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County commission asks staff to develop a “comprehensive sustainable procurement policy” and discusses plans to oppose single-member district local bill

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the February 8 Alachua County Commission Regular Meeting, the board discussed adding back phone input in the future, asked staff to develop a “comprehensive sustainable procurement policy,” and discussed their plans to oppose a local bill that would put a referendum for Alachua County Commission single-member districts on the November ballot.

Telephone input for citizens

Commissioner Ken Cornell said he had received some calls agreeing with the decision to stop paying for a call screening service, but he wondered if there was some way of doing it in-house. County Spokesman Mark Sexton said they had “set up a system very carefully in the boardroom to allow one person to operate our meetings. That left our second videographer able to do… other video projects. We’ve had both videographers in every meeting for the last two years because there had to be a staff person to facilitate that telephone call-in service. I can tell you that we don’t have the technology now to duplicate what our vendor did. We have tried.” 

Sexton said they were encouraging the vendor for the call-screening service to change their pricing model, looking at other vendors, and talking to Zoom, which may offer a similar service in the future. He concluded, “So my promise to you and… to the citizens is we are continuing to investigate, and we will stay aware of the technology, and when things come up that might fit what you all desire, we will certainly bring it to your attention and go from there.”

Chair Marihelen Wheeler added that “as we’re watching the City deal with parking issues down here,” the option of phoning in comments would be “even more important… if they can’t come into town to do that.”

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Removing masks in the boardroom as cases decline?

After a COVID-19 update from the Department of Health, Cornell said that if the number of cases continue to decline, “I would be okay with, in the future, making masks in this particular room no longer mandatory.” However, there was no further discussion of that.

Zero Waste Strategies Plan

After a brief presentation on the County’s Zero Waste Strategies Plan that recommended minimizing the use of single-use plastics, encouraging the use of reusable materials (or compostable if reusable are not feasible), ending the purchase of single-use plastic water bottles whenever possible, and purchasing paper with a high recycled content, Commissioner Anna Prizzia said it was “a great start” and made a motion to “accept staff’s recommendation and add to that policy that the department should focus on waste reduction and consumption reduction strategies such as reusing, repairing, and purchasing goods; purchasing goods with minimal packaging; purchasing items made from the highest available post-consumer recycled content; focusing on products otherwise certified by third parties to minimize negative environmental and social impacts; and using lease and take-back program options when feasible; and finally implementing technologies that facilitate reuse and lean inventories. 

“And secondarily, I would like to… ask our staff to develop a comprehensive sustainable procurement policy that will encompass environmental, social, health, and economic impacts of County procurement using a life-cycle perspective and will explore best practices by industry to determine ideal sustainability standards that have been developed by an impartial third party, and last that we require all durable goods and assets owned have a maintenance and disposal or recycling plan and targets for durability.”

Commissioner Mary Alford said she hoped the County would move toward having a single Contracts Management Department to review everything. She added that although the motion was written “succinctly,” there “is a lot in here” that would probably take years to implement.

The motion passed 4-0 with Commissioner Chuck Chestnut absent.

Opposition to single-member district local bill

During member comment, Cornell told the board that the next stop for the local bill for single-member districts would be the Public Integrity and Elections Committee on February 14 at 1:30. He told the board that he had presented the issue to the Florida Association of Counties leadership (FAC), and they had agreed to “support us unanimously.” Cornell said, “I can’t think of another place I’d like to be than Tallahassee on Valentine’s Day… Unless there’s an objection, what we would like to do is send my December 6 letter, the FAC supporting letter, a letter that was written by the chair of the Charter Review Commission, Former Commissioner [Penny] Wheat wrote a letter, and I understand [Commissioner Alford is] doing an op-ed?… If we say that’s okay, then Tom [Alachua County’s lobbyist] is going to begin working his magic with each of those committee members, so any objection to that?”

The others all said, “None,” so Cornell said, “So Mark [Sexton], you have your marching orders.”

Sexton added, “We also spoke about beginning a very deliberate online campaign to increase citizen awareness of this local bill, and we would include in that the members of the committee, their phone numbers, their emails, and we would encourage our residents to reach out to these folks as well.”

Cornell added, “I’ll just tell you, commissioners, in speaking to my state and your state colleagues, each of them recognize that this is the preemption of all preemptions, to have Tallahassee come in and try to tell a local community how to change their governance without talking to and following the local Home Rule Charter. They are Democrats and Republicans, statewide, again, supported this letter unanimously, and I really appreciate that. I appreciate that they did that and I appreciate the fact that our organization, which stands for home rule, is standing behind Alachua County in this fight, which is what it is.”

Wheeler responded, “We appreciate you for leading the charge on this for us, too.”

Alford asked, “Do you mind if I add that line, ‘the preemption of all preemptions,’ to my op-ed? That’s what it is, really… I just wanted to thank Mark [Sexton] for his help on writing this op-ed. You know, he’s such an invaluable employee and supporter of the commission.”

The local bill passed through the committee today with a unanimous, bipartisan affirmative vote. Wheeler and Sexton spoke, but Cornell did not. We will have more information on that committee meeting soon.

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