Better late than never? Walton commissioners address late additions to meeting agendas
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners have taken steps to ensure that the public is more aware of what is going on with late additions to the commission's meeting agendas.
Under new rules approved unanimously at Tuesday's commission meeting, anything added to an agenda after 11 a.m. on the Thursday preceding a regular Tuesday meeting would be considered a late addition.
Any late addition under the new rules — whether from a commissioner, the county administration, the county attorney or a county department — now will have to be accompanied by a description of the action sought from the commission. Like the late addition, the information on requested action would be available to the public.
Commissioners did not discuss the proposed changes. They moved directly to a vote after the changes were presented by interim county counsel Clay Adkinson.
The commission's unanimous action to be more transparent regarding late additions to its agendas came in the face of sharp criticism of board members' actions in the May firing of former Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Director Jay Tusa.
There was, in fact, no notice at all on the May 11 commission agenda that commissioners intended to consider terminating Tusa's contract at that meeting. Instead, the issue was brought up by Commissioner Mike Barker during a regular part of the commission meeting in which individual commissioners can bring up items for discussion.
The agenda did not indicate that Barker planned to bring up anything at all at the May 11 meeting, during which Tusa's contract was terminated after Barker made a motion to take that action. He was joined by Commissioners William "Boots" McCormick and Danny Glidewell. Opposing the move to terminate Tusa were Commissioners Tony Anderson and Trey Nick, the commission chairman.
Two weeks later, the commission approved a process for moving forward at the TDC under an item that was a late addition to the agenda from the county government's administrative staff. Under that decision — a 4-1 vote with Anderson as the lone dissenter — Jason Cutshaw, the TDC's director of operations, and Brian Kellenberger, the TDC's director of beach operations, will lead the organization through the current tourist season.
At the end of the season, under terms of the May 25 decision, commissioners could opt to begin a search for a new director, with county staff vetting candidates and sending the top three prospects to the commission for consideration. Alternatively, commissioners could consider bringing the TDC more fully into the county government's organizational chart.
There was little to no public comment on Tusa and the TDC at either the May 11 or the May 25 meeting. At the May 25 meeting, one woman told commissioners that "going down this road of last-minute additions, I think, is a slippery slope in Walton County."
In other action at the May 25 session, Anderson asked that county government staff be directed to develop new rules for late additions to the agenda. The 3-2 vote to give that direction to county staff was supported by McCormick, Nick and Anderson and opposed by Glidewell and Barker.
In pushing for the development of new rules, Anderson referenced the meeting at which Tusa was fired, saying that "the public needed to be there at that meeting, and they weren’t notified."
In comments at Tuesday's meeting when he introduced the proposed new agenda rules, Adkinson said the 11 a.m. Thursday cutoff for agenda items already has been a practice of the county administration, which is now formalized by the commission's action. The cutoff gives the administration time to assemble the massive books of detailed background materials prepared for commissioners in advance of their Tuesday meetings, Adkinson said.
Requiring that any requested action be included in late additions to commission agendas will, Adkinson said, "be one way that the board (of commissioners) could ensure that (with) an item that gets added on, the requested information (required by the new policy) is known."
Beyond that, Adkinson told commissioners that having more detailed information about a late addition to the agenda could help them to decide at the beginning of each meeting, when they consider additions or deletions to their agenda whether to add the requested item.
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Additionally, Adkinson noted that having the more detailed information could help commissioners decide whether the requested addition would get a commission vote later in the meeting or simply would be discussed without any action being taken.
In other action Tuesday, Candy Nowling, executive director of the Matrix Community Outreach Center — a nonprofit organization in DeFuniak Springs that provides clothing, food, housing and other assistance in Walton County and the surrounding area — got a standing ovation for being selected as the recipient of the 2020 Volunteer Agency Award at the Governor's Hurricane Conference.
The award goes to a staff member or volunteer of a non-governmental organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the fulfillment of hurricane preparedness, response, recovery or mitigation activities in Florida.
Katie Feeney, secretary of the Matrix board, praised Nowling at the meeting for her "unmatched leadership" during the coronavirus pandemic and in other local emergencies to ensure that "Walton County was taken care of in the darkest moments.”