BONIFAY — After a recess the Holmes County Board of County Commissioners reconvened to hold a workshop after the regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8, in which a guest speaker from the Florida Association of Counties Virginia “Ginger” Delegal was present.
“In light of the new commissioners we’ve invited Mrs. Delegal to be a guest speaker,” said Holmes County Attorney Goodman. “The FAC also holds conferences for new commissioners. It’s a privilege to have her here, not only as a speaker but to be available for a question and answer session.”
Delegal said she considered herself a “mythbuster.”
“The Florida Association of Counties has been around for over 85 years,” said Delegal. “One of the myths we frequently bust is that small counties can become chartered. What it all comes down to is home rule.”
County Commissioner Kenneth Williams said that Holmes County was discouraged from becoming a chartered county because it would mean less income.
Delegal said this also would be considered a myth.
“If you were to get less money it would because of population, not charter,” said Delegal.
She reviewed the definition of a county, how it differs from a city, what forms of government are offered to the counties and what forms of government do other similar sized counties in Florida choose.
“Florida has 67 counties,” said Delegal. “20 of which are chartered counties. Historically, a county in Florida was a political subdivision of the state, established by the state to execute state services at the local level.”
She defined Home Rule as “the transfer of certain state powers to local entities in matters of local concern, but no complete autonomy.”
“This offers locals more control over their internal affairs and alleviates the need for state legislation of local concerns,” she said. “Ideas are consistent with traditional American ideals of self governance and independence. This is important for Holmes County to consider because over half of the population of Holmes County live in unincorporated areas of the county and therefore are looking to the county to provide most of the services required to maintain quality of life.”
She said some of the benefits of being a chartered county are that the county can “choose form of government, power to tax in unincorporated areas, may alter functions of county officers, can have county ordinances prevail over municipal ordinances, special acts that limit power must be approved by voters and can increase citizen involvement.”
“Right now as an non-chartered county ordinances are trumped by city ordinances,” said Delegal. “If the county were to become chartered then the county can prevail over city ordinances.”
Traditionally, she said, the duties of a county were “assessment of property, record keeping, maintain rural roads, administer elections, perform judicial functions and local law enforcement and public safety,” but lately those services have expanded to include “public health and welfare, consumer protection, economic development, employment and training, planning and zoning, water quality, fire protection and emergency management.”
Goodman asked for her to relay the benefits of having a County Administrator, County Coordinator or County Manager.
“This is someone who is a staff expert and allows for commissioners someone to consult with outside of the meeting capacity,” said Delegal. “As it is now because of the Sunshine Law commissioners can only speak to one another during an officially called meeting or workshop. They are not allowed to talk to one another about county matters outside of an official meeting.”
She said one of the worst kind of trouble comes when commissioners talk about a matter in casual settings, such as at a grocery store or via email, and it comes up for vote later on. This could lead to a revoking of the vote and a heavy fine to the county.
“A county manager is one that you can speak with without having to be in a official meeting capacity,” she said. “This will allow you to voice your ideas with someone who can advise for or against it before you bring it before the board. This will save quite a bit of time in the future.”
Goodman said for the time being he was acting as the advisor for the county as they have had no manager since the departure of Holmes County Administrator Greg Wood in 2009.
“There are certain problems that come with me being your advisor in an administrative capacity,” said Goodman. “There will come a time when I won’t be able to objectively play both rolls. There could come a time when you will need a witness in the administrative roll and as your attorney I couldn’t also be a witness.”
Commissioner Bill Parish said he agreed with the attorney about looking into the possibility of county administrator.
“I understand being the consultant of these department heads, but as our attorney you’d have to do all these jobs,” said Parish. “I can see the need of an administrator. We’re falling short on a county that depends on us for these services.”
Delegal advised that the county needed a “staff expert.”
“This is someone who is an expert of how staff regulations go,” she said. “Someone can be designated this position or this can be added to someone’s duties.”
Commissioner Monty Merchant told the board that they should consider asking the contractor of the recent bids for graders to extend their contracts.
The previous board was considering purchasing four to six new graders and put it out to bid shortly before the 2012 elections. The bid deadline came shortly after the election when three new commissioners came on board. The three new commissioners said they did not feel comfortable with voting on a bid so soon after being elected and so the bid was tossed out due to deadline.
“We’re paying $4,500 a month to lease a grader,” said Merchant. “We should do something. Maybe we can get then to extend the bids by another 30 to 60 days.”
Parish said that if they were able to get the contractors to consider extending the deadline for that long, which would allow for more time to research the matter, then he would be ready to make an informed decision.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Jan. 29 at the BOCC chamber located behind the Holmes County Court House.