AKA: GAGS REQUIRED AT COUNTY
"Silencing of critics draws criticism, Quiet, please. Two of Brevard's most outspoken critics of County government were muffled last week by Chairman Thad Altman when they tried to speak at a commission meeting...other citizens saw Altman's actions as heavy-handed," wrote Allen Rose of the Orlando Sentinel.
On December 15, 1991, the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the Florida Today editorialized, "Unlike most governmental leaders who have a tendency to expand their authority and increase governmental controls on the lives of citizens, the statesmen who nurtured our new country's development moved in exactly the opposite direction."
"They wrote into the Constitution specific provisions to limit the power of government and protect the rights of individual citizens."
"What a magnanimous action for a group of political leaders to take."
While the rest of America was celebrating the anniversary of the Bill of Rights, the Brevard Board of County Commissioners were stiffling some citizens' rights to speak at Commission meetings and were manipulating the agenda to suit their personal preferences.
During a December 10th meeting Board Chairman Thad Altman allowed Louis Owen to speak on an agenda item although Owen had not filled out a card. Later he asked if there were any individuals who had not filled out cards, they could speak anyway.
On that day, Commissioner Altman changed his mind three times about this speaking procedure.
During the December 17, 1991 Board meeting, Commissioner Thad Altman acknowledged Larry Wuensch, Director of the Brevard Economic Development Council, and apologized to him for the fact that he had to wait. He then told Wuensch that in the future all he needed to do was to come up to him, pull on his jacket, and alert him of his need to speak. Commissioner Altman then skipped forward in the agenda to the convenience of Mr. Wuensch.
Just as it was obvious that Thad Altman was showing preferential treatment toward some speakers, it was just as obvious that he punished critics by forcing them to wait hours until the end of the meeting to voice their opinion.
But his antagonism toward demanding taxpayers reached a point of denying them their rights at a meeting in early December 3, 1991. The County's contract with a Washington, D.C. lobbyist was once again on the agenda. As was standard practice, prior to the meeting Dale Martin of Merritt Island filled out a speaker's card, stating he wished to address the proposal to hire Sylvester Lukis at $36,000 annually.
Allen Rose, of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper described what followed, "The item was scheduled far down on the agenda. But Lukis and his associate, Dennis Vierra, addressed the Commission early on during the 'personal appearances' portion of the agenda."
"Without informing the public, the discussion item was switched to the personal appearances section and, after Lukis and Vierra spoke, Altman took a vote on their hiring. The vote was 3 - 2 with Commissioners Altman, Sue Schmitt-Kirwan, and Carol Senne in favor, Karen Andreas and Truman Scarborough against.
"There was no public discussion before the vote."
"Altman said there had been public discussion of the matter at a previous meeting and that he saw no reason for Martin to speak."
Commissioner Altman said he "didn't think Martin had anything new to say."
Commissioner Andreas told Altman that this was wrong and that Mr. Martin should be allowed to speak. Commissioner Altman replied, "Comment noted. But Mr. Martin cannot speak."
Later in the meeting I was scheduled to address the Board on the County's expenses and accounting, especially regarding the trips to the Helmsley Palace Hotel in New York. Since other taxpayers supported my efforts to gain answers, they filled out cards and gave them to me.
I chose to ask Commission Altman why he had denied Dale Martin his opportunity to speak to the Board. I asked him, "How do you know he didn't have anything new to add?"
Incensed at having his mistake so glaringly brought up for public scrutiny, Commissioner Altman threatened to deny my right as well by turning off the microphone. When I continued to press the issue, he told me several times not to bring the issue up, turned off my microphone, then told a Sheriff's Deputy to remove me from the room. Seeing he had indeed gone too far, he reversed his order and allowed me to remain.
During the same meeting, Commissioner Scarborough suggested that the Board make every effort to avoid even the appearance of trying to discourage public discussion of issues. He recommended a general Board policy of allowing public discussion "any time we are voting on a business item." His motion, seconded by Commissioner Karen Andreas, failed by a 2 - 3 vote. Guess who voted against? Commissioners Thad Altman, Carol Senne, and Sue Schmitt-Kirwan.
