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Acting Childishly On Behalf Of Children.

(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.)

On January 22, 2019, the Brevard County Commission held a regular meeting to discuss, in part, what was agenda item H-1, 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.

The Brevard County Children’s Services Council (CSC) was created by ordinance 90-41 in November, 1990. In creating the CSC, as per the Florida Statutes, the County created a “special taxing district.”

The services the CSC is to provide are defined by Florida Statute 125.901 and include:

(2)(a) Each council on children’s services shall have all of the following powers and functions:
1. To provide and maintain in the county such preventive, developmental, treatment, and rehabilitative services for children as the council determines are needed for the general welfare of the county.
2. To provide such other services for all children as the council determines are needed for the general welfare of the county.
3. To allocate and provide funds for other agencies in the county which are operated for the benefit of children, provided they are not under the exclusive jurisdiction of the public school system.
4. To collect information and statistical data and to conduct research which will be helpful to the council and the county in deciding the needs of children in the county.
5. To consult and coordinate with other agencies dedicated to the welfare of children to the end that the overlapping of services will be prevented.

To achieve these goals, the CSC is allowed to request a measure to be put on a ballot for voter approval of an ad valorum tax at a rate not to exceed one-half a mil. The money would be collected by the County Tax Appraiser’s Office (who retains a percentage of the funds) and the rest given to the CSC for their Board to administer, spend and distribute. While the Board has elected officials on it, the CSC’s Board itself is not directly responsible to the County Commission and not subject to the approval of the County Commission. The CSC must provide statements and fiscal reports to the Commission on their activities on a quarterly basis, but absent of any malfeasance or misfeasance, the County Commission has no authority to approve or disapprove the spending of the CSC.

We wonder if, in setting up the mechanisms for the creation and administration of CSC’s, the legislature realized they had created a conflict between two of the most contentious topics known to citizens – taxes and the cry of “it’s for the children!”

On July 24, 2018, the Brevard County Children’s Services Council approached the County Commission to finally – after 28 years – get the ad valorum tax in front of the voters in the upcoming elections.

At the time the CSC approached the County Commission, the CSC’s Board had the following members:

  • Kristine Isnardi, District 5 County Commissioner
  • Andy Ziegler, District 5 Brevard County School Board Member
  • Judge Kelly McKibben, Circuit Judge, 18th Judicial Circuit
  • Dr. Desmond Blackburn, Superintendent of Brevard Public Schools
  • Tracy Klinkbeil, Department of Children & Families, Circuit 18 Community Development Administrator
  • Marilyn “Bunny” Finney, Governor Appointed
  • Sharon Underill, Governor Appointed
  • Todd Morley, Governor Appointed
  • Bart Gaetjens, Governor Appointed
  • Adrian Laffitte, Governor Appointed

The Board also lists local attoney Kim Rezanka, as a pro-bono counsel for the CSC.

The July meeting for the Commission to put the ad valorum tax on the ballot did not go well for the CSC. Surprisingly, the charge against the ballot initiative was led by none other than CSC Board member and District 5 Commissioner Kristine Isnardi. (Who, it should be noted, had attended only 2 meetings of the 10 CSC Board meetings in the last year.)

To illustrate Isnardi’s opposition, we are going to refer to the meeting minutes (starting at page 20) from that day and discuss some of Isnardi’s comments.

Commissioner Isnardi stated she has gotten some emails and calls; she is a member of the CSC; it is by State Statute that the Commission appoint a member to that Board, but she is not an advocate nor a detractor of the mission of that Council; it does put her in an awkward position because she goes to these meetings;

(Two meetings out of 10.)

she would not share her opinion one way or another with the newspaper, because she believes that is meant for meetings, not something to be put out in the public early on; and she struggles with this because she does care about kids and she appreciates everything that these people do because they have a passion and a heart for the children.

So in the name of “transparency” and “keeping the public informed,” which was a major plank in Isnardi’s platform when she ran for the Commission, she kept her opinion quiet.

She continued to say the Board was elected to decide; that Council was put in place in 1990, and it is up to the Commission to appeal that board; by doing that it has allowed the CSC to present its case to the Board or to collect signatures;

We take this to mean that Isnardi believes that the law allows the CSC to ask the Commission to have the ad valorum tax rate on the ballot.

what she takes issue with is the lack of oversight and accountability; while the CSC is required to submit that budget to the State, it is also allowed to set a budget to choose the programs it wants to fund without any input from an elected body; therefore, the Board would have no say for 12 years on how the money is spent, it would be up to the CSC. She went on to say it is over $8 million, $7.6 million that can be implemented;

Later in these minutes, Isnardi comments on how the CSC has had 28 years to bring the tax rate to the Commission to be put on the ballot and has not which to her is a failure on the CSC. At the same time, the CSC is following the law as set forth in the Florida Statutes. If the County Commission doesn’t like the lack of County oversight to the CSC, they had 28 years to appeal to the Legislature to change the law. Our point is that the “too long to do something” knife cuts both ways.

she thinks this is the largest form of taxation without representation; she thinks that is why the Board members were elected; if people do not like what the Board is doing then they vote the Board Members out of office;

Isnardi jumps the shark here a bit.

