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County Commission approves meeting rule changes, asks governor to veto fertilizer research allocation, discusses future four-laning of Archer Road

County Commissioner Mary Alford asks the board to begin discussing the four-laning of Archer Road going west | From the May 9 broadcast

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the May 9 Alachua County Commission meeting, the board made some changes to their meeting rules, voted to ask the governor to veto an allocation for research into seasonal fertilizer restrictions, voted to send a Chair letter to the smaller municipalities asking for funding to develop a county-wide literacy plan, and voted to begin discussions that could lead to four-laning Archer Road going west in eight to ten years.

Thumb drives to be prohibited in County meetings

The changes to meeting rules were originally on the consent agenda, and during the adoption of the agenda, Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said she’d had requests to pull the meeting rules from the consent agenda and put them on the regular agenda for discussion, but she thought it could be handled during “citizen comment.” 

During public comment on the adoption of the agenda, Jo Beaty asked that the item be moved to a different meeting, providing more time for citizens to review the changes, which were discussed at a lightly-attended Special Meeting on May 2. Beaty particularly objected to a prohibition on bringing in thumb drives with material to be displayed during public comment. 

Tamara Robbins said she believed that the prohibition on thumb drives arose because Commissioner Mary Alford didn’t want to see a video of a slaughterhouse. Robbins said she had asked County Communications Director Mark Sexton about the policy on bringing in videos that are loaded on portable devices, and she believed that request generated the rule change. Robbins said the County allows developers to bring in presentations on thumb drives and that she thought the rule discriminated against the public. 

Commissioner Ken Cornell said he thought there should be a way to allow the public to bring in material on thumb drives, “the same way we do it for developers,” perhaps by isolating the presentation computer from the network. 

Commissioner Mary Alford agreed that they should be able to come up with a way for members of the public to bring in material and that the reason she’d been concerned about the slaughterhouse video was a concern about “any video that might provide any sort of triggering type of presentation to anyone.” She said that might include “any type of violence or some aspect of racism or something that might be presented to the public at a meeting in a way that might not be appropriate.” She said free speech allows that sort of content, but she asked the public to be aware that whatever they show will be seen by a wide range of people, including children. 

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut thanked the citizens for bringing this to the attention of the board because he said citizens shouldn’t be excluded from bringing thumb drives if developers and other presenters can bring them. 

County Manager Michele Lieberman said that presentations that are part of the agenda come through County staff by email prior to the meeting and also that the computer used during citizen comment is “tied into all the equipment that you’re seeing, that operates your broadcast. So while this computer may be isolated from the network, it is tied into our entire broadcast system. So something introduced improperly into that system could bring down our system.” She said staff would make sure that anyone who is presenting to the board would not put a thumb drive into the system. 

County Attorney Sylvia Torres summarized the changes to the rules:

  • If a Board member or County Manager wants to cancel a Special Meeting within 24 hours of that meeting, the meeting they want to cancel will be held, public comment will be taken, then the vote on canceling the meeting will be taken. In emergency situations or if it is clear there will not be a quorum, the Commission Chair or County Manager may cancel a Special Meeting, even if it is scheduled to start within 24 hours.
  • Advisory boards and the County Commission may hold “remote workshops” (where no action will be taken) as long as a physical location is provided for the public to attend and the public has the option to attend remotely.
  • Some changes were made to the quasi-judicial statement that is read by the County Attorney at quasi-judicial public hearings “because it is cumbersome and legalese.”
  • Members of the public are explicitly permitted to use the microphone and overhead projector to present or support comments, but any time needed for setup will count toward that person’s time. 
  • Types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment, such as fighting words, defamation, and obscenity, are prohibited. 

Cornell clarified that developers will not be able to bring a thumb drive, and Lieberman said she would make sure that staff and developers understand that would no longer be permitted and there would no longer be exceptions.

The vote to approve the agenda, including the rules, was unanimous. 

Request to the governor to veto a line item in the budget

During commission comment, Lieberman brought up a letter that Alachua County Water Resources Program Manager Stacie Greco had sent to commissioners the previous evening, asking that the board send a Chair letter to Governor Ron DeSantis, asking him to veto a line item in the budget that would prohibit local governments from adopting or amending urban fertilizer ordinances that include a blackout period and would allocate $250,000 to UF IFAS to study the effectiveness of seasonal fertilizer restrictions. Greco wrote that the Sierra Club is looking for local governments to add their names to a letter asking the governor to veto the prohibition and allocation. 