Commissioner Altman later told the Sentinel that "we have to set some kind of policy on public input but we didn't want to react to something like this on the spot without discussing it first." Its still not been done.
Board Chairman Altman drew a lot of fire from the press when he interfered with the First Amendment. The most pointed comment came from the News Observer when they headlined their editorial on the meeting's events, "ASS: a proper acronym for Commissioners Altman, Senne, and Schmitt."
Then at a December 17th meeting, the Commission found a subtler method of stifling free speech - simply postpone it until the public lost interest in the issue.
On the agenda for public discussion for the first time was the Minton Road Landfill settlement. (See Chapter 25) Graydon Corn of Mims, Dale Young of Melbourne, and I filled out speaker cards to address the Board on the issue. The meeting ran for hours, with the issue being placed near the end of the agenda to discourage speakers.
When the item at last came up, Commissioner Carol Senne, acting as Chairman, delivered a lengthy monologue. She felt there was no need for public discussion because no action could be taken at that time. She suggested the item be tabled until June 1992.
Commissioners Carol Senne, Thad Altman, and Schmitt-Kirwan voted to table this item, which meant the public and Board members were gagged from any discussion for six months.
Time ran out, so items had to be carried over to the next meeting. Commissioner Senne was asked if those items could be placed at the beginning of the agenda for the convenience of those wishing to address it. She replied by lecturing the public that waiting was just part of going to County Commission meetings.
To impair public input on Board issues, Board Commissioner Thad Altman, as the new Chairman of the Board, revised the rules for concerned taxpayers to address the Board. Standard practice, printed on the bottom of each meeting's agenda, was that the taxpayer filled out a card prior to the meeting to speak on specific agenda item with a time limit of three minutes.
As the number of taxpayers at meetings swelled, demanding fiscal responsibility and answers to embarrassing questions, Chairman Altman decided to change the speaking rules without Board approval. But Brevard County Policy #BCC-44 clearly states: "The authority to issue or revise this policy is reserved to the Board of County Commissioners."
Without a Board vote, or even appearing on an agenda, Commission Chairman Altman put his new policy into effect. The speaking rules were now his own.
Commissioner AltmanÙ began to manipulate the agenda to his own purposes.
Despite much criticism for the Board's favoritism and suppression practice, it still continued. For example: three hours into the 5:30 p.m. February 24, 1992 meeting, the Board skipped past the agenda item on selecting a Financial Adviser, moving it to the end of the meeting. The concerned taxpayers waiting to address the Board on the issue were shocked when Chairman Altman skipped to a zoning issue concerning Florida Memorial Garden, his father T.A. Altman, Sr. rose to speak on this zoning issue. The agenda item on Financial Adviser was delayed until after midnight.
This favoritism and suppression of taxpayer's rights by the Brevard County Commission has not subsided. Even though they bask in their right to freedom of speech, they chose to ignore that right in others.
+ • Is it proper for Commissioner Altman to shift the agenda items, requiring citizens to wait until the end of the day to speak on issues unfavorable to himself?
• Why can some agenda items be brought up for the convenience of some, but not for others?
A REPORT IN TIME SAVES NINE
"Commissioners took no action to schedule Commissioners' reports earlier in Commisssion meetings despite regular complaints from the public that final reports are sometimes used to discuss controversial issues after media representatives have left," recounted The Reporter in March of 1992. "Reports are routinely given as the last item of business and cover items not on the agenda."
Generally County Commission day meetings are held two Tuesdays a month at:
Brevard County Government Center Auditorium
2725 St. Johns Street
Melbourne in Viera
The meetings are public, open to everyone, with the meeting dates posted outside the auditorium door.
The public can get a general knowledge of what will be discussed by purchasing what is called an advance agenda which is mailed out one week ahead of the meetings. It lists the items to be discussed and voted on at the meeting, although items can be added to this advance agenda up to the day before the meeting date. This results in an add on agenda, with the public and most Commissioners not knowing all the items that will be discussed. One never knows what was added until a new agenda is obtained right before the meeting starts.
One paperwork packet is prepared for the public, the County Administrator, County Attorney and for each Commissioner, that contains documents explaining each agenda item. The public's packet of information is kept at the back of the meeting room. Citizens can review this information and see exactly what the Board is voting on. If anyone wants to address the Board, they simply fill out a speaker's card with their name and address and the name of the agenda item they wish to speak on.
