Apalachicola and Carrabelle have each become the first Florida cities to request membership in the Gulf Consortium.
Carrabelle’s city attorney Dan Hartman and Apalachicola’s attorney Pat Floyd said Franklin County’s two incorporated cities are about to become the first municipalities to join the consortium, a joint public entity formed in Oct. 2012 by interlocal agreement among the 23 Florida county governments bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
The attorneys cite Article 3 of the interlocal agreement to justify their membership in the consortium, which was mandated by Florida law.
That article requests the members of the consortium include any of the 23 counties affected by the spill and any “Florida municipality, county or other public agency” that has approved the interlocal agreement and is approved by the majority of consortium representatives. Additional conditions may be imposed by the consortium on members outside the original 23 counties.
Carrabelle and Apalachicola both passed resolutions approving the interlocal agreement on Feb. 28. Apalachicola posted a letter requesting membership on March 1 and Carrabelle’s was mailed March 15.
Neither city has received a reply but Hartman said he is not surprised because the consortium has not convened since the letters were posted. Consortium directors, representatives of the 23 counties, have to vote on new requests for membership.
The city attorneys said they do not believe other cities have applied for membership “The interlocal agreement and its authorizing statute section encourage participation by a variety of public agencies,” Hartman said, adding that he believes the cities have a “unique perspective that should complement the county perspective.”
At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, County Attorney Michael Shuler attached a copy of Apalachicola’s resolution to join the consortium to his report.
“One can view the city of Apalachicola's adoption of this resolution as a stratagem to bolster their efforts to establish that they are entitled to receive, and control, funding from the RESTORE Act independent of Franklin County,” he wrote. “I recommend that the board consider asking the Gulf Coast Consortium to direct the City of Apalachicola to work through Franklin County, instead of becoming a member of that consortium.”
There was no discussion of Shuler’s recommendation during the meeting.
Floyd and Hartman believe the cities are underrepresented on the county’s 13 member RESTORE Council, set to meet for the first time March 28 in Carrabelle. The council will vet proposed projects within the county, with the county commission retaining ultimate say in who receives funding.
“(The cities) have the bulk of the population so why do they just ignore us?” asked Hartman. “We’re not looking to disrupt anything; we just want to be able to participate and be at the meeting. The city is willing to pay their equitable share of expenses as a member. We can’t wait to work with them to the betterment of the county. ”
Floyd said Cal Allen, Carrabelle’s representative on the RESTORE Council, discovered the clause that allowed the cities to apply for consortium membership. Apalachicola has not appointed a representative to the council.
“We’ve been trying to meet with the county,” Floyd said. “What we continue to seek is a far share for the cities. We created a distribution plan using the same factors for distribution to the cities that the counties used to assure a fair distribution among themselves. Apalachicola adopted it back in August before the consortium adopted their formula.”
Floyd said the formulae for distribution proposed both by the consortium and the cities’ proposal are based on amount of coastline, distance from the spill, population and sales tax collected annually.
“We didn’t get anything from the county that assured us we would get a fair share,” Floyd said. “We preceded the county in establishing what a fair share would be and tried to meet with them. When it comes down to county level we want to be sure we get our fair share based on population and sales tax and the unincorporated areas get the rest, which is a large percentage.”
He believes the cities were purposely left out of negotiations for RESTORE funding by members of the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) who formed the Gulf Consortium. “The consortium is the forming of a whole other government entity,” said Floyd.
Floyd said Apalachicola continues to pursue a suit under Florida Statute 164, to force the county to enter into negotiations with the cities. Carrabelle, while not a party to the suit, is a beneficiary of the litigation.
Shuler maintains that, because the RESTORE Act is a federal law, the county does not have to negotiate with the cities concerning distribution of funds.
In a telephone conference that included Mayor Van Johnson and City Administrator Betty Webb, Floyd said Congressman Steve Southerland has told Apalachicola leaders that the cities would have an equal voice with counties in distribution of RESTORE fines.
“The farther along we got, the less we saw of that,” he said. “Our focus is to agree. We thought the county would volunteer to meet with us but they have refused. Since they wouldn’t enter into an interlocal agreement within the county, this is another way of staying in a position to be sure the cities maintain a fair share.”