Greco’s letter to the commission states, “Alachua County has a strong fertilizer ordinance, and it is important for other local governments to be able to do the same and for us to be able to make changes as needed. While [the Environmental Protection Department] is typically supportive of scientific studies, the fate of fertilizer restrictions should not depend on a fast-track study by the very institution that actively spoke out against our fertilizer restrictions in 2019.”

Cornell made a motion to both sign the Sierra Club letter and send a separate letter from Alachua County. The vote to approve the motion was unanimous. 

County-wide literacy plan

Cornell, who is on the board of the Children’s Trust of Alachua County (CTAC), also made a motion to send a Chair letter to the small cities in the county, asking them to join a county-wide literacy program. He said the County will contribute $40,000 to the effort. 

During public comment on the motion, Tamara Robbins asked whether the request was for funding support and said the letter should suggest an amount for municipalities to contribute: “I’d like to see it have more teeth in it so they actually see the importance of it and the relevance of it and the opportunity that comes with it.”

Cornell said the letter could mention the County Commission’s joint meetings with the school board and with CTAC and could suggest a “nominal amount. You know, I think $40,000 from us, if we can get the City to put something in, and the school board to put something in, even $10,000 from the small ones, I think that would be enough to do this project.” He said if each smaller municipality puts in $5,000 or $10,000, they should be able to get to $100,000, and he thought that would cover it. 

Chair Anna Prizzia said they had asked the Library District for $40,000 and had asked the school board to match the County’s $40,000, “so that’s already at $120,000. I think it’s like a $200,000 project.” Cornell suggested that the letter should state a goal of $200,000.

Wheeler asked, “What is the program? What are we funding?” Cornell responded that at the first joint meeting with the school board, the County Commission Chair said we really need a county-wide literacy effort, and through CTAC’s “listening project, it became clear that the whole community is interested in moving literacy forward. I know it’s one of the major priorities of the school board, when they talk about rezoning, shrinking the achievement gap, and their strategic plan–literacy is a big component of that.” He added, “We need to fund some experts to help us put together a plan.”

Prizzia added that the funding is for “all the experts who’ve been at the table, kind of working on literacy programs… to get together and put together a plan to make a roadmap for literacy that would outline the steps we need to take across the board and be sort of a living document that pushes us all in the same direction.” She said they keep hearing “again and again from the experts… that we have a lot of good projects that are very piecemeal and aren’t being worked together in a unified way, and it’s resulting in poor outcomes for our children.”

Wheeler said she thought the problem could be solved by educators, “the people that are actually trying to solve the problem” and that they shouldn’t be “paying money out for experts on the outside to come in and tell them how to do what it is they’re already doing or change what it is they’re doing.”

Prizzia said Wheeler was “misunderstanding,” that they weren’t trying to tell teachers how to do their jobs, but “what we have going on in the school day isn’t being coordinated with what we have in the after-school programs, isn’t being coordinated with what we have in the summer programs, which isn’t being coordinated with resources we’re giving for tutoring, which isn’t being–like, everyone’s using different tools.”

Wheeler asked again what the $200,000 would do, and Prizzia said it would go to “the steering committee of folks from the community, all the folks who’ve been working in literacy to get together and to develop a unified approach to literacy for our community.”

Wheeler responded, “And we’re going to be paying them to do that?” and Prizzia said, “Paying them to do that, yep. Otherwise, the professionals… can’t organize that, and the citizens and the organizations that we expect to just show up–I mean, how are they going to do all that work?”

Wheeler said that if they’re going to ask communities for money, they should tell them how it’s going to be spent, and Prizzia replied, “We have all of that. There’s a lot of it.”

The vote to approve the motion to send a Chair letter to the smaller municipalities was unanimous.

Four-laning Archer Road

Also during commission comment, Alford brought up the “need for the four-laning of Archer Road” and said that it was time to add it to the County’s five-year Transportation Improvement Plan, which is due in June. She said, however, that they had neglected to change the Comprehensive Plan, which only supports four-laning Archer Road to 91st Street. She made a motion to ask staff to come back with language to modify the Comprehensive Plan to include four-laning Archer Road to the county line; she said the four-laning is in the City of Archer’s Comprehensive Plan but not the County’s and added that the work would probably not be done for eight or nine years. 