This all sounds fine and dandy, and above board. Right? Well, there is an out which seems to be used to conceal items from the public and other Commissioners. There are two sections: one called New Business and the other Reports. During the Reports time any County Commissioner, the County Administrator, or the County Attorney can discuss any item without prior notification to the Commissioners or the public. The Reports section is routinely the last item of business, so after lengthy Board meetings the public has usually gone home tired and the media has gone to meet a deadline. It presents a superb opportunity to bring up nonagenda items with little scrutiny. It was this "secrecy" that concerned some who attend the Commission meetings and were learning the inner workings of the fraternal network.
By keeping an item off the advance and add on agenda, no Commissioner or citizen knows entirely what is to be discussed and no paperwork has to be placed in the public's or Commissioners' paperwork packet. The item brought up out of the clear blue will usually get voted on in a hurry and passed with little discussion and without question.
On January 14, 1992 John Scianna of Palm Bay wrote Commissioner Altman asking the Commissioner to consider changing the way the County Commission meetings are organized. Two changes he recommended were offering time for Public Comments at the beginning and end of the meetings, and moving the Reports time to the beginning of the meeting. Commissioner Altman chose to not pursue Scianna's ideas.
On March 17, 1992 the Report Time was placed on the agenda for discussion. Some citizens requested that only on rare emergencies should a significant County item be discussed under the Reports or New Business section. It was requested that the Reports time be moved towards the beginning of the meeting to limit the time tax watchdogs have to stay to make sure nothing underhanded is going to be brought up and passed at the end of the meeting. Some requested that additions to the advanced agenda be kept to a minimum, so that the public and the Commissioners would not be caught off guard, with Commissioners having to vote on something they really knew nothing about.
Gary Cleland of Merritt Island was the sole public spokesperson favoring the present Reports procedure. "To make a change will only set up County staff for more verbal abuse from publicity hungry members of the public. I commend you for the excellent job you are doing. I don't know how you take all of the abuse you get," he told Commissioners. Gary Cleland is the Executive Director of the Economic Development Committee of the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
After hearing the speakers, the Board decided to leave the Reports time at the end of the Commission meeting and to try to keep those items addressed to a minimum. Commission Chairman Altman said that a board would be placed at the back of the Commission Auditorium and each Commissioner, the County Administrator, and County Attorney could list any significant items they were going to discuss during their Report time. This never occurred.
Some "emergencies" that were not placed on the agenda but discussed under the Reports or New Business headings that were significant County business were:
1) December, 1990. Commissioner Sue Schmitt-Kirwan brought up during her Report time the Original Transportation Impact Fee Credit and Road Development Agreement that the Board voted on with no prior warning. This agreement set up the mechanism for impact fee implementation and a way to give impact fee credits or exemptions. (See Chapter 10)
2) March 25, 1991. County Attorney Bob Guthrie brought up the Minton Road Landfill out of court settlement during his Report time. This called for the Board to approve the settlement agreement with no prior time to study it. This settlement was never placed on the agenda for public discussion. When Commissioner Scarborough placed it on the December 17, 1992 agenda, Commissioners Senne, Altman, and Schmitt-Kirwan voted to table the item for six months not allowing any Board or Public discussion that day or for six months. The settlement called for the County to pay the final closure expenses, with an additional $100,000 to the permittee just to shut down. The County is in the process of closing the landfill at an estimated cost of $400,000 and as of July 1992, a total cost of this boondoggle to the taxpayers of around $500,000. (See Chapter 25)
3) October 9, 1991. County Attorney Guthrie, during his Report time, asked the Board for $60,000 in additional money for the law firm trying Brevard County's asbestos case against W.R. Grace Co. That $60,000 made the grand total paid the law firm for out of pocket expenses of $295,000. It has since exceeded $347,000, the expense originally estimated was around $50,000. (See Chapter 15)
4) February 18, 1992. County Administrator Tom Jenkins brought up a Financial Advisor Selection Recommendation during New Business. Some citizens had fought long and hard to get the financial adviser competitively selected and Tom Jenkins was bringing it up when the public had no advance notice.
