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“I Ain’t Never Heard, Seen Nor Smelled An Issue That Was So Dangerous It Couldn’t Be Talked About.”

(image inspired by posters for the musical 1776)

(image inspired by the musical 1776)

In the musical / movie “1776,” the delegates to the Continental Congress take a vote to whether to discuss the issue of independence – just talk about it. As portrayed in the production, the vote is deadlocked with only Stephen Hopkins who represented Rhode Island yet to vote. At the critical point in this vote and with his vote to decide the issue, Hopkins is missing as he is visiting the “necessary.” When he comes back into the chamber, he says:

I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about.

Apparently, some members of the Brevard County Commission have never heard that sentiment.

This past Tuesday, Commissioner Fisher introduced a resolution which read, in part:

1. Until otherwise directed by majority vote of the County Commission, the County Manager is hereby directed not to place any item on the County Commission agenda that addresses the funding, defunding or dissolution of CRAs or other tax increment funded entity, or the discontinuation of economic development incentives including cash grants and ad valorem tax exemptions, whether the agenda item is sponsored or requested by a member of the County Commission, a private citizen or any other person.

According to the Florida Today:

County commissioners decided Tuesday to hold off on making any budget changes aimed at finding more money to pay for road repairs — at least until after they hold another workshop on the issue.

But, just before the meeting was about to end, Commissioner Robin Fisher handed out a resolution to other commissioners that wasn’t on the agenda, and asked the other commissioners to vote on it.

Fisher’s proposal directs the county manager not to place any items proposed by commissioners or members of the public on the commission agenda in the future, if the items are related to funding, defunding or dissolution of community redevelopment agencies and similar entities, until at least three of the five commissioners vote to do so. Fisher’s resolution also covers items related to discontinuation of economic development incentive programs for expanding businesses.

Community redevelopment agencies target a portion of new property tax revenue from construction within the CRA’s district to projects in the district, rather than the money going into the county’s general fund.

Commissioners approved Fisher’s proposal by a 3-2 vote.

Commissioner Trudie Infantini felt the action was directed at her, since she had put two items on Tuesday’s commission agenda related to dissolving or defunding community redevelopment agencies and to dissolution of the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency, and another item on cash incentive grants to new and expanding businesses. Earlier in the meeting, she had agreed to defer discussion of her items until the March 31 workshop.

“I think it’s illegal to stifle my ability to put items on the agenda,” Infantini said.

Fisher said he was tired of continued discussion about finding things to cut, when he believes the county has a revenue problem, and that its current budget already is tight. He said he also is tired of some commissioners trying to reconsider decisions that the commission already had made.

“Once the play has been called, you run the play and make it successful,” said Fisher, a former college and pro football player. “I don’t want to argue about it anymore.”

Commissioners Barfield and Anderson voted with Fisher to pass the resolution with Commissioners Infantini and Smith voting against the resolution.

There is a lot of back story to this resolution and it starts with Fisher. According to Infantini, the resolution was distributed minuted before the meeting began. This meant that the resolution was not on the agenda and the public never saw it coming. Furthermore, the resolution was raised by Fisher after public comments so no one could express displeasure with the resolution.

You can watch the ambush of the public here (Fisher starts talking around the 3:02:00 mark or can go directly to his comment via the agenda links below the video.)

The question is now “what effect does this have on people?”

First, it should be understood what a resolution is. According to the Legal Dictionary:

The practice of submitting and voting on resolutions is a typical part of business in Congress, state legislatures, and other public assemblies. These bodies use resolutions for two purposes. First, resolutions express their consensus on matters of public policy: lawmakers routinely deliver criticism or support on a broad range of social issues, legal rights, court opinions, and even decisions by the Executive Branch. Second, they pass resolutions for internal, administrative purposes.

…..

When resolutions are mere expressions of opinion, they differ fundamentally from laws. In essence, laws are intended to permanently direct and control matters applying to persons or issues in general; moreover, they are enforceable. By contrast, resolutions expressing the views of lawmakers are limited to a specific issue or event. They are neither intended to be permanent nor to be enforceable.

The County Charter says:

2.10.1. Official actions.

The Board of County Commissioners may take official action only by the adoption of ordinances, resolutions or motions. For purposes of this section, an ordinance means a legislative action or regulation of a general or permanent nature, enforceable as a local law. A resolution means an expression of a temporary character, or a provision for the disposition of the administrative business of the Board.

It is clear that a resolution is temporary, yet Fisher, Barfield and Anderson want the resolution to apply until some unknown date. Because the resolution is temporary in scope, it cannot be extended forever.