First “taxation without representation” was a bit of propaganda during the Revolutionary War. The last thing in the world that those pushing for independence wanted was “representation” in the British Parliament. Colonial representation and opposition to any tax levied against the Colonies would have simply been voted down by the other 480 plus members of Parliament. If the colonies actually had representation within Parliament, it would have been more of a disaster for higher taxes for the colonists.

Secondly, as the tax for funding the CSC is voted on directly by the citizens and can be repealed by the citizens, it is hard to think of any tax that is more representational than that of citizens voting.

Third, while it is true that citizens can vote people out of office, we also have term limits because, according to proponents of term limits, incumbents have great advantages over challengers.

and she has issue with the CSC hiring a pack [sic] to push their agenda. She stated that is disturbing to her because everyone knows how that works,

We aren’t sure why Isnardi has an issue with a PAC (political action committee) as not only is she a member of the Brevard Republican Executive Committee (BREC) which is a PAC, but she signed and endorsed an open letter sent to the Florida Today criticizing the leadership of BREC. (We’re sorry, but how is an open letter like the one Isnardi endorsed consistent with “she would not share her opinion one way or another with the newspaper, because she believes that is meant for meetings?”)

there is a force of mostly wealthy people that can afford this tax and then there is a 75-year old person with a single, fixed income that has no say where the money is going, who was just given a tax by the City of Palm Bay for a stormwater increase of $177 per year; and that is the responsibility that this Board is tasked with.

Yes, the taxes in Palm Bay went up to pay for stormwater and infrastructure – issues that were left to fester and remain unresolved in Isnardi’s 7 years as a Palm Bay Council member. In addition, the estimated tax increase by the CSC was an average of $66 per year at the proposed .33 millage rate. We don’t know if that rate was set in stone as far as the CSC is concerned. Could it be lower? Maybe. We won’t speak for them, but it is something to consider.

She noted it is the Board’s responsibility whether or not to put this on the ballot; she gave the referendum to her 19-year old to read and what he got from it was he was unclear that this was a separate body and that the ultimate responsibility did not fall on the Board of County Commissioners; and she does not want voters to have to look at a ballot item and not be sure where the accountability ultimately resides.

We won’t even address the idea that a 19 year old in one household is deciding this issue, but we would offer that the language that was proposed by the CSC to get onto the ballot may be changed. Who can change it prior to its approval? The County Commission – the very County Commission that Isardi sits on.

She added she thinks the CSC is asking voters to decide on an issue that only affects homeowners; there are a lot of people who vote in an election that do not pay those taxes; they will vote for services that will either directly benefit them or that will not and she does not think that is fair; and she believes ultimately it is the Board’s responsibility.

Isnardi is wrong on this. Ad valorum taxes apply to all taxable property in the county. That means hotels, apartments, retail businesses, etc. People know and understand that increases in taxes will be passed along to the end user.

Secondly, it is nice to know that Isnardi has so little faith in the voter that citizens must be told what is in their best interest by 5 people.

She stated this is a republic, this is not California and the Board does not arbitrarily put things on the ballot because people come out and think it is the Board’s responsibility or that it is owed the right to vote; it is not the people’s right to vote for these things, it is the people’s right to vote for a Board, and it ultimately decides; she gave the County Attorney some items to look at putting on the ballot and it is like an act of congress for a Board to get an item on the ballot; it takes months, notification, oversight by three independent legal counsel, Board approval, and a Charter review, it is not just someone saying they have a right to vote on this;

We aren’t sure how a group created by the Commission and allowed by statute to seek the tax be put in the ballot is “arbitrary.”

Furthermore, Isnardi is wrong on getting items on the ballot (It also calls into question the legal advice the Commission is getting, which comes up later in this saga):

166.031 Charter amendments.—
(1) The governing body of a municipality may, by ordinance, or the electors of a municipality may, by petition signed by 10 percent of the registered electors as of the last preceding municipal general election, submit to the electors of said municipality a proposed amendment to its charter, which amendment may be to any part or to all of said charter except that part describing the boundaries of such municipality. The governing body of the municipality shall place the proposed amendment contained in the ordinance or petition to a vote of the electors at the next general election held within the municipality or at a special election called for such purpose. (emphasis ours)

If one wants to have a ballot initiative on the State level, that is a different animal and does require a lot more work. But as for a simply ballot initiative on a local issue, the Commission only has to handle the issue with an ordinance – just like any other ordinance. (Notice and two readings and votes.) There is a time limit for the ordinances to be passed in order that ballots may be printed, (as we remember, it is ten weeks before the election) but certainly a vote by the Commission in July and a second vote in August would have met the requirements.

and she mentioned this is not against kids and it is not for kids it is what she was elected to do. She continued on by saying she thinks the CSC should have gotten the signatures; it has been 28 years; in 1992 it was denied and the Council has had 26 years since then to state its case and push its cause; and she noted she will not be supporting this and does not believe it should be on the ballot.

