Columbia County Florida
The public need not apply
Columbia County, FL (Posted November 08, 2011 07:55 am)
Not only could the public not comment on the redistricting proposals, many times they could not see them. On the other side of the poster board with the arrow is the County Commission Staff proposal, which was ultimately approved.
Once again, Columbia County Florida's infamous good ol' boy County Commission did not disappoint, as it thumbed its collective nose at the County's 32,000 plus registered voters during its once every ten years redistricting deliberations. At every opportunity the County Commission made sure the public did not comment on the proposals. At times the public could not see the proposals.
Communities from Jacksonville to Miami held workshops, town halls and public hearings to gather input from its citizens regarding local representation and the redrawing of local county commission and school district lines according to the 2010 census.
In St. Johns County, as well as in other Florida counties, there were Town Hall redistricting meetings to gather public input.
The Town Hall meetings in St. Johns County were capped by an announcement from the Supervisor of Elections, Viki Oakes, informing the public of a joint meeting between the County Commission and the School Board to review public input and additional revised plans.
Columbia County had no such meetings.
Columbia County's Supervisor of Elections, Liz Horne, with members of her staff, interviewed the sitting county commission members and school board members, one at a time, through July of 2011 to gather their thoughts on what they thought redistricting should look like.
On August 22, 2011, Columbia County's Assistant County Manager, Lisa Roberts, accepted four redistricting proposals prepared by the Supervisor of Elections.
The County made no effort to make the proposals public and squirreled them away behind locked doors in the commissioner's room in the county offices.
Supervisor of Elections, Liz Horne, addresses the County Commission. Her proposals were kept under wraps by the County Commission for two months.
On October 20th the Supervisor of Elections presented her four proposals to the County Commission.
Even though Supervisor Horne's proposals were available since the end of August, the County staff did not post the maps and supporting material to the county web site until just before 2 pm on the day of the meeting.
At the conclusion of Ms. Horne's presentation, the county staff unveiled its own proposal. The Supervisor of Elections office told the Observer that it had not seen the "staff" proposal until that evening.
The County Commission could have invited public comment on the Supervisor of Elections' proposals and it own staff proposal. It did not.
The Commissioners were ready to accept its staff proposal, which made a mess out of the district lines, until the School Board, who was in the audience, balked at not having had any time to see and comment on the "staff" proposal.
The County "staff" did not explain who they spoke with in order to draw its lines.
In a concession to the School Board, the County Commission put over a decision on the five redistricting proposals until November 3rd.
On Nov 3rd, no one could see any of the proposals, as they were behind the commissioners. Here, County Attorney Marlin Feagle explains the public hearing process.
At its November 3rd, 3 pm meeting, the County Commission approved one redistricting proposal for Columbia County for the next decade, the County Commission Staff proposal.
Once again, the County Commission could have invited public comment on the five proposals it was considering. It did not.
The County Commission could have proposed more than one proposal for public hearings, giving the voters a voice and something to comment about during those hearings. It did not.
The Florida Legislature has time and time again during its often contentious redistricting public hearings around the state stressed the need for public comment and has consistently invited public comment for redistricting.
Literature distributed by the Florida Legislature has also consistently stressed the need for public comments. The Legislature put it this way:
The Legislature will draw lines in accordance with the standards in federal and state law and traditional redistricting principles not inconsistent with those standards. To this end, the Legislature encourages public testimony.
In Columbia County its legislature is the County Commission.
For the 32,000 plus voters of Columbia County, "public comment" has once again been stricken from the local vocabulary.
It's business as usual in Florida's infamous Columbia County.