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Acting Childishly On Behalf Of Children. (Part Two.)

(note: The logo in the image is from the Florida Children’s Council which is “an association of Children’s Services Councils statewide.” If the Brevard Children’s Services Council has a logo, we couldn’t find it.)

(Yesterday we posted about the Brevard Children’s Services Council and the Brevard County Commission and how trying to support kids through a charity or not got ugly. On January 22, during a Commission meeting, it got worse.)

On January 22, 2019, the Brevard County Commission met to dissolve the Children Services Council (CSC) whose creation it had authorized in November, 1990.

After the Commission had denied the CSC access to the ballot on July 28, 2018, the CSC decided it would go down the path of getting on the ballot via the petition method as mentioned and perhaps even recommended by Commissioners Pritchett and Isnardi in 2018.

In the wake of the contentious aftermath of that meeting, it appears that Commissioner Isnardi decided it would be better to dissolve the CSC rather than allow it to take its case to the people and see if they could get onto the ballot via petition.

The agenda item was H-1 on January 22, which read:

An ordinance repealing Ordinance No. 90-41 of Brevard County, Florida which created the Children’s Services Council and assuming the Council’s debts, liabilities, contracts, and obligations.

While 21 people spoke for and against the CSC, the real issue would become whether or not the CSC could be dissolved by ordinance. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Several of the people speaking against the CSC cited the problems with spending in Palm Beach County as well as Broward County. A South Sentinel series on spending by the two CSC’s in 2010 seemed to indicate a problem. To us, that is a bit of “guilt by association” when one says “because Group X did something, Group Y must be guilty of the same thing.”

We think that while the examination of the spending habits of Palm Beach County’s CSC and the Broward County CSC should be looked at as cautionary tales. If we were to paint groups with such broad brushes, we should remove the five County Commissioners as in Florida alone, we can easily find Commissioners who were accused of prostitution, having a “sex slave,” domestic abuse, more domestic abuse, second degree murder charges, etc. We could go on and on. The five Commissioners must be guilty of the same offenses because of “guilt by association.”

No one would dare say that the Brevard County Commissioners are guilty of anything yet that is what was said about the Brevard County CSC – that it must be disbanded because of the actions of other CSC’s.

(It didn’t escape our notice that the two counties are cesspools of corruption to begin with. If you remember in the last election, both Palm Beach County and Broward County lost ballots, couldn’t count the ballots they did have, allowed people not eligible to vote to vote, etc. Are we willing to say that Brevard is the same cesspool that Palm Beach and Broward are because of the actions of those counties? If not, then why are people painting the CSC’s with that same broad brush?)

We are not saying that what took place in those two counties is not a cautionary tale. We should look at those counties and demand that whatever actions that are against the public trust never be allowed to happen here in Brevard.

What the people who used the argument of the actions in Palm Beach and Broward Counties failed to mention was that the CSC’s in those counties as well as eight other counties in the state, are still operating. People continued to vote for the CSC’s and to have the CSC’s continue to operate – even in Palm Beach and Broward – within their areas.

We aren’t sure what that says, but it says something.

The other major concern of people speaking against the Brevard CSC was taxes – and taxes going up. Again.

Frankly, we think that is a valid concern and one the CSC needs to address with the public before the public can, will or should support them. We are still starting to see growth in the economy here in Brevard and elsewhere, and to think that growth and more money in citizens’ pockets can be eaten by, chewed up, and spit out by taxes bothers us greatly.

Citizens of Brevard County are not government piggy banks which can be raided on a whim. We are sympathetic to the cause and plans of the CSC, but at the same time, we think they have to do a better job explaining where funds will go, and how their administration of the funds is going to be more productive and more bang for the buck if the County handled the same thing. We don’t think the County can do the administration better, but the CSC must step up to the plate and prove it.

All that being said, here are our two major concerns coming out of the January 22, 2019 meeting.

One person speaking for the CSC was Kathryn Rudloff, who had helped with a poll on the CSC and what its core missions should be. You can read the poll and the questions here.

We’ll let the FloridaToday pick up the narrative:

Rudloff was so sure that she and other supporters couldn’t change commissioners’ minds that she didn’t sign up to speak during the public comment period before the vote.

But it turns out that Rudloff was called to the speakers’ podium anyway to help a CSC board member answer some questions about a poll the Children’s Services Council commissioned in January 2018 to gauge resident support for a new tax for children’s services.

And Rudloff didn’t help the cause any by getting into an argument with County Commission Chair Kristine Isnardi over such things as Isnardi’s expertise in statistics; whether there were ulterior financial motives for those supporting taxpayer funding of the Children’s Services Council; and negative comments Rudloff posted about Isnardi on social media.