Then Chairwoman Rita Pritchett echoed Isnardi’s thoughts:

Chair Pritchett stated this one is hard; she has listened to everyone who spoke and the audio of the CSC meeting; the compassion is overwhelming; she has some heartburn and the reason why is because people count on the Board, and when it decides to place something on the ballot people think that means the Board agrees with it; if a petition would have been done, then it may be different; if she votes to okay this, people are going to think she has done her due diligence and that she is comfortable with it; and she wanted to be comfortable with it, the CSC did a lot of work trying to appease some of the criteria she was struggling with, but there are some things she is still struggling with. She noted one of them is taxation without representation; if the Board is going to be taxing people with this amount of taxes she thinks it would have been better to fall under the Board because its members get voted out if people do not like what it does;

The County Commission unanimously voted to not put the item on the November 2018 ballot.

It is fair to say that the CSC was dumbstruck by this. In their minds, they had done all that the law required of them. They had tried to address issues that were raised by Commissioners.

However, the vote launched a “war” of sorts with people against taxes duking it out on social media and in other places. Supporters of the CSC wrote things about Isnardi and the Council that seemed to be more attacking her and other Commissioner personally rather than addressing the “points” the Commissioners raised. People who agreed with Isnardi, and the Commissioners attacked supporters of the CSC directly as well.

In the name of “compassion” and “supporting children,” people had turned into vengeful, hateful people.

For their part, the CSC iteslf took these two sentiments from Commissioners to heart:

….by doing that it has allowed the CSC to present its case to the Board or to collect signatures – Isnardi

….if a petition would have been done, then it may be different…. – Pritchett

The CSC began to look into collecting signatures. They hired a polling firm to figure out how best to word their petition as well as how best to present their case to the public in order to get it on the ballot for the next election.

In their minds they were following the suggestions, if not direction of the County Commission.

It was therefore an even greater shock to them when Isnardi announced during the January 8, 2019 Commission meeting that she was seeking to dissolve the CSC altogether.

That discussion – that meeting and that vote – took place on January 22, and we’ll discuss that tomorrow.

(We are not taking a position on the CSC one way or the other. We don’t like higher taxes, but we hate hypocritical politicians who aren’t honest even more. We also believe that generally speaking, the private sector – even if publicly funded – does twice the work at half the price. We are also cognizant of other CSC’s that were less than prudent in spending habits, particularly in salaries, and that has to affect the perception of people and the CSC. As you will read, our concern is with the means and methods used by the Commission to dissolve the CSC, the costs to the citizens, and an arrogance that is troubling.)

We will say that it isn’t pretty and both the CSC and the Commissioners will not look back at this as their finest hour.



4 Responses to “Acting Childishly On Behalf Of Children.”

  1. Hometown says:

    Looking forward to seeing more on the CSC, however my first thoughts are not real positive. I agree that politicians need to be less hypocritical. I have never heard of this organization but at first glance it sounds like another special interest group like the TDC or CRA’s. I have no problem if they go thru the normal process to add a ballot initiative like any other group but don’t think they should be able to bypass the normal process (i.e. I don’t like a state law that allows them to bypass the existing process). As for PAC’s, I don’t like them one bit, our recent CB ballot initiative to raise building heights showed me first hand that big money can buy election results which is a shame. Hoping your post tomorrow will educate me a little more on this issue.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Hometown,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Clearly there is a lot of “depth” to this story and by that we mean we don’t know if there is a “good guy” in the whole thing.

      Every day we can find in our new feeds and on sites we look at where government agencies tasked with protecting, educating or “supporting” kids fail and fail miserably.

      Can an group like the CSC do better? Who the heck knows.

      But this does get back to one of our beliefs that people who scream “its for the kids,” often are actually taking advantage of the good nature of people who see kids as vulnerable members of society. “It’s for the kids!” doesn’t mean a group won’t wrongfully spend money or do stupid things. (Certainly the government agencies spend money wrongfully in the name of “it’s for the kids!”)

      We wonder if the idea of Children Services Councils in Florida came out of days past when government agencies were failing at such great rates that the Florida legislature decided to let a private entity have a crack at it. If that is the case, it was well meaning to establish laws for CSC’s, but strange nonetheless. We are highly leery of a private group having taxing authority. However, at least that authority and rates would be approved by the people, so there is that.