Alford said the issue is “almost an urgent issue of timing because committees are meeting in the next week or two” and that Scott Koons, Executive Director of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, “wants to be able to go to those and say that we have already made a motion to change our Comp Plan.”

During public comment on the motion, both Kristen Young and Tamara Robbins said this was moving too fast, but Alford responded that it’s an eight-to-ten-year process, and “it’s got a long ways to go before we’re ever going to see anything happen.” She said she just wanted a vote to get proposed language from staff so they could have a discussion about what they would want along that corridor. 

Cornell said the motion lined up with the commitment the board had made in their joint meeting with the City Commission of Archer: “It’s not making the decision yet, but it is lining up what our intent is.” Cornell further clarified that the City of Archer wanted to make a legislative request for the Florida Department of Transportation to four-lane the road from 91st Street to Archer, “but the legislature is not going to fund that” unless there is some intention to four-lane the portion of the road inside 91st Street. 

Cornell said he would second “a referral to staff to bring back recommendations about four-laning that segment,” and Prizzia added “other efficiencies or safety upgrades to Archer Road” in the short term to the motion. The vote to approve the motion was unanimous.

  • Looks like the lost Masked Bandit has been unmasked. No comments or motions from that Commissioner should be valid and cant be taken seriously until salary in office while not residing in district is repaid. If it has been repaid documentation needs to be publicly provided . While your at it how about the School Board member that did likewise. Turning the County into COG mindset.

  • “Types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment, such as fighting words, defamation, and obscenity, are prohibited.” ~ Sounds like they don’t want to hear opposing voices. Isn’t that a page from King Poe’s playbook?

    As far as the literacy funding ~ there’s already both a federal and state funded public education program to increase literacy. Now Prizzia wants an “open contract” to fund literacy? Something doesn’t smell right. Hanrahan revisited?

  • All the measures address their own prior definitions of “progress” and “progressive” — prior, and now coming back to haunt us. Free speech is censored became someONE may get triggered; Archer Rd needs widened due to their sprawl; fertilizer is controversial because they directed said sprawl over the wrong side of the county, the aquifer recharge area and polluting the springs down flow; and literacy for public school kids distracted by rap videos and politics instead of learning the basics.
    Congrats 🤡👹🤬🤪🍦🍦🍦🍦🍦

      • Exactly, they WANT people to make problems worse, so they can create more regulations and limit the quality of life forever and ever.

        • They also run and are elected and re-elected under the guise of being environmental stewards…it’s such an obvious lie. On top of aquifer misdirection they also call themselves tree huggers while rubber stamping clear cutting for unneeded stick framed apartments and ugly retail areas.
          But don’t worry Sierra Club!…the county’s gonna write a stern letter to someone in Tallahassee about an issue they created locally. They know this will accomplish nothing but they hope their supporters, such as those in the Sierra Club, will keep their blinders firmly in place and accept the obvious doublespeak.

  • Finally someone is looking into Archer road. That road is a total burden on the people who live in the area around it. With the increased growth on the West side of the county thousands more vehicles use this path every day.

    • They need to put a halt to all the new buildings, apartment complexes and houses on Archer Rd until the road is fixed. Someone should have been telling the Developers no. They should have fixed the roads before they allowed all the new homes, commercial buildings and massive apartment complexes to be built. As far as I am concerned we have turned our town into a dangerous nasty City with home less everywhere, aggressive rude drivers and don’t forget all of the shootings.

      • They have been kicking the can down the road for at least 13 years when it comes to paying for roads. That chicken has come home to roost.

    • Its great that they are looking into expanding access to Alachua county’s most affordable housing areas … Levy & Gilchrist counties

  • Eight or nine years for four laning a road grossly overdue for it? Really? This is called stalling, folks. As for paying $200,000 for a literacy project that is the responsibility of the school board, maybe it should be a program to teach politicians their jobs and responsibilities as representatives of all the people, not the 10% who elected them.

    • Voter turnout in County elections is as high as 80%. You may be thinking about City elections.

  • Thumb drives will trigger people. Sounds like an excuse for censoring ideas and concepts uncomfortable to easily trigged commission members.

  • You guys will be the 1st to freak out when someone plugs in their thumb drive during public comment and a call for “God is great. Death to America” comes out. Of course the commission should be able to make rules limiting what is allowed in their meetings.

