Before she was elected, Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller was the subject of criticism from members of the board she was eventually elected to. Some board members openly supported other candidates and in spite of their efforts to prevent her being elected, she won the election in her district overwhelmingly. Perhaps that was a sign from the public that politics as usual was not what they were voting for.
After the primary election made it obvious that she would be joining the board, an effort to neutralize some of her voting power was initiated via the approval of an arbitration hearing to determine how many votes would be required in the future to pass zoning requests affecting nearly half the county. Zoning decisions that had always needed a four person vote to be approved were being wrongly changed to allow a three person vote for zoning matters in eastern Collier County; this occurred in response to concerns over how Hiller might vote on upcoming issues.
Hiller was elected and seated as a board member after the final November election. She is a trained professional and brings a completely different dynamic to the board along with a new perspective on many issues including those that have been established as seldom questioned routines here in Collier County for far too long.
She is a lawyer and like many other lawyers, her approach can sometimes be aggressive especially when being pushed into a corner knowing full well that the intention behind the push is just plain wrong.
As a new member of the board and one with training in a wide variety of matters, she is able to sort through many of the elaborate staff reports and find questions of substance that need response or further clarification. Attempts to restrict her ability to research those issues and ask the hard questions reached an absurd level last week when new rules were suggested that would restrict county commissioners from using county staff time to obtain information.
Asking questions and seeking alternatives and solutions to concerns that will later be discussed at board meetings is an efficient use of both staff time and the public’s time. A well informed elected official is far more effective in finding resolutions to issues at a public meeting than not being able to use all available resources to gather important details that will affect us all.
Any attempt to restrict any board member’s ability for such research is just plain silly. A proposal was suggested to create a process by which a commissioner could gain “approval” to use staff, set limits on the use of staff time without approval, and a subsequent need to seek approval from select department administrators to use their staff, and was put forth at the last commission meeting.
Approval was to be by majority, which means three commissioners could be potentially voting against her time and time again.
This was nothing more than a negative in-your-face attempt to further restrict an elected official from getting to the bottom of the very issues they are elected to address. The idea is likely unenforceable and certainly an incredible attempt to guarantee that nothing ever changes.
During the discussion at last week’s meeting, Hiller settled the matter by essentially stating that she would not seek out staff for her answers; she would simply ask her questions, all of them, in full view of the public at the board meetings.
If the board meetings in the past were interesting, going forward with this new development could have a significant impact. For staff, there was a great advantage to understand her position on matters and they could then come better prepared to address her concerns at the public meetings.
The proposal to restrict staff access was obviously not well thought out.