Local government bodies may be in violation of state law

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Local government bodies may be in violation of state law

October 24, 2017 - 01:35

When a government body holds a meeting, that body is required to maintain minutes of the meeting. The minutes document what happened in a meeting which includes the outcomes of votes on the agenda items and relevant discussion by board/council members and members of the public.

The Florida Statute 286.011 states, “The minutes of a meeting of any such board or commission of any such state agency or authority shall be promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection.”

Hernando County does an excellent job video recording the various meetings. Live meetings can be viewed online and viewers are able to “rewind” during the live meeting to hear a portion of the meeting again. The videos are expediently made available to view following the meetings. This tool also gives community members the ability to watch specific sections of the meeting linked to the agenda. If you are interested in a certain agenda item, you can click on it and the technology does a decent job in loading that part of the video for you to watch.

However, watching a 20 to 60 minute segment of video is not something the average citizen has time to do. This is where minutes are important. Minutes document whether or not a certain agenda item has passed and specifies who supported or rejected it. You can gather a great deal of information about the meeting in a short period time utilizing the minutes of a meeting.

Hernando County is currently 3 months behind in minutes documentation. The Board of County Commissioners adopted the June 27, 2017 meeting minutes at their Oct. 10th meeting. This can be problematic because there are time limits to challenging decisions made at commission meetings. If the minutes are several months behind, then citizens may not become aware of decisions until after the time is up for challenging those decisions.

Here is a list of minutes available for some local governmental bodies:

• The Hernando County School Board adopted the Oct. 3, 2017 minutes at their Oct. 17, 2017 regular meeting.
• The minutes of the Oct. 10, 2017 Citrus Board of County Commissioners regular meeting are available
• The minutes of the Oct. 10, 2017 Pasco Board of County Commissioners regular meeting are available.
• The City of Brooksville only appears to have the minutes of 7 meetings in 2017 available on their website and has not adopted minutes for several weeks. To provide perspective, there are 42 files of meeting minutes available for 2016.
• The July 10, 2017 meeting minutes are the latest available for the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Committee meeting.

In a brief conversation with Public Information Officer Virginia Singer, she stated that the hold up may be due to staffing issues at the Hernando County Clerk of Court Office and would follow up with them.

Clerk of Court Don Barbee spoke to the Hernando County Legislative Delegation Committee on Oct. 16, 2017 and highlighted many of the budgetary and staffing issues facing his office. Barbee explained, “We’re down 10% on FTE’s (full time equivalents).” He said they have moved towards part time employees to reduce insurance costs and use several student clerks from PHSC, but “the cracks are showing,” he said.

It may be safe to assume that the county’s lag in meeting minutes are one of those cracks.