Political Suppression in Franklin County

on Friday, 04 June 2021.

Political Suppression by the Commissioners Court

Hello Friends:

Is Franklin County more or less the same as most other counties? Specifically, do most county leaders check their ethics at the door when they get elected? Or, do they just look at things differently than if they were looking in from the outside? I wonder. After viewing and interacting with all kinds of politicians over the years, few share the traits of being open, inviting, honest but also are competent. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rules and the degree to which some will put their own needs ahead of the people they are sworn to serve.

We have two issues to put before you today. One, the continued inability to access our leaders in a traditional forum. And two, the problem with attracting enough competent and reliable County Board Members. Let’s begin.

If it’s the first or third Tuesday of the month, I’ve blocked that day to attend the County Commission meeting. Finally, after more than a year, you can attend in person…with conditions I find difficult to swallow. I was looking forward to finally getting back. In the last 17 years I’ve attended over 320 meetings. I do a write-up of each meeting for the CCFC Board. For the last year, I’ve watched, sometimes unsuccessfully virtual meetings. I’ve watched Commissioners go about the County business in the sterile atmosphere of a yellow and black taped room that reeks of fear. I’ve seen Politician’s wear masks on camera, and when the cameras are off, so are the masks. It seems Virtue Signaling has invaded Franklin County as well. If I find it difficult to return to the new “sanitized” Commission Chambers, I suspect others might as well.

A free people have the right to seek to redress their grievances to their leaders.

Wikipedia States:

A free people have the right to petition is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which specifically prohibits Congress from abridging "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances".

Although often overlooked in favor of other more famous freedoms, and sometimes taken for granted, many other civil liberties are enforceable against the government only by exercising this basic right first."

This applies to the Franklin County Commission and their Boards as well. There has been an ominous change in Franklin County over the past several years. Commissioners by and through their actions have decreased access to public meetings using various excuses, Covid-19 being only the most recent one.

Wakulla County, amongst the many other Florida Counties that does get it right should be the model for Franklin County.

Here’s the differences between Wakulla and Franklin County:

General Look and Feel

Franklin: Closed off (sit here, not there) and public not really encouraged to attend.

Wakulla: Encouraged to attend, sit anywhere you want.

Scheduled Meetings

Franklin: Only held in one place during the work day. Not centralized for easy access for all.

Wakulla: Held at the end of the work day, thereby encouraging participation

Addressing the Commission

Franklin: Must fill out a virtual speaker card prior to the meeting

Wakulla: Fill out a speaker card before or during the meeting

Time available to speak

Franklin: 3 minutes for general public during public comments and 1 minute if addressing an item on the agenda, or less at the discretion of the Chair

Wakulla: 3 minutes whenever addressing the Commission

Handouts and Documents for the Commissioners

Franklin: Must be turned in by the previous Thursday

Wakulla: Before or during the Commission Meeting

Number of Citizens Speaking

Franklin: Typically, less than three and mostly zero, one or two.

Wakulla: Typically, 15-25

Open to All

Franklin: Capacity limited to a few

Wakulla: Yes

The above policies serve to build a wall between the people and the government they have elected. It helps to tamp down criticism and empowers the Commission to believe they have widespread support when they may not. It allows profligate spending in a virtual darkness. It does the opposite of encouraging citizen participation and, if you have been listening, you can see the number of actual citizens speaking is typically from zero to three. Hardly a reason for such draconian rules.

We are a frequent writer in support of an open and inviting government which fully embraces the concept that citizens often have good ideas to contribute on behalf of their communities. As we get past Covid, it’s also time to get past policies that shield commission leaders from public scrutiny. Prove your legitimacy by defending your positions and policies. Debate between citizens and their leaders is healthy! Encourage the return to Open Government we are guaranteed under law. Be available to explain and defend positions and policies in full view of the public voters and constituents.

The County has four citizen advisory boards: Hospital, Tourist Development, Planning & Zoning and Board of Adjustment and until recently, an Airport Advisory Board as well. I know a few on each board. Competency is very uneven with novices to excellent. We see there being several problems that prevent good people from applying for these positions of responsibility and leadership.

  1. Politics. Killing the Airport Advisory Board was not unanimous and was orchestrated by one Commissioner who did not like the professional advice given. The other Boards are similarly worried about offending their “Bosses.”
  2. Commissioners pick someone from their own Districts instead of picking the most competent and professional citizens available. This dissuades the best and brightest from seriously considering volunteering for any board spot.
  3. It’s a thankless job. Not only do you not get paid, you know that you will have a target painted on your back if you don’t do your Commissioner’s bidding too often. There’s no reward offered in any form.

We would suggest the following to reform all four County Boards:

  1. Take the politics out and restart the Airport Advisory Board. If you don’t like the direction the APAB is going, have Staff write Policies and create Vision Statements that set the boundaries for the Board. Note: Must be public and transparent to ensure that no special interests are being served.
  2. Reward Board Members publicly. Pay a stipend, offer insurance, buy them a meal or have an Awards Banquet once a year at a minimum.
  3. Back your competent Board Members publicly by sticking to Staff and Board recommendations almost every time.
  4. Open Board positions to all Franklin County citizens instead of selecting by District. Give a preference for District representation but appoint the man/woman most likely to be professional and who will show up.
  5. Establish rules for Board Members. Miss three unexcused meetings a year and you’re off the Board.

Too often, the obvious does not happen in an environment where mediocrity is rewarded over competence. Franklin County needs competency over the “This is the way we’ve always done it” mentality.

We can do better!

God Bless America and all of you!

Thank you.

Allan J. Feifer

Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(850) 653-5571

“The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. serves as a citizens’ advocate to ensure that our Franklin County governments are more open, affordable, efficient, and responsive to our citizens. The organization seeks to hold public officials accountable for their actions in the administration of their duties and in their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.”

Commissioner Contacts:

Commissioner Bert Boldt - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 519-4966

Commissioner Smokey Parrish - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8790

Commissioner Ricky Jones - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8861

Chairman Noah Lockley - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-4452

Commissioner Jessica Ward - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-9783

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