if there are any items that need to be updated or changed. Whereupon, Chairman Coover said he has asked at every meeting for everyone to review the charter and bring back new items, if they have any.
Mr. McMillan added that everyone was to look at the charters from other counties and see if there were ideas they might want to consider for Seminole County. He thought that was one of the things they were supposed to do at this meeting.
Chairman Coover said he chose not to go through the other county charters at this meeting. He wants the members to review those on their own time and bring up any issues at the CRC meeting, and the sooner the better. He stated they are getting to the point where a decision will have to be made about whether or not they will have any more meetings, and whether or not they will hire an attorney. To get to that point, everybody has to satisfy themselves that they don’t have anything more that needs to be brought up and vetted. He has checked with the County Attorney’s Office and will talk to them again, but they can disband the CRC at any time they choose not to continue to meet. There is no requirement for future meetings unless they are proposing some changes.
Chairman Coover announced that they will meet again next month on January 12, 2012, and if anyone has any items they wish to bring up, please do so at that time.
Chairman Coover adjourned the meeting at 7:14 p.m., this same date.