Secondly, there are Constitutional issues.

The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Time and time again Courts – including the Supreme Court – have ruled that governments can place time, place and manner restrictions on speech. What cannot be limited is the content of that speech. Fisher’s resolution effectively says “you can’t talk about this unless we approve of it.” If Fisher wants to make a resolution that all items must have a majority vote before being placed on the agenda, that might be okay within the Commission. What he cannot say and do is say “this topic has to go through a different process than other items because I don’t like talking about it.”

Also, Fisher has now cut off the ability of people to seek redress through the government. His resolution takes the stance that citizens no longer can bring up some issues to be on the agenda without a special, prior approval for Commissioners. With one swift vote, Fisher, Barfield and Anderson have now said “we are not going to listen to people on certain issues.”

Third, there are issues in how this is going to be implemented.

Is County Manager Whitten going to go around and get a vote from Commissioners prior to organizing the agenda? Will that vote be public and open to comment? One of the things that Fisher tried to justify his resolution with was the idea that he was “tired of wasting time.” So now he, Barfield, and Anderson think that a vote with comments from the public is going to take less time than the actual proposed agenda item?

Furthermore, Fisher’s resolution makes it almost impossible to have such a vote on the agenda. How can one vote on an whether the agenda should include an item that “addresses the funding, defunding or dissolution of CRAs or other tax increment funded entity, or the discontinuation of economic development incentives including cash grants and ad valorem tax exemptions,” without actually discussing those issues? If someone has to justify their wanting a item on the agenda, it is impossible not to discuss those issues as part of the justification for the putting the item on the agenda.

This resolution also puts the County Manager in a no-win situation. It is clear that the resolution is un-Constitutional, but as previously noted it lacks the punch and backing of a law. If Whitten had any integrity he would say “I can’t do something against the law.” Yet because three people voted for this resolution, those same three people can vote him out of his job.

Additionally, how in the heck can there be a budget discussion as the issues Fisher wants banned cannot be discussed within the budgetary process? Does the County shut down because three Commissioners said they don’t want to listen to any discussions on items they have already made their mind up on?

Finally, we want to address the sentiment behind Fisher’s position and resolution.

Imagine if you will hopping into Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s Wayback Machine and going back 60 or 70 years in time. Imagine if you will a Brevard County Commissioner trying to pass a resolution which read:

1. Until otherwise directed by majority vote of the County Commission, the County Manager is hereby directed not to place any item on the County Commission agenda that addresses the civil rights, segregation, voting rights, or opportunities for Negros in Brevard County whether that item is sponsored or requested by a member of the County Commission, a private citizen or any other person.

Imagine a Commissioner saying “he was tired of continued discussion about race, when he believes the county doesn’ty have a race problem and that its current laws are fine.”

Imagine a Commissioner who “said he also is tired of some commissioners trying to reconsider decisions that the commission already had made in regards to civil rights, race and equality.”

Fisher should know that the fight for rights for minorities was a long, continuous fight. It was a fight that was brought in front of legislative bodies and the people time and time again.

Now, in the present, Fisher thinks it is a good idea to tell people with whom he disagrees he no longer wants to hear their voices. He wants them not to have a voice at the table or at the podium. Barfield and Anderson have taken the same position.

Fisher wants people who have genuine concerns about County spending and CRA’s to sit in the back of the bus.

Just sit down and shut the aitch ee double hockey sticks up.

Fisher’s resolution and Barfield and Anderson’s support show they have no concern for the people of Brevard and are more concerned with the petty bickering that takes place in the halls of Viera and up on the dais.

Unable to control themselves like responsible elected officials and adults, Fisher, Anderson and Barfield decided in an ambush move to attack the rights of the citizens of the County.

In a follow-up post, we’ll suggest what citizens can do in response to the actions of these men.



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2 Responses to ““I Ain’t Never Heard, Seen Nor Smelled An Issue That Was So Dangerous It Couldn’t Be Talked About.””

  1. Randal Agostini says:

    Robin Fisher is no stranger to having things his own way and that is a given. I have an issue with Anderson and Barfield, who although elected, choose to abrogate their responsibilities and become a Lackey to Fisher.
    My suggestion is to go after he who is most vulnerable – the weakest link in the trio.
    You cannot fault Fisher for being a bully, for that is who he is, but there is no reason why we can’t take away the club that he beats us with.

  2. Pat Pasley says:

    Thank you. When you are beaten down, it’s nice to get a little reinforcement.

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