5) During County Attorney Bob Guthrie's Report time, he has the tendency to pass out packets of information that the Commissioners have never seen before and expects them to vote on his proposals. At the February 18, 1992 meeting, Commissioner Scarborough asked Bob Guthrie to organize these items ahead of time so that the items would appear on the agenda, so that his office and the public would have a chance to review the information before the meeting.
SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND...
OPPOSITION TO THE SEARCH
When asked about the fourth file, Clerk of the Court Winstead responded, "My office has no receipts associated with the Certificates of Participation closing." And yet the County had paid over $1 million in closing costs. This was especially shocking because over $200,000 worth of those closing costs were authorized by Ray Winstead's signature, but apparently without supporting receipts to substantiate those disbursements."
Any attempt to put together the jigsaw puzzle of County spending involves many hours of painstaking research in public records. However it became more painful when certain County offices chose to shield information from scrutiny by limiting access and making records less public.
According to Section 119.011(1), Florida Statutes, "Public records means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency...Agency means any state, county, district..."
Most County offices make these materials and documents readily available to interested taxpayers, but not all. Some offices decided to restrain access to public records by those who had openly investigated and publicly criticized their actions.
During a Board meeting Commissioner Scarborough asked for a summary of travel expenses incurred by Commissioners. County Administrator Tom Jenkins refused to provide the information because he said it would take too much employee time to retrieve.
Reporter Jay Smith of the News Observer was also denied the travel information and was told to obtain the information from County Finance by County Administrator Jenkins. He wrote Smith, "these requests for information become time consuming to the point of being a distraction from an employee's normal duties and responsibilities."
Later when I attempted to extract the Commissioners' travel information, I was also referred by Tom Jenkins to the County Finance office. I wrote a letter to Clerk of the Court Ray Winstead, who oversees the payment of all County expenses, requesting a complete listing of all out of County travel expenses made by each Commissioner from 1989-1992. Offering to pay for copies, I suggested he quote the cost to obtain the list. His reply was, "The estimated cost to research the travel expense you have requested is $581.60, plus all copy costs."
Because of the cost involved, I did not have Ray Winstead's do any travel research. Instead I tried to obtain the information by using their computer.
To double check the information I accumulated from the computer, I obtained copies of travel records from the offices of Commissioners Carol Senne Thad Altman Karen Andreas and Truman Scarborough No travel information could be obtained from Commissioner Sue Schmitt-Kirwan, because she does not keep any travel records. The information printed out from the computer did not always match Commissioner Senne'sor Altman'sfiles. And without proper codes, project numbers, purchase orders, etc., even Commissioners Senne and Altman could not interpret the information that I pulled from Clerk of the Court Winstead's office. So Commissioners Senne and Altman could neither confirm or explain the travel expenses listed in the County computer.
Later Floyd Rogers of Melbourne and I were investigating the closing costs associated with bond closings. On October 3, 1991 we went to the finance office in Titusville where the public documents are kept.
To begin our search Finance Department Manager Steve Burdett wanted us to plow through four inch thick computer printouts looking for the account numbers where expenses were entered. When we asked if he had a master list showing all the bonds issued and the corresponding account numbers, he said "No." He then directed us to rummage through two more books looking for the proper account numbers. Exasperated by the time this consumed, we pressed him for more direct information. He then easily produced five account numbers.
At least twice while we were there, Steve Burdett commented that he could not be taking his time when the public wanted information. But it was his delay tactics that consumed well over an hour for what should have taken fifteen minutes.
Once again he was restrictive when he failed to give us all the account numbers. On two bond transactions, Burdett only gave us fund number 294 while fund numbers 478 and 476 were withheld. Again we felt suspicious that Finance Manager Steve Burdett's lack of cooperation was concealing information. Once we familiarized ourselves with the complexities of the County's computer, we were able to locate and print out copies of some of the bills for the visits to the Helmsley Palace Hotel. But we could not find any receipts for airline tickets to New York.
We asked one of the finance employees close at hand, "Who might have the file on these particular bond closings?" The worker we were referred to found the proper file quickly. It contained not only the airline bills we had asked for, but also the Helmsley Palace Hotel bills that we had just spent four hours finding in the computer.