    As to Archer Road, 4 laning it has been resisted for years because it will aid further sprawl, which stretches county responsibilities. More importantly, there is a process for these type changes, including working through the combined county and city commissions, known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and it’s advisory committees. Ms Alford should know this.

    $200k ($40 from the county) for after school literacy is not controversial, except to the “Hey, get off my grass!” crowd that comments here daily.

    • PS The take over of local governments by Tallahassee includes their ability to set rules for polluting, which fertilizer does to our springs, creeks, and aquifer. Of course the county should fight to maintain their program trying to minimize this damage, which is killing some of our resources.

      • Same old, same old! Boo Hoo, the Republicans are doing the same things as the Democrats! You really need some new material! Any responsible organizational IT Security has prohibited the use of thumb drives since 2005!

        Archer Road widening? Sure, there is a process, it is called increasing capacity to meet increased demand! Your BOCC cronies keep approving subdivisions all over the county without adding any transportation capacity increases, biking from Archer, or Newberry, to the swamp in GNV doesn’t count!

        The SBAC certainly doesn’t need more taxpayer money! They don’t know how to spend what they have from taxpayers, State, and Federal programs to create a safe, effective, learning environment for our children!

    • You’re a joke! You’ll be the first to burn the American flag at Bo Diddley once they allow bonfires.

      The way you get triggered when, God forbid, someone says a prayer before a high school sporting event? Or when someone gets hurt during same event, players circle up and join hands and offer prayers?

      I’ve seen people like you, you’re of the same cloth as those in Norfolk who posted signs on their grass saying “Dogs and sailors keep off the grass.”

      • Agree. Like Rush Limbaugh used to say – don’t try try to get along with people like this – we have absolutely nothing in common with them.

    • Alford doesn’t even know where she lives . A true Hog at the trough taking a salary and not paying back while in office by apparent purposeful calculated mistake, or maybe just typical County Commissioner ignorance. Either way she owes the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars?
      Asking for 50,000 Friends that aren’t loser progressive democrats.

  • Whatever happened to closing your eyes or changing the channel if you don’t want to watch something?

    Don’t know what planet Alford’s on but children are not watching these board meetings. If they are, they must be getting punished for something.
    THAT’S AN IDEA! Make children watch the local government meetings as a form of discipline and to teach them about dysfunctional government.

    • They’d scare little kids, like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

  • And the BOCC is going to let 2 mouthy citizens dictate that Archer road should not be 4 laned – that is preposterous and irresponsible to not make that road a true connector to Archer and other counties. Help us out a little – jeezzz

    • At some point, it will be four-laned all the way to Cedar Key. All of Fla will resemble Southern California. If people want to move here, nothing can be done to stop it.

      • Tell all the other states to stop sucking so bad and people wouldn’t flock to a free state with no income tax … I’m not a Yankee, I’m a damn Yankee cause I ain’t never moving back to New York

  • Same people who worry about slaughter house videos continuously push the virtues of killing babies in the womb as a form of birth control

  • The main issue with thumb drives is obvious. They are concerned with not spreading a virus or something like that. It’s not uncommon to hear these things are blocked.

    • If they’ve really allowed outside thumb drives on a networked government system until May 2023 who knows what’s been installed on their system. Who runs the information security there?..it is insane to not have the USB ports locked down on all networked machines. This is info security 101. They probably failed an information security audit and running misdirection again. Perhaps audit results can be FOIA’d?

  • Hey Alachua County BOCC, before you think about fixing Archer Rd, why don’t you fix CR 241S and CR 337 in Newberry. You’ve been asked for over 30 years and the roads are still garbage.

    • I can tell you why that doesn’t happen. It’s the same reason CR 235A and CR 237 don’t get fixed. The rural areas aren’t supportive of their liberal agenda. 237 is 1 1/2 miles from Public Works, I think they close their eyes when they drive over and past it. Maybe in some delusional way they hope the disrepair of the rural highways will prevent those largely conservative voters from going to the polls.

      That’s one of the few available options of punishing those who don’t proclaim fealty to the rulers.

      • The real issue is: Who owns the road? Is it a state road, county road, city road, and if so who pays what portion to fix the road.

        They have passed the buck for a long time.

  • If they’ve really allowed outside thumb drives on a networked government system until May 2023 who knows what’s been installed on their system. Who runs the information security there?..it is insane to not have the USB ports locked down on all networked machines. This is info security 101. They probably failed an information security audit and running misdirection again. Perhaps audit results can be FOIA’d?

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