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Columbia County 5: Hollingsworth the New Chair. First Meeting Time Changed to 9:30 am. Public Notice & Comment – "What's That?"

Photo: blackboard-know the rules: Caption - the Columbia County 5, not big fans of its own rules
Photo via Pixabay | Columbia County Observer graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last Thursday’s meeting of the Columbia County 5 brought no surprise and a big surprise. With the meeting four minutes old, Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth (no surprise) was voted Chairman. Then, without any warning and any public input, The 5 changed its first monthly meeting time to 9:30 am.

Background: Rules – Regulations – Policies
What the County 5 Are Sworn to Uphold

In 2006, Columbia County became a Home Rule County when it approved its Charter. The County’s last charter review cycle was in 2020.

On August 3, 2017, the County 5 passed resolution 2017R-23. This resolution approved the "Rules and Policies of the Board of County Commissioners." For the most part, Columbia County's rules are a carbon copy of the St. Johns County 2014 Rules and Policies.

On June 3, 2021, after an extensive rewrite of the Administrative Code by County Attorney Foreman, the revised County Administrative Code was adopted.

The Charter calls for the County 5 to set its yearly meeting schedule “on a date in December…which is established…in the County Administrative Code.”

It's Organization Night
Thursday, December 2, At the County 5

Chairman Rocky Ford gaveled the meeting to order at 5:30 pm.

The revised Administrative Code is silent on which meeting in December shall be “Organization” night.

The first order of Commission business was electing a County Chairman and a Vice-Chair. They were already selected in the backroom.

Commissioner Rocky Ford
Commissioner Rocky Ford (file)

Chairman Ford asked, “Can I get a nomination for the chairman?”

Commissioner Tim Murphy didn’t miss a beat, “I nominate Robby Hollingsworth for service as next year’s chair and myself as vice-chair.”

Reporting on The 5 for sixteen years, this is the first time the Chairman and Vice-Chair have been nominated as a ticket. Commissioner Murphy is the first commissioner to nominate himself.

Commissioner Witt seconded the motion.

Without comment, the motion passed unanimously.

Then, veteran Commissioner Ronald Williams said, “Mr. Chairman, [I] move to recommend Tim Murphy for vice-chair."

County Attorney Foreman said, “He made that part of his motion. He put it in his first motion.”

Commissioner Hollingsworth: Assuming the Chair - Not Yet

Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth
Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth (file)

No longer the Chairman, Commissioner Ford said, "I guess at this time we swap chairs?"

Commissioner Murphy, who has been attending Organization meetings for years, asked, “We got to do that in a resolution?”

No resolution is required to appoint the Chair and Vice-Chair.

Attorney Foreman answered, “Yeah. We need to do the scheduling resolution real quick. Then we’ll do the swap.”

County Attorney Foreman has been attending Organization Nights for six years.

Commissioner Hollingsworth was now the County Chairman. Commissioner Ford continued to run the meeting.

Commissioner Witt asked County Attorney Foreman, “You’re gonna read it?” [the resolution setting the meeting times]

Mr. Foreman said, “We have two proposed resolutions.”

There was some unintelligible conversation.

There were not two proposed resolutions. There was confusion.

A public record request revealed that on December 1, County Attorney Foreman came up with a resolution changing the meeting time from 5:30 pm to 9:00 am.

The resolution with the 9:00 am meeting time was not added to the agenda, nor was the public aware of it.

Setting the Agenda: The Rule

Setting the County meeting agenda is not rocket science, nor is it a great mystery. The process is laid out in the County Rules and Policies, first approved in 2017.

Rule 4.301, setting the agenda:

The County Manager must provide a tentative agenda to the Chair, who has the final say on the meeting agenda. Any commissioner or department director may request something be included on the agenda as long as it is presented eight days prior to the meeting with the associated backup material "sufficient to warrant discussion." The agenda is considered closed after the eight-day deadline except for emergency items, which the Chair may call.

After the County Chairman gives the agenda its final stamp of approval, it is posted on the County website on the Friday before the upcoming Thursday meeting.

The County 5 had a year from its last Organizational Meeting to add an item to the agenda to discuss changing the Board’s meeting times and a week before the December 2 meeting to add a resolution to do it.

The County 5 Meeting Continues

Mr. Foreman read the resolution scheduling the County Commission meetings on the first and third Thursday of the month at 5:30 pm.

Commissioner Ford asked, “Can we get a motion for the resolution?”

Commissioner Murphy said, “So moved.”

The next step would have been for the Chairman to ask for a second.

Neither Commissioner Ford (still running the meeting) nor Chairman Hollingsworth asked for a second.

The County Rules require a second to put the motion on the "table" for discussion and debate.

Commissioner Ronald Williams
Commissioner Ronald Williams (file)

Commissioner Williams addressed no one in particular, "Question on the resolution. When did this Board vote to move the first Thursday meeting to nine o'clock?"