Just as the employee left to make copies of the airline bills, Steve Burdett appeared and dictated, "Do not ask any employees for information. You must come to me."
Perceiving our search to be impeded by Finance Manager Burdett, the following day we made a formal request in writing to his superior, Clerk of the Court Ray Winstead, for the rest of the bond closing expenses that we believed to be easily accessible in files.
Assistance of the news media was requested in obtaining public records.
Clerk of the Court Winstead responded to the letter by instructing Steve Burdett's office to give us access to three of the files needed. Access to the fourth, containing information on the closing for the Certificates of Participation for the Government Center was withheld.
When asked about the fourth file, Clerk of the Court Winstead maintained that the files pertaining to the bond closing for the Government Center were in County Attorney Bob Guthrie's office and that the finance office had none.
When we contacted County Attorney Bob Guthrie for the records, he informed us that his office did not keep any of the information either. He added he would get it from the Trustee, First Union National Bank. Meanwhile we called First Union's representative and was told that she did not have the closing cost bills - she thought Ray Winstead's office had them.
When over two weeks elapsed and no word had come from the County Attorney's office we decided to call the Financial Adviser, Toby Wagner, who initially paid for the hotel and travel bills before billing the County for reimbursement. He stated he did not have the records either and suggested we get in touch with the original trustee, Florida National Bank. We did contact them, but to no avail.
Imagine our surprise when we found out that when John Nagy of the Florida Today newspaper requested Helmsley Palace Hotel bills and airline costs for the June 1989 Certificates of Participation closing, County Administrator Tom Jenkins gave him the figures over the phone. We also later learned that when John Nagy went to the finance department, Steve Burdett simply handed over the 1990 and 1991 bond closing files for him to review.
With WCPX CBS Channel 6 and WFTV ABC Channel 9 present we made another request to Clerk of the Court Winstead and Comptroller Martin for the actual documents for the 1989 Government Center closing. Even with television news cameras documenting it, again they denied access to the information.
What are the consequences if an agency refuses to produce public records for inspection and copying? According to Florida's Government-In-The-Sunshine Manual "Civil action in circuit court may be instituted. Any person denied the right of inspection and/or copying under Florida Statute chapter 119.11(1) may institute a civil action in circuit court against a public agency which has violated the provisions of Chapter 119...that a public officer who knowingly violates the provisions of statute 119.07(1) is subject to suspension and removal or impeachment and, in addition, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree,..."
Believing the Clerk of the Court Winstead could have violated Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law, we contacted State Attorney Norm Wolfinger's office on November 11, 1991.
Robert Wayne Holmes was assigned by State Attorney Wolfinger'sÙ office to investigate our complaint. He regretted that the Sate Attorney's office could not render any assistance because, "The public records law only requires that records which are public be opened for inspection at reasonable times and under reasonable circumstances."
After having reported their office to the State Attorney, it really wasn't surprising when Comptroller Doug Martin again denied me simple public information. On January 6, 1992 I phoned Clerk of the Court Winstead's office to obtain the Budget Total and the General Fund Total for 1988 and 1991, after easily obtaining similar information from the School Board budget department. Comptroller Martin informed me that it was policy to not give out information over the phone because it could be misinterpreted. He then suggested I look for it at the Central Reference Library in Cocoa.
Indeed, I was able to get the figures for 1988, but the 1991 figures were too recent to be in the library. The next day I called the finance department for the information. Department Manager Steve Burdett was not able to take my call, but I was able to speak with his secretary, Jerry Turner. I explained to her that the library did not have the 1991 Budget and General Fund Totals and asked who could help me to locate them. She agreed that the library director had not distributed the books yet, but she would see what she could do. She put me on hold.
When she came back on the line she stated she could not give out information because numbers could get transposed. I asked her, "Could someone there copy the page and mail it or FAX it to me?" Once again I was put on hold.
This time it was Finance Manager Steve Burdett who came on the line with the same frail explanation about transposed numbers. I asked if the page could be faxed. First he said there would be a charge, but when I agreed he would not quote a price. Then he claimed it was policy not to FAX financial information. Perplexed by this runaround over a simple figure, I asked him if he had a copy of this policy in his office for me to see. He refused to answer this question and referred me to Clerk of the Court Winstead.
