Plaintiffs may proceed to trial with a suit over whether public meetings laws are usurped when the Palm Beach County Commission gives citizens a total of three minutes to comment on a laundry list of agenda items, a Palm Beach County judge ruled Friday.
Circuit Judge Lisa Small refused a county motion to toss the suit filed Feb. 17 by Alex Larson and Fane Lozman, two regulars at county commission meetings, who demanded the county either stop using a “consent agenda” or not limit speakers during that discussion. They say it violates Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.
Members of the public get three minutes to comment on a single regular agenda item. But they get three minutes total to comment on the “consent agenda,” a collection of items, mostly housekeeping in nature, that commissioners dispose of with a single vote, unless a commissioner pulls an item for further discussion.
“We’re going to win,” Larson, whose birthday was Friday, said after the hearing. County Attorney Denise Nieman, who did not argue the case but attended, said she was disappointed, “but we understand and we respect the judge’s order and we’ll move forward.”
The Inspector General’s audit found “control weaknesses and operational areas that need improvement,” the agency said in a summary issued Wednesday.
It said the agency needed better oversight of its grants program, citing projects from the 2013 and 2014 budget years that in one case didn’t go to the lowest bidder and in two others had $30,000 in change orders that weren’t properly reviewed
The report said Economic Sustainability officials already have made some changes and will study the rest of the recommendations.
Describing it as yet another consequence of what she’s called deficient money from the state, Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock said Friday she’s closing her “Midwestern Communities” service center in Royal Palm Beach on Fridays.
The new hours start Aug. 5 at the center, at 200 Civic Center Way, Suite 500.
Bock has said her budget took a $2.6 million cut this budget year, leading to layoffs and branch closings. She already closed operations on Fridays last year at her offices in the North County and South County courthouses.
Palm Beach County Youth Services’ second annual countywide spelling bee is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at Palm Beach Central High School.
About 110 summer camp students from throughout Palm Beach County will participate. Individual county-run camps conducted local bees at their sites to select a boy and girl each for Thursday’s event. Top finishers will receive trophies.
Helping host the event are the County Attorney’s Office, the Library System, and Parks and Recreation. Sponsors include The Palm Beach Post, the Literacy Coalition, Prime Time, the Children’s Services Council, the School District of Palm Beach County, and the Early Learning Coalition.
Palm Beach County staff members are drafting an ordinance establishing a program to help residents finance energy-efficient improvements to their property.
County commissioners directed staff to write an ordinance establishing the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, which would allow qualified residential or commercial property owners to voluntarily finance improvements and repay through a non-property tax assessment that is repaid through their annual tax bill.
Contractors doing the work would have to be certified with the county’s Contractors Certification Division.
County Administrator Verdenia Baker said Thursday that only one item would have been on the agenda, and the county decided to move it to this week’s regular commission meeting.
That item was the panel directing staff to draft an ordinance establishing a Property Assessed Clean Energy program. It allows a qualified residential or commercial property owner to voluntarily finance energy efficiency improvements and repay through his or her annual tax bill.
“Some felt uncomfortable voting at the Islamic Center,” the email continued. “When we received a call that indicated individuals planned to impede voting and maybe even call in a bomb threat to have the location evacuated on Election Day (no name was given during the call), we located the Spanish River Library which is two miles away from the center as an alternative voting location and I called the Center’s President.”
Bucher replied to the inquiry from the Editorial Board but for three days has not responded to a Post reporter’s phone calls and emails requesting details and comment.
On Tuesday, Boca Raton-area U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch issued statements suggesting the move was discriminatory. The county’s other two members of Congress, Reps. Alcee Hastings and Patrick Murphy, and U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, so far have not responded to requests for comment submitted Tuesday and Wednesday.
Also on Tuesday, Florida Family Association, a Tampa-based group that campaigns against Islamic-American relations urged people to support Bucher’s decision. The group said it was responding to “pressure” being put on Bucher by the Florida chapter of theCouncil on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR on Monday had raised the possibility of legal action if Bucher didn’t change her mind.
Bucher is up for reelection to the non-partisan elections supervisor post in the Aug. 30 vote.
Westlake’s interim city manager, Ken Cassel, told council members on Monday that Minto Communities will cover any budget shortfall for the next five years.
Minto is the largest landowner in Westlake, and, as such, represents nearly all of the new city’s tax base. The developer plans to build at least 4,500 homes in the area.
McKinlay, whose district represents Westlake, has asked Gov. Rick Scott to investigate the circumstances of the city’s incorporation, which some view as a Minto-inspired move that will allow the builder to go beyond the development limits it had agreed to two years ago with the county.
McKinlay wrote Inspector General John Carey on Wednesday, inquiring about “the legality of a landowner funding the same council that will ultimately decide the landowner’s permits, land use and quasi-judicial zoning issues.”