Once again, county commissioners have failed to decide who will serve as county attorney, their inaction largely due to an argument over parliamentary procedures.
Tuesday morning’s heated debate was the continuation of a Feb. 5 discussion to decide among five candidates who had responded to a request for proposals issued earlier this year.
Being considered are the current county attorney, Michael Shuler, as well as Carrabelle attorney Dan Cox, Eastpoint attorney Kristy Banks, Tallahassee attorney Ethan Way and Blountstown attorney Shalene Grover.
The Feb. 5 discussion, which had included the defeat of a motion 3-2 to retain Shuler, had been marked by sharp divisions within the commission.
On Tuesday, little had changed, as the five commissioners picked up right where they had left off.
After Commissioner Noah Lockley again moved to retain Shuler as attorney, and Commissioner Smokey Parrish seconded as he had two weeks earlier, Chairman Cheryl Sanders said she believed this motion was against the rules.
“We have never adopted those rules,” replied Lockley.
Sanders and Lockley were referring toRobert's Rules of Order, under which a motion to reconsider a topic may be made only by a member who voted on the prevailing side in the original vote.
Robert's Rules, a handbook for running meetings first authored more than a century ago, and based on procedures used in the British parliament, is generally recognized as a reliable standard for conducting meetings.
Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson told the meeting the commission never formally adopted Robert’s Rules, a position backed up by brief remarks from Shuler’s father, former county attorney Al Shuler. Johnson said the commission’s policy concerning reintroduction of failed motions was inconsistent.
“We have never done it before, why now?” said Sanders. “What the chairman does is basically set the rules.”
Lockley asked for a legal opinion, but Michael Shuler declined, saying he could not weigh in due to a conflict of interest.
Parrish then asked to speak, and recounted the Request for Proposal (RFP) process that led to the current vote.
“The majority of the commissioners wanted to go out for RFPs. I voted against that, not because (Shuler) is from Apalachicola or Carrabelle, but because I have watched how he advised and how diligently he worked,” Parrish said. “No allegations have been made of bad legal advice or getting county involved in lawsuits.
“As far as getting specialized assistance with cases like (the St. George fishing pier suit) involving maritime law; I think he was looking at the best interest of people and county,” he continued. “He could go out and spend three or four weeks learning on the county’s dime. I think (bringing in a specialist) was the right move for the people, county and board.
“I think he’s done us an excellent job. I know the board was trying to save money, but the lowest bidder was $200 a month less without the years of experience. We would save $200 a month and lose out on all this experience. We’ve looked at it just as with solid waste. We wanted to go out and see how to save money and it cost us $11 a ton. I’d like to see him remain as Franklin County attorney,” Parrish said.
Commissioner Pinki Jackel then returned to the issue of procedure. “In the future are we going to consider failed motions over and over again? What precludes the party from bringing up same motion 10 minutes later?” she asked.
“It’s the American way,” Lockley replied.
“You have a prevailing side and you have a failing side,” Sanders said.
Jackel then left the meeting chambers, and the debate was halted until she returned.
“At the last meeting, I asked for this item to be tabled. I asked for a cooling-off period and then to proceed. I received no respect on that idea. That is why we are in the mess we are in this morning,” she said.
“I understand the gravity of this decision but the world is not going to stop turning on this issue. The notes and calls I received tell me we need to get some perspective on this,” Jackel said. “I want a clarification on what the chairman’s authority is. I want things done the right way, no matter who prevails. I don’t want to be a part of a vote that is not done the right way.”
Sanders said there had been plenty of feedback, in the newspaper and by email, since the last meeting.
“Former Carrabelle Mayor Mel Kelly wanted me to give everybody a little public education,” Sanders said, and then obliged, noting that under Florida law, it is illegal to threaten a county commissioner.
She said she had been reluctant to serve again as chairman, “because of the way I was treated in 2006 and before.
“I was just challenged on my decision trying to follow a rule, and that hurt me to the heart,” she said, her voice quavering. “We are a board and we’ll keep operating as a board and I respect each and every one of them and I would do anything for them.”
Lockley refused to withdraw his motion.
“I’ll vote, but this isn’t going to go away,” said Jackel.
Commissioner William Massey, who had mentioned, but not specified, at the Feb. 5 meeting that he had received threats, said, “When I brought this up I didn’t mean for a man to get fired. It just went crazy, plumb crazy.”
Johnson asked to speak before the vote. “I was disappointed that Mr. Massey would come in and do this when he hadn’t even worked with (Shuler). I consider Michael (Shuler) and Alan (Pierce) blessings.
“As I lay in bed this morning praying, I asked ‘What would (former Clerk of Courts) Bobby Howell do?’ He was my mentor,” she said. “This is politics at its worst. I’m embarrassed to be a politician. If people don’t like me, they can just vote me out. You should either vote to keep him or throw (the bids) out and retain Michael.”
Johnson’s statement drew applause from most of the audience.
Massey said he would then withdraw his original motion, made in January, to go out for RFPs. Lockley and Parrish then each said they would withdraw their motion to retain Shuler.
But Jackel said Massey could not withdraw the original motion for RFPs because she had made that motion, and Massey had been the second.
Sanders then called for an end to the conflict. “I’m chairman of this board and until I’m voted down, I will be chairman. I think we ought to table this. I’m trying to keep calm. I do not think cooler heads are prevailing yet,” she said.
Parrish moved to refuse any and all bids, but Sanders took issue.
“I think I heard Mr. Massey say something,” she said, prompting Jackel to ask Massey whether he had moved to table the issue.
“To table it ‘till the following meeting. Y’all just do what you want,” Massey said.
“No,” said Sanders, “you are part of this board.”
Jackel seconded the motion to table, and Sanders said she too wanted to see it tabled, her voice again breaking.
Parrish noted that his motion to reject all bids had preceded the motion to table. “I’d like to see it dealt with. I’m not trying to be contentious,” he said.
The commission voted 3-2 to table, with Lockley and Parrish opposed.
Jackel said that over the next two weeks, she would like to see the chairman’s authority clarified.