In a letter to Ray Winstead, I asked for a copy of this policy. He responded, "It has been the unwritten policy of this office for many years to refuse to provide financial and certain other technical data over the phone." And yet for several months during the Fall of 1991 I was able to call the finance office and receive bond and financial information on the phone. Somehow this unwritten policy went into effect on me around January of 1992.
In frustration the State Attorney Wolfinger's office was again contacted. Robert Wayne Holmes once again replied that the State Attorney's office could not be of any assistance.
Still wanting more public records, Floyd Rogers and I made an appointment with Clerk of Court Ray Winstead's personnel manager to obtain information on employee pay raises in the Clerk's office. We were charged $12 an hour to ask the personnel manager questions and to review some personnel files. Comptroller Doug Martin determined the charge.
It appeared as though my public embarrassment of County officials was making itself felt. I ran into their reaction again on June 16, 1992 when I made a request to Assistant County Attorney Ken Crooks to view the Deseret Landfill files. He announced that the files could not be viewed then because there was no one there to sit with me while I viewed the files.
Since a secretary was present, I suggested I could review the files while sitting next to her desk. Ken Crooks said that was not acceptable because she had to answer the phone. He insisted I would have to come back when someone was able to watch me. I even offered to put my private items in another area if that concerned him. He replied he was not inferring that I would steal something.
After leaving the County Attorney's office, I became curious if the County routinely wasted time and money to have an employee specially monitor anyone who was reviewing files in employee filled offices. A Florida Today
reporter assured me they were allowed to study hundreds of documents with no one watching them, usually in a private room.
As recently as June 25, 1992 answers to simple questions were elusive. While researching the cost of the move to new offices prompted by the closing of the Titusville Courthouse, I asked Clerk of the Court Winstead for the cost of the new Nixdorf computer system and programs that were purchased for his new office. In his reply he said he did not understand my question. In a follow up telephone call Ray Winstead said he could not remember the general price that was paid. He then informed me the charge would be $18 an hour to have an accountant look up this cost.
On July 2, 1992 all telephone communication with Clerk of the Court Ray Winstead, Comptroller Doug Martin, and their offices was severed by them when they directed the Finance Manager's Secretary to say, "Requests for information can no longer be taken by telephone, you have to request the information in writing."
Trying to obtain as specific an interpretation of this as I could I asked, "You mean you cannot write down what I want, research the price and call me back?"
"No," she replied. "We're not a customer service department. We don't have time to look up information for people."
+ • When I requested specific information on financial matters from the Clerk of the Court Ray Winstead's office was I putting their feet too close to the fire?
• Why did they become so overly protective of their files and the information they contained?
• Did officials delay for time while files could be purged of information they felt the public should not view?
FINDING A RECEIPT
IN A HAYSTACK
On June 11, 1992 The Reporter newspaper ran the following story by Carol Hayes outlining her efforts to seek an accurate accounting of expenses County Commissioners have incurred while traveling. It should have been simple for the Brevard County finance department to provide these figures to her, or for her to locate them as a matter of public record. But because of the County's convoluted system of bookkeeping, travel expenses are scattered and buried in numerous accounts.
However, there seems to be a method behind this madness. A high level County Official said privately, "Commissioner Carol Senne told me that I should travel more because Ray (Winstead) has a way to hide the expenses."
BUSINESS TRIPS MADE
BY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
AND CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS
With media attention focused on business trips and perquisites of office holders at the state and national levels The Reporter will offer its readers a closer look at the travel habits of local officials.
The following Brevard County Commissioners trip expenses are for the years 1989 through 1992.
The public has every right to expect a simple accounting of the total costs of trips made and paid for with public finds. Forms should be available for public inspection in the offices of each official. The forms should contain the name of the official, the destination, the dates of the trip, the public purpose for which it was taken, and the total cost, including the hotel used and its daily rate, airline or car rental fees, meals and conference registration fees.
This is not the reality in Brevard County. Trip Reports submitted to the Finance Office by Commissioners contain only items for which reimbursement is sought. This may tell only a fragment of the story because the Clerk's Office pays for some of the expenses directly and in advance.
