By DOTTY NIST
“County Commissioners have a lot of power over your daily lives,” Cindy Meadows told the Walton County Citizens for Honest Government’s Citizens’ Academy. She emphasized the importance of voting in commission races.
Meadows, who served as Walton County District 5 commissioner from 2004 until 2008, was featured speaker for the July 31 citizens’ academy session. She was also among the candidates running for the District 5 seat in the 2012 primary election.
Meadows provided attendees with a “pop quiz” containing questions about the county commission and commissioners based on Florida Statutes 125.001 and 125.01, sections regulating county government.
Correct answers to the questions revealed, among other facts, that county commissioners are elected every four years and that they may hold meetings in any appropriate public place provided due notice to the public is given. In Walton County, all five county commissioners are elected by voters countywide, as opposed to a commissioner being elected just by voters in the district in which they serve.
Meadows explained that the issues of the district in which the commissioner serves are their top priorities.
A county commission candidate is not required to live in the district for which they are running. However, if the candidate is not already a district resident, they must move into the district upon being elected.
There are no term limits for county commissioners. They are sworn in in November, just days after the General Election. The county commission elects a chair and vice chair.
County commissioners are paid a part-time salary and are allowed to have jobs other than being commissioner. They are subject to the state’s Sunshine Law and public records laws and must file a financial disclosure every year. The disclosure shows, among other thing, who the individual does business with and who their salary comes from if they have a job other than commissioner.
Among county commissioners’ powers are: providing hospitals; providing prosecution and defense of legal causes on behalf of the county and state; clearing slums; providing and operating public transportation systems; levying taxes; licensing taxis; establishing and enforcing regulations for sale of alcoholic beverages in the county’s unincorporated areas; and performing any acts within the law for the common interest of the people of the county. However, county commissioners cannot regulate the taking of saltwater fish, as this is under the purview of the state.
In response to a question, Meadows said that in her opinion it would be feasible to serve as a commissioner on a part-time basis for some districts in Walton County. However, she said she could not envision a commissioner being able to do this for District 5, the county’s largest district in terms of population.
In response to another question, she said she would support county commission meetings being televised for the benefit of citizens who are not able to attend meetings.
Several candidates for county and state offices addressed the group to tell about themselves and ask attendees for their votes.
Andy Kratzler, a citizen in attendance, complained that his wife had been terminated from her job as a school teacher after teaching for four years in Walton County, and had not been rehired. He said his wife had 30 years’ teaching experience and a master’s degree and was replaced with a young inexperienced teacher from another county who could be hired at a lower salary
Driftwood Estates resident Alan Osborne expressed concern about items being deleted from information he had requested from the county in a public records request. The group discussed whether the information had been deleted from the county server or just from the information being provided in response to the public records request, and there were different opinions.
“Everybody says I’m the naysayer, and maybe I am,” Osborne remarked. “I have been the target of bad politics,” he asserted.
Osborne observed that county officials might be acting correctly 95 percent of the time, adding, “that’s not enough when you’re a public servant.”
“Vote with your heart,” he encouraged citizens.
Citizens for Honest Government meetings are held at 5 p.m. on Tuesday nights in room 119 at the Northwest Florida State College South Walton Center. The meetings are streamed live on www.Neighborvision.com and are open to interactive participation. Meeting videos are also posted on www.Neighborvision.com for viewing as needed. Information on meeting topics is available by logging onto the web site www.waltoncountycitizens.com.