Why Aren't More People Engaged

on Thursday, 16 December 2021.

Why More Citizens Aren’t Engaged

Dear Readers:

My job with the CCFC is to point out what’s wrong with county government, not necessarily what’s right. Commissioners publicly pat themselves on the back too often. They want you to believe they’re behind you, even if the reality is they are not. Recently I spoke at a Wakulla County regular Board Meeting on a subject of interest to me. Let me compare and contrast the difference in process difference between Wakulla and Franklin counties:

  1. The meeting was held at 5:00 (as most are) so that citizens who work could attend.
  2. The Chairman spent at least two minutes describing ways citizens could participate in the meeting by filling out a speaker’s card to speak to commissioners.
    • At the beginning of the meeting
    • At the end of the meeting
    • On any Agenda item they may wish to speak to as the meeting developed.
  3. Commissioners smiled at constituents and did not make any snide comments as they frequently do at Franklin County meetings.
  4. They made sure to engage with speakers to the extent necessary to understand the concern expressed. (Franklin has a strict written policy against commissioner engagement)
  5. More than 50 citizens were in the audience (many more watching on live television), and many people spoke to their issue of concern. In Franklin County, the unwelcoming environment results in fewer than 3 people typically speaking and sometimes none since the newest Public Engagement policy commenced.

Why is it so hard for Franklin County Commissioners to understand and accept that citizens not only have the right to speak but that it is disrespectful to constituents to run meetings as they do? It is anti-constituent in design and implementation. Franklin County meetings run in this manner do not meet the spirit, if not the law for minimum State Standards for public access as set by the Florida Attorney General.

Next, the issue of how the Commission handled the recent SGI Incorporation issue bothers us immensely. The CCFC takes no position on the issue and in fact, some real challenges and hurdles would likely need to be overcome. However, the manner that all five Commissioners discarded out of hand, the option to allow a non-binding counting of the noses at zero cost to taxpayers was heavy-handed and wrong. The Chairman was clear on the issue, that this was his district and he knew what the people wanted. That was the end of the issue as far as he was concerned.

Stifling debate is what the Commission seems to do best. This is not something to be proud of and proves to the public that our Commission needs serious coaching on the subject of being public servants. I could write a book on the inappropriate manner that people have been treated that A. Do not have 10 generations of relatives here. B. Are not 100% supportive of wild oyster harvesting and the importance of the seafood industry in general. C. Disagree with Commissioners publicly or privately. D. Threaten their standing and continuation of a lifetime job as Commissioner.

God help you if you voted against a commissioner. Somehow, they seem to know how you voted. That’s small-town politics I suppose, but it is still wrong for Commissioners to hold a grudge after an election that makes them opposed to anything a non-supporter wants or needs from the County. I have witnessed this numerous times.

On another subject, Weems Hospital has seemingly dropped out of public view. The recipient of about $3 million in special Covid assistance has masked continuing major monthly losses at the hospital. Commissioners used to get monthly reports, then reports every other month and now I can’t remember the last time finances were presented or discussed. Recently, Weems stated its desire to seek $7 million in state funds to combine with Capital funds on hand to build a new hospital. Their strategy this time is to keep it very quiet until they are successful. According to Weems statistics reported, Weems averages less than one in-patient a night.

A year with a contracted consulting company has not improved the numbers much at all. This is all the more shocking since Covid should have been a major revenue producer but was not. We don’t know if any of the ventilators purchased at great expense were even used and have no idea if the huge amount of money spent on Covid testing equipment did much better. A weak Board and weak oversight, in general, has not made a material difference in Weems's finances. An even weaker County Commission seemingly has dawned rose-colored glasses and is just thankful that someone else dropped millions into Weems coffers instead of them.

Weems applied for and received about a million dollars for the Paycheck Protection Program that was reserved for private companies. Weems is wholly owned by the Franklin County Commission and is just another government agency. Concerned Citizens back in September requested records that may prove that the money was taken illegally and as a consequence might have to be paid back with subsequent penalties. We have not received the documents that will allow our professional staff to judge the legality of what the Weems Board did, ostensibly without Commission approval. Supposedly, these documents were mailed to us more than a week ago. We are still waiting.

Our last subject today will be Code Enforcement. Code Enforcement protects lives and property values. I think it is likely that the Commission will move forward with Code Enforcement. Commissioners correctly engaged a third-party organization to conduct workshops all over the county to collect information and ideas. Here’s the problem as we see it. Commissioners have put the cart before the horse. Poorly written Ordinances or no Ordinances at all, covering a multitude of issues have resulted in both private property loss and injuries to people including the loss of human life. How ordinances would be enforced is the most critical issue facing us. Commissioners protect their power. Unlike almost every other Florida County, Franklin has no County Manager. You don’t want a Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) beholden to the commissioners for their job, it’s a natural conflict. When a commissioner leans on the CEO over this or that issue, we’ll have the same problem that currently exists at the county department level and Weems today. Start with a professional County Manager and then create a set of interlocking ordinances (largely copied from other successful counties) to enforce them and only then hire an independent CEO to enforce said ordinances. Doesn’t that make sense? Leave it to Franklin County to do it ass-backward for the sole purpose of protecting their power. Want a great example? Paving funds are not distributed by need, but equally to each Commissioner. Why not rank Franklin County roads by need and fix the worst roads first? I guess that just makes too much sense.

Lest I not say something positive, not all commissioners are predatory. It’s just difficult not to “go with the flow” at times as one commissioner explained to me. It is important to note, that while leadership may be lacking, county staff and most Constitutional Offices do great work serving the interests of Franklin County.

Oh, one more thing. We are currently running our annual fundraiser. Please support the CCFC by mailing your dues check today; while it’s top of mind. (Address is below) Not a member? Please consider joining today. Dues are not tax-deductible. We are the only Association that looks out for your interests all year long to keep the county honest. Think about that when you are deciding whether to support us or not. If not us, then who? Read about us at ABetterFranklin.com

Happy Holidays to everyone from myself and the rest of the crew here that supports us and makes the CCFC possible.

Once again, thank you for reading and sustaining better government.

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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