Warrants (checks) may be issued directly to travel agencies for airline tickets, or directly to hotels for reservations or conference registration fees. These expenses do not show up on Trip Reports. Trips made for bond closing almost never show up on Trip Reports. Reservations are made by Financial Consultants and payments are made directly by the Finance Office to the consultants. Commissioners may have no knowledge of what the actual expenses are.
Four Commission offices readily made trip reimbursement files available for inspection. Commissioner Schmitt-Kirwan's Office referred us to the Finance Office for her travel expenses. Schmitt-Kirwan keeps no copies of her request for reimbursement, according to her aide Jeff Cole.
Computer information on Commissioners' travel expenses appears in any one of several different funds. Payment entries are not consistently and clearly identified as to Commissioner, dates of trips, and destination. This makes comparison of payments made by the Clerk's Office with Commissioner's trip reports almost impossible.
Records prior to mid-1989 are archived. Archival files are stored in cardboard boxes on the top floor of the Central Reference Library in Cocoa. Only more recent records are computerized. Access without an official from the department involved is not permitted. Costs of obtaining archival information are high.
The Reporter sent Commissioners a draft of monies the computer files indicated had been paid to them but which did not appear to be accounted for in their office Trip Report.
Responses from Commissioners Carol Senne and Thad Altman indicated that it was impossible for them to interpret the information obtained from the Clerk's Office without codes, project numbers, purchase orders and the like. They could neither confirm or explain the charges based upon the computer information.
The present system does not afford reasonable accountability to the public for trips made at public expense. The following is the best information available as The Reporter went to press. We cannot say with any degree of certainty, however, that the list is complete.
The Constitutional Offices of the County are creations of the Florida State Constitution. Each is elected countywide for a four year term.
All but the Offices of the Tax Collector and the Clerk of Court are funded entirely from the General Revenue Fund. The fund consists primarily of property tax revenues. The budgets drawn up by the Constitutional Officers must be approved each year by the County Commission.
The Office of the Tax Collector is funded entirely from user fees. About 60% of the budget of the Clerk of Court came from the General Revenue Fund last year. The remainder came from user fees.
TRAINS AND BOATS AND PLANES
The Canaveral Port Authority is a Special Taxing District which was chartered by the State Legislature in 1939 to develop, maintain and operate the deep water port at Canaveral Harbor. This authority is managed by a five member board of Commissioners elected by Brevard County voters that live approximately in the area from the north county line south to the Pineda Causeway. The Port Canaveral Authority Commission districts do not match the district lines drawn for the Brevard County Commission Districts.
The Authority manages the public property at the port and the publicly owned buffer strips along the shorelines of the Merritt Island Barge Canal. It derives revenues from rents and from user fees for dockage, wharfage, storage, and parking, and collects boarding fees from cruise passengers.
The Port Commission levied ad valorem (property) taxes upon residents of the northern half of Brevard County until 1986, when the Authority ceased taxing. During the taxing time, the Port generally used the tax revenues for general operating expenses. While, most other port revenues were pledged against bond issues for major capital projects. The Authority now operates solely as an enterprise fund.
FY92 Port Operating Budget: $16,002,000
FY92 Port Capital Improvement Budget: 5,563,000
Total Annual Port Budget FY92: $21,565,000
Great controversy swelled for years in opposition to the Port Authority's decision to fund studies on building a Utility/Rail corridor that would cost around $1 Billion. It would connect Port Canaveral to the Orlando International Airport. This corridor would result in trains to carry freight and utility lines to carry jet fuel, oil and gas across wetlands to satisfy Orange County needs. It was discussed that five new hotels might be constructed at the Port on a barrier island, where state and federal laws discourage development. And then there was the discussion of mass transit trains. Some taxpayers were heard to say, "If and when mass transit is needed in Brevard County, it should run north-south and not run east-west and sure not cost $1 Billion." Logic told some that if the mass transit train was built, that people would hop on the train at the Orlando airport and hop off at Port Canaveral onto a cruise ship. Without transportation how would these people be able to visit Brevard County's restaurants, hotels, businesses and beaches as proponents promised?
