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How Agendas Set Policy
The manipulation of the democratic process
Manatee County voters elect seven County Commissioners to set policy and move our county forward in the best interest of the people. In a truly representative system, everyone would have the opportunity to review proposed policies, speak on these issues and, ideally, have their thoughts heard. This would allow their representatives to make educated decisions in the best interest of the majority.
In practice, however, the decisions being made are neither educated nor in the best interest of the majority. They are made well before the meeting with no consideration of public opinion. As a result, steps have been taken to minimize the inconvenience of having to tolerate public input.
Call-in comments have been eliminated. Your involvement in your government requires time off work and potentially hours of patience for your item to come up for your three minutes. Motions have been made to reinstate this practice but you all know there will never be four votes to make that happen.
Contentious agenda items conveniently wait until the last minute for inclusion. Once we shut down the emailed public comment window, your thoughts and concerns are no longer public record. Make sure to take that next Tuesday off work if you want to participate in your democracy.
Sometimes, however, even not listening to the public isn’t enough. Completely manipulating the agenda to steer policy is even more effective. We’ve witnessed this numerous times over the past few weeks and it really shined in its effectiveness this past Tuesday. Below is a sample.
Future Agenda Items
A question was raised about the deed for land conveyed to the Visible Men Academy. This land has a reversion clause to return the land to the County as of this Thursday if not extended. In spite of the administration knowing that commissioners were speaking with VMA, the item wasn’t included on the agenda since “no one asked to put it on”. As a result, no commissioner had to vote against an extension and start the process of taking the land from a school for underprivileged students. End result, the policy was decided to start the process without a vote on record. Win-win for everyone…except the school and its students.
Agenda manipulation: Running out the clock without adding to agenda
Item 10: Adoption of Resolution R-23-145, prohibiting County funds to be used for Planned Parenthood or any abortion provider or to provide any abortion services
This item was put onto an agenda based on a previous vote of the BOCC with a resolution that was not remotely in-line with the previous vote of the BOCC. The agenda item was presented as being authorized by the Board and was snuck onto the consent agenda to slide it through without discussion. It required a commissioner to pull it or it would have been voted through with the rest of the consent items (since non-profit abortion resolutions are virtually the same as temporary utility easements). Bait-and-switch, misleading items and hiding controversial items within consent has become more common. One of these days, something may slide through and no commission will have to directly vote on that policy. Saves a lot of explanations.
Agenda manipulation: Hiding important and contentious items on consent
Item 55: Presentation on Historical Resources being supported and managed by Sports & Leisure Services Department
This particular agenda item was “apparently” started at least nine months ago, had absolutely no time-sensitivity and was in no way fully-vetted by the administration or the County Attorney, and yet had to be rushed onto Tuesday’s agenda late Friday night, hours after the write-in public comment period had ended. Forget the overall illogical nature of the plan as it was only on the agenda for political reasons (still approved 6-1). It was clearly an item of one sole commissioner who has outsized control over the agenda. However, it was snuck into the primary agenda as an administration item to give the impression of a county-initiated policy proposal (where have we seen that before?) rather than a commissioner-initiated request.
Agenda manipulation: Late additions; listing commissioner items as administrative
Item 59: Discussion of Finalists for County Administrator
On Tuesday the BOCC voted to name the Interim County Administrator as permanent even though he didn’t apply. The reality is that the item should have never reached September 12. We had a clearly-defined schedule for selecting an outside administrator and it seemed to be going well. The plan had the Board convening on Friday, August 18 for final interviews and to make a selection after an exhaustive search. All seven commissioners had one candidate as a top choice and at least three commissioners were preparing to take a vote to welcome our new Administrator. However, in spite of knowing the plans and the process that were laid out, that August 18 meeting was conveniently noticed as a non-voting “work session” rather than an actionable “special meeting”. As we couldn’t vote that day, it allowed for “others” to give their input and a new candidate emerged who was ultimately chosen this week. An otherwise smooth process had been manipulated and altered through a unilateral decision to ignore a Board-approved process.
Agenda manipulation: Noticing meetings against the will of the Board (note that this has been utilized in the past in reverse to allow for off-agenda items to appear and be voted upon in what should have been “work sessions”)
Item 60: Discussion on Alternative Veterans Housing Site
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, we discussed a Commissioner Agenda Item for Veterans Housing (see, this is how commissioner items actually work). It’s an interesting concept that I’m not against but it was odd that it was the only item regarding this topic on the agenda. The County has been working with Tunnel to Towers for over a year on a proposed Veterans Housing Site. On August 18, at the request of the Board (7-0 vote), the final deed and documents were brought back to finally move this great opportunity forward with this reputable nonprofit for the benefit of our homeless veterans. At that time, however, it was tabled for “up to six weeks”. As another commissioner stated, “on or before six weeks”. That would bring it back “on or before” Sept 19. However, this Tuesday was the last meeting before that deadline. The Board voted and set a policy to bring this item back yet the will of the Board was ignored simply by omission from the agenda. No vote was made to extend this deadline. No discussion was had. The administration, or a commissioner with control of our agenda, superseded the will of the Board.
Agenda manipulation: Administration setting policy by ignoring Board decisions and preventing decisions being made in the interest of the public. (I’ll ignore the other manipulation of commissioners hiding in the building - or even in the chambers - to avoid recording votes on agenda items.)
As you can see, there are many ways to manipulate the agenda to override a democratic process and remove the representation of the people. We saw it in numerous forms on Tuesday. There is one more way that I’ll finish with after the video, but, if you’d like to watch Tuesday’s meeting, here it is.
BONUS MANIPULATION: Another way agendas are used to set policy without the Board going on record is to simply delay items…over and over again…to avoid ever having to discuss them in public.
The most blatant use of this agenda manipulation is happening right now with our impact fees.
The BOCC voted on April 18 to start the process of finalizing our fee schedule for the next five years (Manatee County is presently three years late in its update). At that time, the Board voted on a presentation that reflected this important item coming before us in “August 2023”. I had confirmed ahead of that August date that all steps have been finalized, public comment periods have been held and the study was ready for adoption.
However, with no further vote of the Board, the scheduled hearing date was inexplicably moved to September 7.
Then, with no notice, it was moved to October 5.
As of the most recent hearing list sent out, without any discussion, it is now (tentatively) scheduled for November 2.
The Board voted in April to finalize our long, long overdue impact fee update in August. It has now slid three months without “official” Board direction - although I doubt it’s without board member(s) input. I’m sure these delays are allowing some people additional time to comment (not you though) and putting it dangerously close to a point where it becomes a stale report, thus conveniently (for some) requiring a much longer delay to redo the study.
I won’t go into the details and specifics on the implications of this incredibly costly agenda manipulation here. That will be forthcoming soon enough and requires a full write-up unto itself. (Don’t forget to subscribe to see future write-ups.)
Just be aware what is occurring with this item as it’s not being discussed in any manner, much less in a manner of transparency.
Your Board of County Commissioners is presumably elected to look out for the public’s interests, and our agendas are prepared to alert the public of discussions to be had. They are meant to allow you a voice in the decisions being made on your behalf. Commissioners are supposed to represent the majority and publicly set policy in your best interest. This entire process is being disregarded and disrupted, not through action of the Board, but through manipulation of the agenda.
If you want to stay informed in your local government, you can no longer just follow the topics on the agenda; you need to follow the process of the agenda.
Commissioner George Kruse
Former Port Authority Chairman
Current BOCC “Agitator”, “Decorum Breaker” and Skipper of Photo-ops