By DOTTY NIST
At their Nov. 27 meeting, the new Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) was able to resolve public concerns for the time being about the consent agenda. This is a laundry list of items that has often been approved without discussion in one vote at the outset of commission meetings. However, the Walton County Taxpayers Association (WCTA) has pressed for their issue with the consent agenda to be addressed on an ongoing basis.
The Nov. 27 meeting, the second for the new commission, took place at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
The week prior to the meeting, WCTA President Don Riley had distributed a letter regarding the consent agenda to county commissioners and the local media.
“Unfortunately, from time to time,” Riley wrote, “items are placed on the consent agenda which in our view have no business being placed there since such placement precludes our comments on such items.”
For some time, the BCC’s practice has been to take a vote on the consent agenda without providing the public with the opportunity to comment, despite citizens’ requests that comments be allowed prior to the vote.
Riley’s letter referenced two contracts associated with proposed interlocal agreements that had been placed on the consent agenda for the Nov. 27 meeting, one of those involving Freeport and some public works projects and the other between the county, DeFuniak Springs, and the Tri-County Community Council involving the operation of the Senior Center. Riley requested that these contracts be removed from the consent agenda and put on the regular agenda to allow for them to be discussed prior to a vote on the agreements.
Riley’s request included that “more careful attention” be provided in placing items on the consent agenda in the future, and, further, “a review of the practice of having a consent agenda at all,” with the observation that the practice could possibly represent a Sunshine Law violation.
At the Nov. 27 meeting, Gerry Demers, interim county administrator, requested the deletion of the interlocal agreement with Freeport from the agenda due to the need for more work on some portions of the agreement. It was proposed that the other interlocal agreement concerning the Senior Center be removed from the consent agenda after District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander and District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows stated that they had received requests for its removal to allow placement on the regular agenda. Also proposed was the removal of the Expenditure Approval List (EAL) from the consent agenda in order for the EAL to be voted on as a separate agenda item. Regarding the EAL, Demers stated that the removal was being proposed on a one-time basis.
District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld commented that the interlocal agreement with DeFuniak Springs had previously been approved as part of the county budget process.
A motion was approved unanimously providing for the proposed deletions.
Addressing the commissioners, WCTA Executive Director Bob Hudson made the specific request that no contract “ever be placed on the consent agenda.” He urged for either the elimination of the consent agenda or the reading aloud of each consent agenda item at meetings so that public comment, if any, could be taken on each.
Hudson said he had been glad to see the EAL removed from the consent agenda and stated that it should never be placed there.
Imfeld responded that he thought Hudson to be “right on” with his comment on the contracts, as long as they were not contracts that had previously been voted on in public session as had the one involving the Senior Center. He did not have a problem with previously-approved contacts appearing on the consent agenda. He agreed that other contracts should be put on the regular agenda to allow for public comment and scrutiny.
Hudson countered that he understood the budget process and that the WCTA was not saying that they were opposed to the contracts. He said he did not quite agree with Imfeld regarding contracts previously approved through the budget process. The WCTA participates in the budget process, Hudson explained, and “what we see is a number,” not the details behind the monetary number. The total impact of the item is not revealed in the budget process, he said, so listing the item on the regular agenda so that additional information can be provided and more discussion can take place is advisable.
The consent agenda with the EAL and two contacts deleted was approved by unanimous vote. There was no comment by the BCC on what practice would be followed with the consent agenda at future meetings.