A friendly scheduling meeting of the Constitution Revision Commission Rules and Administration Committee Tuesday evening took a sharp turn when someone testified that members of a different committee had violated two of the Commission’s rules.
Stephanie Owens, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, said the CRC’s Education Committee last month did not follow a rule guiding vote reconsideration and a rule stipulating that all meetings be public.
Owens said both violations occurred when the education body took a vote on Commissioner Erika Donalds’ Proposal 32, which seeks to end salaries for all school board members.
The sloppiness of the vote was documented. The Tampa Bay Times noted that the committee had failed the proposal by vote, then postponed it after “staff forgot to ask Donalds for her vote.” A recording of the meeting shows Donalds standing at the podium before the committee rather than seated with the other commissioners during the vote.
But Owens argued Tuesday that the postponement was technically an improper revote, violating CRC Rule 6.5, which allows only commissioners of the prevailing side to propose reconsideration.
Because Donalds asked to postpone the vote, the rule was violated, Owens contended. But the CRC said that the vote was invalid because of the procedural error. In other words, the vote failing the measure hadn’t technically occurred.
Owens’ criticisms came on two fronts. She also questioned the brief recess held by the committee members once staff realized they did not include Donalds in the roll call. The lobbyist claimed that violated Rule 1.23: “All proceedings and records of the Commission shall be open to the public.”
The brief recess to discuss the error outside of public view, Owens said, was a “blatant violation.”
Tim Cerio, rules chair, is not on the Education Committee but was familiar with the incident. He told Owens that the rule did not apply to the recess because it was a meeting of just the committee, not the Commission as a whole. He said the committee can revert to “Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure,” which provides for such breaks.
Cerio assured Owens that the recess was not a move to evade the public.
“There was a genuine dispute,” Cerio explained. “Staff had to do some homework on the motion to reconsider.”
Commissioners are not required to serve on outside legislative bodies and many hold private careers. Cerio stressed that it’s important to educate those involved in any part of the Commission.
“We need to make sure we educate not only members, but also staff,” Cerio said.
Though it isn’t the first time concerns have been raised over the Commission’s transparency.
Commissioner Bob Solari questioned earlier this year whether private meetings between two commissioners could occur. Solari had difficulty obtaining an answer and ultimately criticized the body to which he belongs.
“One of the things we need to do, as we make proposals and transfer them onto the ballot, is to build the public trust,” Solari told the Miami Herald. “The best way to build the public trust is to operate in a open and transparent manner. If the public was watching our public meetings, the takeaway would not be something that builds that trust.”
Beginning February, the CRC will begin its second statewide tour to gather input from the public on proposals.
There are six meetings peppered across the state on schedule:
— Feb. 6, 2018 at Nova Southeastern University
— Feb. 19, 2018 at Eastern Florida State College
— Feb. 20, 2018 at University of North Florida
— Feb. 27, 2018 at University of West Florida
— Mar. 13, 2018 at University of South Florida – St. Petersburg
— TBD: Southwest Florida hearing