“I’m not stupid when it comes to statistics, despite what was presented,” Isnardi said at one point, in comments targeted at Rudloff, with Isnardi detailing her graduate-level academic work in science and nursing.

On Thursday, Rudloff sent emails to county commissioners, apologizing for her behavior at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am very sorry for my rude and disrespectful remarks to Commissioner Isnardi and the entire County Commission on Tuesday,” Rudloff wrote. “A commission meeting requires decorum and professionalism, and I deeply regret my behavior. I apologize for calling Chairwoman Isnardi by her first name, and allowing my emotions to escalate the interaction in a confrontational manner.”

Even as the public comment was continuing on Tuesday, Isnardi took a moment to apologize to the public for her exchange with Rudloff.

“I know people’s emotions get the better of them,” Isnardi said.

County Commission Vice Chair Bryan Lober, an attorney, said after the meeting that Rudloff and other Children’s Services Council supporters “really had an issue with understanding their audience” of county commissioners.

Lober said he thought that Rudloff arguing with the County Commission chair is “like me approaching a judge, and having an attitude with them” during a court hearing.

We think it is interesting to note that while Isnardi apologized for the exchange, she did not apologize for her own comments as Rudloff did.

One of the exchanges between the two was on whether Rudloff was involved in “politics” which Isnardi seemed to think would disqualify Rudloff from speaking or at least greatly taint what Rudloff had to say.

Rudloff was the volunteer co-chair of the Put Brevard Kids First Political Committee that was formed in June to seek community support for the proposed referendum.

She also is executive director of the Business Voice Political Committee, which endorses candidates for elective office — including endorsing three of the five current county commissioners. But Rudloff said her role as a part-time paid employee of the Business Voice Political Committee is totally separate from her volunteer work on behalf of the Children’s Services Council, and she did not believe it played any role in Tuesday’s vote.

However, the politics of another speaker, Nick Tomboulides who the FloridaToday described as a “Melbourne resident” were not brought into question by Isnardi.

“It’s as crooked as a $3 bill,” said Melbourne resident Nick Tomboulides. “Taxation isn’t compassion. Taxation is theft.”

(If taxation is “theft,” isn’t Tomoulides advocating for the end of all taxes – school taxes, property taxes, the lagoon tax, etc? Aren’t these taxes that the Commission not only supports, but implements and controls?)

Tomboulides is Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Brevard who wrote an opinion piece for the FloridaToday on the CSC saying the CSC is “at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst, a possible conduit for corruption.”

We wonder why Tomboulides’ political connections were not mentioned or attacked by Isnardi. It was not as if she could claim ignorance as Tomboulides was one of the signatories of the “open letter” about BREC we mentioned yesterday and that Isnardi signed. Tomboulides was a supporter of Isnardi in her election bid to the Commission.

While we understand that politics seems to be playing more and more of a roll in daily life, we found it interesting and hypocritical that Isnardi brought up the political work of Rudloff but not Tomboulides.

We are also dismayed at this comment by Commissioner Lober:

Lober said he thought that Rudloff arguing with the County Commission chair is “like me approaching a judge, and having an attitude with them” during a court hearing.

While we understand the sentiment, the fact of the matter is that Commissioners are not judges. They are servants of the people.

Isnardi, Pritchett, and Curt Smith have previously shown a public disdain for anyone who disagrees with them or says something negative about them, we can now add Lober to the list of Commissioners who are far too thin skinned for our liking. (Lober had filed a civil lawsuit against an unnamed individual making comments about Lober on FaceBook. We don’t think the suit went anywhere, but it shows the mentality of 4 of the 5 commissioners who seem to believe that they needed to be treated with reverence and that citizens should back away from podium, never showing the Commissioners their backs.

Should the Rudloff / Isnardi exchange have been handled differently?

Absolutely.

We are not saying otherwise. Yet the exchange was a passionate exchange between two adults where both gave as good as they got. We would say that both women were wrong in that the exchange was not as civil as we would like. It was not wrong because Rudloff, or any citizen, should be kissing the rings of Commission members.

In summary, our first major disagreement was with the disparate handling of people speaking for and against the CSC, as well as the notion that Commissioners need to be venerated or something like that.


The second, and final major issue, is a legal issue.

County Attorney Eden Bentley had prepared a memo on the legality of dissolving the Brevard CSC by ordinance, as the Commission was preparing to do.

Here is that memo:

The attorney representing the Brevard CSC, Kimberly Rezanka, had prepared a memo on the legality as well.

After Rezenka’s presentation, Lober asked Bentley if she was sure of her analysis.

