Brent Batten: Commissioners not accepting Hiller's information

BRENT BATTEN

How strained have relations between County Commissioner Georgia Hiller and the majority of the board become?

Well, it has perhaps not reached U.S.-Pakistan proportions, but things are at a stage where Hiller can’t get her colleagues to acknowledge she has a good point, even when she has one.

Take last Tuesday as an example.

Hiller somehow got it in her head that this sentence, “Documents, information and materials will not be accepted by the board following the publication of the agenda,” could be construed to mean that documents, information and materials will not be accepted by the board following the publication of the agenda.

The language is part of an ordinance, adopted 4-1 Tuesday with Hiller dissenting, that establishes how items should be prepared and placed on the board’s meeting agenda. The purpose is to prevent someone like a commissioner or a staff member from putting an item up for discussion and holding back relevant information to spring on the board at the last minute.

But the inclusion of the sentence in question could suggest that once an agenda is published, usually on the Thursday before a Tuesday meeting, the board can refuse to consider other information that might come to light. “That’s unacceptable,” Hiller said.

Commissioner Fred Coyle, Hiller’s main foil on the board, said the language does not prevent anyone from presenting new information for the record at a board meeting. But those who do so run the risk of the information not being carefully considered by the board members, since they don’t really have time to read a lot of new material on the dais. The rest of the language in the paragraph Hiller cited makes clear that if such information comes forward, the board can either continue the item to a future date, or forge ahead.

“There is nothing in the ordinance preventing anyone from dropping a 100-page document on us during a meeting,” Coyle said.

Hiller had a simple remedy in mind. “If you delete that sentence ... then it serves the objective,” Hiller said. “Leaving it in there has the opposite effect.”

County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow, who wrote the ordinance, said the sentence is meant to apply to the person who put the matter on the agenda in the first place as a means of getting all the background information to commissioners as soon as possible. It isn’t meant to apply to members of the public or county officials who may wish to weigh in a topic once they’ve seen it on the agenda and seen all the backup material. “I probably could have been clearer,” he said.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Klatzkow acknowledged that taking the sentence out wouldn’t change the effect of the new ordinance.

But with the suggestion to delete it coming from Hiller, other commissioners viewed it with suspicion.

“It is amazing the spin that can be put on this,” Commissioner Jim Coletta said, referring to Hiller's suggestion that the language could be read to mean new information won’t be accepted.

“That’s an absolutely false statement. Please do not be tricked by these little games,” said Coyle, on the same subject.

Even Commissioner Tom Henning, Hiller’s occasional ally on the board, voted in favor of the ordinance with the sentence left in. The intent of the law isn’t to ban new material from coming to light, he said, so it shouldn’t be read that way. “The public or anyone else can have additional information,” he said

Hiller said the board’s stated intent doesn’t matter. “We’re governed by the plain language of the law,” she said.

In plain language, it’s hard to fathom why, other then pure orneriness, that sentence couldn’t have been deleted.

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

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