By DOTTY NIST
To assist with public awareness on items to be taken up at Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meetings, some new policies were recently approved in connection with late agenda additions or “add-ons.”
Concern about add-ons had become apparent in recent weeks after BCC action was taken to terminate the contract of a Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) director and then to appoint an interim director, both actions stemming from late agenda add-ons and taking place without much public awareness.
At the June 8 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting, Clay Adkinson, acting county attorney, presented some proposed policies aimed at assisting the public with being better informed about add-on items to be taken up by the BCC. He did so as a follow-up to direction provided two weeks earlier on a motion by District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson that had been approved in a 3-2 vote.
Adkinson explained that internal county administration policy deems anything added to the agenda after 11 a.m. on the Thursday preceding the following Tuesday’s BCC regular meeting to be an agenda addition or add-on. He suggested “memorializing” that as a BCC policy.
Adkinson also suggested setting a policy requirement for all add-ons to be accompanied by a statement of the action to be requested, if an action is to be requested, by the person or department making the agenda addition.
He explained that the “additional hurdle” of the statement of action requested would not be required for items to be brought up just for discussion—nor would it be required, Adkinson said, for agenda items other than add-ons.
He reminded the commissioners that already in place were policies regarding agenda items “that spell out necessity, good cause, emergency.” These, Adkinson said, would continue to apply as the BCC considers agenda additions at the beginning of each meeting.
The official meeting agenda with additions and deletions is approved at the beginning of each BCC meeting.
Adkinson noted that the proposed policies would provide for the BCC to also consider at the outset of every meeting whether it would be appropriate to consider action on a particular add-on item or just allow discussion on the item.
He emphasized that add-ons that are placed on the agenda would still be subject to BCC discussion and public comment during the course of the meeting— and that at least a majority vote would be required in order for a request associated with an add-on item to pass.
Adkinson said there had been discussion among staff about the degree of detail that would be required for the statement of requested action on an add-on— and that the consensus had been that it would not be necessary to “write a book” on the requested action but instead to furnish a relatively narrow statement.
In an instance of an add-on contract, he described the proposed information to be provided as, “If we’re approving a contract, what is the approval.”
Adkinson pledged to have the policies he had suggested, if approved, included in the commissioners’ board book for the next BCC meeting.
With his presentation concluded, there was no invitation to public comment and no BCC discussion, with District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell quickly motioning for approval. The motion was approved unanimously.
No requirement was stated for contracts coming under consideration by the BCC being provided to the public as part of the meeting agenda before contract approval, a difference from what had been the practice for the county prior to the past several months.
In response to a question from the Herald/Breeze on public records requirements for contracts entered into by local governments, on June 3 Virginia Hamrick of the First Amendment Foundation provided the following information, “If the contracts are made, transmitted, or received in connection with official business of the county, the contracts are public records and subject to disclosure. While it is good practice to make the contracts available for public view, neither the public records law nor Government-in-the-Sunshine Law specifically require the county to post the contracts online. However, the contracts must be made available pursuant to a public records request. The entire contract must be provided, absent a specific statutory exemption…”