We have no idea what Bentley could have said other than “yes, I am sure,” which she did.

Bentley was asked to prepare the memo at the behest of her client – Brevard County Commissioner Isnardi. Bentley couldn’t say “sorry, that memo I prepared is all wet,” or she could say what she did.

We are sorry to say that we don’t have much faith in memos and ordinances that are prepared by the County Attorney. Bentley learned at the feet of former County Attorney Scott Knox who wrote at the behest of Commissioner Curt Smith an ordinance that said people who said unflattering things about Commissioners during meetings (even when not at the podium) could be arrested and charged with a crime. (Knox and Smith apparently never had heard of the First Amendment.)

Our point is that Bentley’s assurance that the memo is correct doesn’t sway us much.

However, oddly enough, both lawyers are relying on the same text of the same statute to prove their point:

189.072(2)
(b) If an independent special district was created by a county or municipality by referendum or any other procedure, the county or municipality that created the district may dissolve the district pursuant to a referendum or any other procedure by which the independent special district was created. However, if the independent special district has ad valorem taxation powers, the same procedure required to grant the independent special district ad valorem taxation powers is required to dissolve the district.

(The State apparently renumbered the statutes. This is the wording of what before this reorganization 189.4042(3) Both memos refer to this section.)

The CSC was created by ordinance 90-14. That would lead one to think that it could be dissolved via ordinance. (It certainly did us initially.)

But in reading the statute, and the focus of both memos is this part:

However, if the independent special district has ad valorem taxation powers, the same procedure required to grant the independent special district ad valorem taxation powers is required to dissolve the district.

As Rezanka notes, the CSC was given the authority to tax through the ballot and citizen approval by Ordinance 90-41 section 6.

Therefore, Rezanka and the CSC are claiming they have the authority to tax through referendum and therefore the dissolution of the CSC must be by referendum and not a County Ordinance.

Bentley and the County are claiming that because the CSC never exercised the authority to tax, they did not have the authority itself and so the CSC can be resolved by ordinance alone.

In short, the whole issue of whether the County Commission could dissolve the Brevard CSC by ordinance or be required to go to the voters rests on whether the CSC was granted taxation authority.

We here at Raised on Hoecakes aren’t sure.

We liken this situation to rights such as the First and Second Amendment. Just because one chooses not to speak or chooses not to exercise their right to own a gun doesn’t mean their rights go away. Just because the CSC never exercised the taxation authority doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

One of the solutions to solve this conflict of how the CSC can be dissolved was offered by Rezanka who said the County should ask for an opinion from the State Attorney General.

We agree with her.

First, the Attorney General opinion would insure that the County was doing the right, legal thing in dissolving the CSC by ordinance. Whether you think the CSC should exist or not, we should all agree that if it is going to be dissolved, it should be dissolved by a legal means.

Secondly, at the meeting Rezanka indicated that an outside law firm was on standby ready to take the County to court over the issue. (That leads us to believe that it is not just Rezanka who thinks the County is wrong, but other lawyers as well.)

Be that as it may, the bottom line is that the County Commission rejected the idea of requesting an Attorney General opinion and taxpayers will have to foot the bill to defend the County’s actions when it could have gotten the legal opinion from the Attorney General for free.

No matter what side of this issue you are one, we suspect that you would rather see the least costly means of resolving it which means “free” is better than “going to court.”


In conclusion, after two days of discussing this, we want to summarize:
1) Isnardi’s comments at the July 24, 2018 meeting were hypocritical, disingenuous and often wrong.
2) Those comments and the actions of the Commission that day started a war – a despicable war where the care of children was the issue.
3) The Brevard County Children Services Council was following the direction of the Commission in starting to get signatures on a petition when the Commission blindsided them with the ordinance to dissolve the CSC totally.
4) Isnardi, as the Chair of the Commission, treated speakers against the CSC differently than those for it.
5) If Commissioners are going to tangle with citizens, at least have the decency to sell popcorn and charge admission to help funds roads in the County. Barring that, being passionate about an issue does not give you a pass to be rude, insulting and dismissive to those who disagree with you on an issue of public concern. That applies to citizens and Commissioners / elected officials.
6) The County Commissioners need to stop being so thin-skinned. Stop being offended by everyone who disagrees with you and retaliating against them.
7) Why in the heck are County taxpayers going to have to pay for a determination of the legality of the Commission’s actions that which they could have, and should have gotten for free?

Notice that we are not taking any position on whether the CSC should be dissolved or not.

No matter what, we don’t think anyone can sit back and say, “you know, remember that Children’s Services Council issues, people should look at that as an example of handling tough issues.”



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