      The law as it stands now is that CSC’s need to come back to the people for approval of tax rates only every twelve years. We think that is too long. We think there is room for negotiation and movement that if we are going down the path of having CSC’s, there could and should be much more transparency, accountability and citizen review at the ballot box.

      As for PAC’s we certainly understand your aversion to them. In the case of Cocoa Beach and the deceitfully named “Preserve Cocoa Beach” PAC, the City let the PAC violate laws and rules without penalties. That cannot happen but it was clear to all that the City wanted the height raised so they let it slide. At the same time, the City was lying to the petition collecting group as to the dates they needed to have the petition done.

      At the same time, PAC’s do allow people – the common folk – to gather money and resources to fight for ideas and causes in which they believe. We can see benefits in PAC’s as well as instances of great abuse.

      Finally, you wrote:

      I have no problem if they go thru the normal process to add a ballot initiative like any other group but don’t think they should be able to bypass the normal process (i.e. I don’t like a state law that allows them to bypass the existing process).

      This is part of where it gets tricky.

      Ballot referendums get on the ballot one of two ways – either by ordinance or by petition. The CSC approached the Commission and said, we would like this on the ballot. The Commission said “no, we would prefer you go through the petition route.” When the CSC started to go down the petition route, the Commission dissolved them. Whether that was done in a legal manner is up for discussion and as you will read in part 2, we think the Commission screwed up badly by not getting a Attorney General’s opinion. That screw up will cost the taxpayers.

      No one comes out of this mess clean, in our opinion.

      A. Afterwit.

  2. Hometown says:

    Thanks for the clarification. My thought is that if there is a service the county needs performed (whether it’s for the kids, the lagoon, etc.) and it is determined that the service would best be outsourced, the county should put it out for bids and let private businesses bid on it, just like they do for lots of other projects. The funds should come through our existing county ad valorem taxes. If they don’t have the funds they can scrap the plans or raise our taxes. That way it’s clear in our county budget where our tax dollars are being spent. I don’t like special taxing entities because, in my opinion, they make it more difficult for the average person to see where their tax dollars are being spent. Special taxing entities, such as CRA’s and the TDC, are often run by boards of non-elected officials with special interests of their own. I realize in these two examples (CRA’s and the TDC) that elected officials have the final say but the special interest boards tend to present the facts to elected officials that further their special interests.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Hometown,

      Thanks for the comment.

      We have mixed emotions on this.

      Clearly the county and the state are not doing enough to help and to protect kids. Part of that is because, as we said, whatever government does is twice as expensive with half the results. We’d love to see an outside group help and do something but as you said, there is a question of accountability and the “special interests” of the group.

      We wonder if those issues can ever be overcome in the minds of the general public. We think it would be wise for the CSC to ask for a smaller amount, for less period of time, and with more oversight from accountants and people that can quantitatively analyze the effectiveness of the CSC’s (or any group’s) programs.

      Believe it or not, we actually like the concept of CRA’s. However, too often we have seen tax dollars be collected and then head off to Viera, or Tallahassee or Washington DC where they are put in a mixer of some department that has to pay salaries, benefits etc and then cities have to plead for money or grants from those entities to get tax money back into the City. Grants applications cost money in the time it takes to write them. Then some flunky who is also getting paid has to approve them, get them voted upon, etc. When all is said and done, a large percentage of money goes into the machine rather than issues that need to be addressed. There is never a one to one return on tax dollars that left to those coming back.

      (We always love it when politicians say “we got $X.XX amount of dollars in a grant which is free money for us.” Talk about tone deaf.)

      So we like the idea of tax money remaining locally for projects to improve local areas. We believe such a program would be more efficient and more effective in the long run.

      However, in practice, CRA’s never work that way which is why in the real world (as opposed to the conceptual world) we hate them.

      If a government wants to “pretty up” an area that all will enjoy, (ie more green spaces, fixing sidewalks, lighting, maybe parking, etc, that would be great to us. Governments should never, as is the case now, give money to some companies who failed to maintain their property or, if they just bought the property, got a lower price because of the condition of the property. CRA’s should not exist to reward bad businesses and bad business practices. The government should not be in the business of picking economic winners and losers.

      We also are against the idea of the construction of the CRA boards themselves. Most are made of simply the City Council which leads to all sorts of issues. A few years ago, Satellite Beach’s CRA was expanded (as we remember) to 9 people – 3 Council members, 3 residents and 3 business owners. Monies were spent judiciously and there had to be a direct benefit to the City. A new Council was elected and they returned the CRA to consist of the 5 Council members. Talk about a situation rife for influence and pandering.

      To wrap this up, we somewhat like the concept of the CSC as well as CRA’s. In the practical sense, there is much that needs to be done to correct flaws and until those flaws are corrected, we will remain skeptical of the CSC and against any and all CRA’s.

      A. Afterwit.

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