The first meeting of the county’s RESTORE Council March 28 offered members guidance on ethics when it met for the first time.
County Commission Chairman Cheryl Sanders, who also is sits as non-voting chair of the RESTORE Council, said the purpose of the first meeting was to, “organize this committee and set ground rules.”
County Attorney Michael Shuler distributed literature on ethics and Florida’s Sunshine Law. He also provided board members with financial disclosure forms they are required to file with the state. He said that alternates appointed to the board must meet the same requirements as regular members. He cautioned representatives on the council that their email and Facebook postings are now public record.
County Director of Administrative Services Alan Pierce said the council will recommend projects for funding to the county commission, which will then decide whether to submit proposals to the federal government for funding.
He said Franklin County could receive anywhere from $0 to $60 million from the pool of federal dollars recouped from fines to BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Pierce said the money could become available in six months or six years, and that the county may need to hire additional administrative staff if and when the funds become available. Funding for administration is capped at 3 percent of the money awarded to the county.
Pierce and Shuler both said they believed the funds, once released, will remain available to the county until they are spent and there is no time limit on use of the money.
Audience members questioned how much detail will be required in submissions for funding.
“I’m going to submit projects but I’m not gonna spend $10,000 on engineering fees before I submit,” said Gene Langston, a land developer from Carrabelle.
Sanders said a description of projects and estimate of costs would be needed. Pierce said no guidelines for submissions have been received from the federal government.
Paul Parker, who represents the Tourist Development Council, suggested the council come up with a pre-submission form for projects. He said Gulf County’s council had instituted that policy, but Pierce and Shuler both urged the council to delay submission of projects until federal guidelines were forthcoming.
“I don’t care what you call it, people (who submit projects early) are going to have a sense of entitlement,” said Shuler.
The meeting ended after one hour and no date or place was set for a second RESTORE Council meeting.
On March 28, Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey dismissed, with prejudice, a suit brought against the county by Apalachicola that sought to force the county to negotiate with the city under the terms of Florida Statute 164. That law encourages the resolution of conflicts between local and regional governments without resorting to litigation.
“If the procedure created in Chapter 164 is not followed, the penalty and sole remedy is the award of attorney’s fees and costs in a lawsuit on the underlying conflict,” wrote Dempsey. “Chapter 164 does not create an independent cause of action and additional lawyer of litigation.”
Apalachicola has not chosen a representative to the RESTORE council.
The school board is represented by Pam Shiver. Lynn Martina speaks for the seafood dealers and Franklin County Seafood Workers Association President Shannon Hartsfield is a seated member. Rick Watson represents the realtors association and Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire represents environmental interests. Because Tonsmeire is frequently away from the county, the commissioners appointed Robin Vroegop as a non-voting alternate and she represented Tonsmeire at the opening meeting
Shiver and Carol Barfield, from District 3, have both sent word they could not attend daytime meetings because they worked during the day. Other members of the board expressed concern about time commitment to the project.
“I can’t afford to be here week after week and be away from my business. I can’t sit here for three hours every month,” said Parker.
The council includes five district representatives – Barfield; Pat O’Connell from District 1, Suzanne Zimmerman from District 2, , Ottice Amison from District 4 and Brenda LaPaz from District 5. Carrabelle is represented by Mayor Curley Messer.