The public was not allowed a vote on this. The Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors pushed aggressively for the Corridor without polling their members for opinions, causing businesses to withdraw their memberships.
Environmental scientist Mary Ann Kennimer of Cocoa Beach stated, "I cannot understand how such a project and development could be planned for a coastal-barrier, high-hazard area that projects into the Atlantic Ocean, 10 miles from the mainland. This area is said to be able to sustain only a Category 2 hurricane. This area also has demonstrated as recently as the early '70's that it is seismically active."
A study costing over $300,000 of public money was commissioned by the Canaveral Port Authority and the Orlando Regional Airport Authority. Upon completion of that study, on September 19, 1991, the Port Commissioners had a meeting and voted to spend an additional $517,000 for another study. During this meeting, Commissioner "Mac" McLouth commented that a mere $500,000 was all that was needed - as if a half a million dollars was mere peanuts. "Buck" Buchanan, "Mac" McLouth and Tommy Newbern voted yes, with Ralph Kennedy and Jerry Allender voting no more waste of money.
To the consternation of Helen Filkins of Cape Canaveral, the Port Authority did not ask the engineering firm who performed the original $300,000 study to answer some big questions like: How much would the Corridor cost to build? How will the money be raised? Will the Corridor operation pay for itself?
Instead Buchanan, McLouth, and Newbern voted for the second study costing $517,000 to address these questions. Cocoa resident and good government buff Joe Griffin commented, "These questions should have been answered long ago. You are just trying to keep your corridor vision alive. Quit wasting public funds."
Needless to say a lot of citizens were unhappy with their decision to plod on with another expensive study. An uproar could be heard all over the County. The following organizations decided to drop this hot potato: the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the cities of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, and the Brevard County Commission.
It was at this point the writing was on the wall and the Port Authority temporarily scrapped the plans for the Port to Airport Utility and Rail Corridor. Many believe it will be dredged back up when citizens least expect it. County Commissioner Thad Altman and Port Commissioner "Mac" McLouth publicly continue their support.
Meantime during an October 1991 Brevard County Commission meeting, two Commissioners had some questions for the Port Authority as reported to Carol Hayes of The Reporter.
The Authority is authorized by state charter to levy taxes only when revenue is needed for operating costs. Taxpayers pointed this out to Port Commissioners in 1984 when the port first began showing a significant profit. Those in Districts 1, 2, and 4 subsidized port operations with over $24 million until the Authority eliminated taxes prior to the 1986 elections.
"Shouldn't the Port Authority, which has accepted responsibility for causing damage to the beaches south of the port jetties, use some of its profit for a sand transfer plant to remedy the problem, instead of seeking federal tax dollars for the project?" asked District 2 County Commissioner Karen Andreas. The Commission agreed to send a letter requesting the Authority to use some of its profit dollars for the sand transfer plant.
Brevard beaches lose about 1 1/2 feet of shoreline a year due to erosion. One of the main factors to this erosion is the Port Canaveral jetties, which stop the sand from moving south down the beaches. For 30 years, the Canaveral Port Authority has tried to get a sand transfer plant built near the jetties to keep the sand moving north to south.
The Port Authority just keeps saying, especially at election time, that the Sand Transfer Plant is in the planning stages. Jesse Fleming of Port St. John comments, "I believe the Port Authority should get off their duffs and set up the sand transfer plant using their own funds. Thirty years is too long to procrastinate. Our beaches are one of our most valuable resources."
Others say let the Authority members, "Buck" Buchanan, "Mac" McLouth, and Jerry Allender cut their travel expenses and put some of that money aside to help pay for the sand transfer plant.
The following 1989-1992 travel expense information was furnished by the Port Authority's Financial Officers:
M.M. "Buck Buchanan, District 2 $ 43,813
McMillan, Buchanan Ins. Co.
Malcolm "Mac" McLouth, District 5 $ 28,440
Stottler, Stagg Engineering
Jerry Allender, District 1 $ 11,361
Ralph Kennedy, District 4 $ 2,379
Works for McDonnell Douglas
Tommy Newbern, District 3 $ 1,379
Owns Burger King Franchise
CHAPTERS 21-25 CHAPTERS 31-32