Commissioner Ford responded, “We’re votin’ on it right now.”

County Attorney Foreman added, “The one as read has both meetings at five-thirty. The one as read is on the agenda.”

Commissioner Ford asked, “So that resolution doesn’t move the meeting to 9 o’clock?”

Mr. Foreman responded, “Adoption of the resolution as read, without amendment, would leave both meetings at 5:30.”

County Manager David Kraus volunteered, “We were requested to prepare a second resolution that would move the first meeting to a morning meeting.”

The 5 Should Have Added the Last Minute Resolution to the Agenda

Adding the competing resolution to the agenda would have been a simple matter, if anyone had thought of it.

With Chairman Hollingsworth sitting in the wings, Commissioner Ford continued to run the meeting, “Does anybody want to make a motion to move the meeting to the morning meeting?” he asked.

Commissioner Witt weighed in, “I think it’s going to be exactly the same, only it’s going to be a 9:30 time. I’ll start with commenting. I really don't have a preference either way. I think the one meeting at 9:30; if you look at some of the largest employers in the County, the Department of Corrections, the healthcare sector -- a lot of those guys don't work daytime. There's a lot of night shift work. I think having one meeting during the day does two things: it allows people work at night an opportunity to participate in these meetings, too. It also allows for staff to participate while they're on duty and not have to stay late.”

Commissioner Tim Murphy
Commissioner Tim Murphy (file)

Mr. Witt added, “Most counties across the state that do have two meetings a month have a morning meeting, and an afternoon meeting is not uncommon. I'm good either way; I think 9:30 in the morning is a good idea.”

Commissioner Williams weighed in, “I'm not for a morning meeting. We've tried morning meetings in the past. There's no public hearings can take place in a morning meeting… What we've found in the past is participation in morning meetings have not been adequate to keep them at a morning meeting, but this is up to the Board. They have never been a successful morning meeting since I've been a Commissioner. That's why they were moved to at night.”

Commissioner Murphy volunteered, “I'll restate my motion just for clarification. I'll make the motion to accept the resolution as read, with all meetings being at 5:30. Me and Mr. Williams had the conversation many times about the unattendance. I'll stand by that motion.”

Commissioner Williams said in the past people complained they needed to work and couldn't come to the meeting. “5:30 has been the most productive for participation.”

County Attorney Foreman explained that some public hearings must be held after 5:00 pm and said that larger counties across the state follow the pattern of having a morning meeting and an evening meeting.

Commissioner Toby Witt
Commissioner Toby Witt (file)

Commissioner Witt: “I don’t know if there is a motion and a second on the table.”

Commissioner Ford: “There is.”

Commissioner Witt: “Never mind, we can’t do it.”

The Clerk: “There is no second.”

Commissioner Ford: “There’s no second.”

The County Rule concerning debate of a motion:

"No motion shall be debated or put to a vote without a second..."

Commissioner Witt: “Why don’t we consider the split meeting first, so we don't vote the other one down? It sounds like "unintelligible." Why don't we consider the first one?”

Attorney Foreman: “You could ask Mr. Murphy to withdraw his motion. He's got it on the floor.”

Commissioner Witt: “It will withdraw for lack of a second.”

Attorney Foreman: “If it’s not seconded.”

Commissioner Murphy: “But I’ll withdraw.”

Commissioner Witt:  “I’ll make a motion that we do a 9:30 for the first meeting and a 5:30 for the second.”

Commissioner Ford:  “I’ve got a motion. Do I get a second?”

Commissioner Williams: “What was your motion?”

Commissioner Witt: “To do the morning meeting and the afternoon meeting.”

Commissioner Ford: “Second?”

From the audio and personal attendance, it is impossible to hear who seconded the motion.

Your reporter checked with the Clerk and the County Manager. Neither could identify who seconded the motion.

Commissioner Ford:  “Anymore discussion?”

There was none.

It was impossible to discern who voted against the motion other than Commissioner Williams.

While the vote sounded like it was 4-1, Commissioner Ford announced it as 3-2.

Neither the Clerk, nor the County Manager could identify who, other than Commissioner Williams, voted against the motion.

Commissioner Ford said they could change the meeting times if they didn’t like them.

A plain reading of the Charter does not authorize the County 5 to change the meeting times, after they are approved, if they don’t like them.

Commissioner Hollingsworth said he asked audience members before the meeting what they thought about a morning meeting time. There were only a handful of people reported at the meeting.

Mr. Hollingsworth finally took his seat as Chairman.

During all its discussion, The 5 never mentioned modifying the Resolution setting the meeting days and time.

There is another County 5 meeting on December 16. They have a chance to do it over the right way and get some public input.


Yesterday morning Chairman Hollingsworth said he will be reviewing the Rules of Proceedure. "I want to do things right," he said.

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