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We Don’t Remember History This Way: Brevard County And the Childrens’ Services Council.

The Brevard County Commission and the Childrens’ Services Council was back in play a few days ago at the County Committee meeting.

We had written about the Childrens’ Services Council (CSC) here and here and raised several questions as to the actions the County Commission took against the CSC.

As a bit of a background, the CSC was established in 1990. The CSC under Florida Statutes can seek to tax residents for funding. The CSC approached the County Commission to have a tax initiative put on the ballot for the November, 2018 election. That proposal was rejected by the Commission who told the CSC to go the route of a petition drive to put the item on the ballot. The CSC started to do that when in January of 2019, the County Commission decided they could dissolve the CSC unilaterally. The CSC was aware of the Commission’s plan to try and dissolve them and on January 22, 2019, transferred the entirety of its bank account – $22,726.40 – to the Space Coast Health Foundation to be held in trust for the CSC.

The Commission meeting on January 22, 2019 (the same day that the CSC had transferred the funds to the Space Coast Health Foundation) was heated with the Commission voting to dissolve the CSC by ordinance.

However, there was a legal issue raised by the CSC as to whether the County Commission could dissolve the CSC or whether the voters had to dissolve the CSC since the voters voted to establish the group. At the meeting, the CSC offered to have a judge decide the issue and the Commission refused to go that route. The CSC told the Commission that they would be going forward with legal action to determine whether the County Commission or the voters could dissolve the CSC.

The Commission’s response was “feel free to do that.”

After the meeting on January 22, 2019 where the Commission voted to dissolve the CSC, with the passage of the dissolution ordinance, the County also assumed the debts and assets of the CSC. We don’t think that the County can say “this is ours” when there still is a bona fide dispute dispute as to whether the County’s actions were legal.

The CSC took the challenge of the Commission and started legal proceedings. Their first step was to give a $10,000 retainer to the legal firm of Lewis, Longman and Walker.

The money was part of bank transfer the CSC had made to the Space Coast Health Foundation. All $22,726.40 were donations – not taxes, not money approved as a grant by the Commission, not money as part of a County sponsored program. Donations.

It would be fair to assume that the people who donated to the CSC supported the vision and mission of the CSC. Otherwise, why donate to a group that you oppose?

Which brings us to Tuesday, March 26, 2019 when during the Department Reports, County Attorney Eden Bentley asked the Commission for direction as to what to do with the CSC.

Bentley read a “Board Report” to the Commission. This can be seen in the video of the meeting starting at 04:30:15:

Throughout her report, she continually referred to the CSC as the “former CSC” as if the group no longer exists. In other words, Bentley took the position that the legal issue the Commission told the CSC to take to court has been resolved and resolved in favor of the County.

It hasn’t.

Bentley’s position creates a problem for the County in the long run which we will explain in a moment.

There are a couple issues that Bentley wants addressed. First is “what do we do about the money?” Secondly, should the County go to mediation over the issue of whether the CSC was dissolved legally?

Bentley claimed that going to mediation sets up a “severe legal harm” to the County. The reason for this seems to be that the County feels that if they go to arbitration, they are responsible for the legal bills of the CSC as well as their own legal expenses.

There is a logical flaw in that thinking, as far as we can tell.

As we said, Bentley continually used the term “former CSC” in her presentation. If the group doesn’t exist as Bentley claims, how can the CSC create a legal liability for the County?

If your company closes its doors, or you have an employee that is terminated, how can either the company or the employee create a legal obligation for someone else? The answer is that they cannot.

In arguing that the County doesn’t want to go to mediation because the County may have to pick up the legal fees, Bentley is implying that the group still exists. You cannot have a legal obligation created by an entity or group that doesn’t exist.

If the CSC still exists, they can go to court with the County. If they doesn’t exist, the County can’t claim that the CSC has created a “severe legal harm” to the County. Bentley is arguing both sides when logically she can only pick one.

After Bentley’s report, Commissioner Lober then introduced a “long motion” (his words – not ours) to deal with the situation of the CSC’s funds:

The long motion was eventually broken down into two separate motions, both of which were approved.

The first motion contained just item 10 and the one sentence paragraph that follows it. That motion resulted in a letter being sent by the County to the “Former CSC” pulling out of any mediation.

The second motion was for everything else in the “long motion” including some adjustments for the language to make the motion read / flow better.

The second motion basically gave approval after the fact to three letters sent by the County Attorney’s Office letters to various parties all of which demand that the party give back or transfer the funds the County claims it owns as a result of the disputed Commission action to dissolve the CSC by ordinance. All of the letters were mailed March 11, 2019.

1) A letter to the Chair of the CSC and other officers. It should be noted that the Chair of the CSC and to whom the letter was addressed is the Honorable Judge Kelly J. McKibben, who is a Circuit Court Judge, Eighteenth Judicial Circuit. The letter claims that the transfer of the funds may be part of the crime of conversion and civil theft. In short, the County is accusing a Judge of participating in illegal activities.

There has been no response to this demand letter from the CSC of which we are aware.

2) A letter to the law firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker P.A., LLC wanting the $10,000 retainer that was paid to pursue the action as to whether the County could dissolve the CSC by ordinance. The County claims the contract with the law firm was void from the very beginning as well as saying the County may pursue legal action for criminal conversion and civil theft. The County is willing to make the claim that a law firm is participating in illegal activities.

There has been no response to this demand letter of which we are aware.

3) A letter to the Space Coast Health Foundation, Inc., demanding the remaining money that the CSC transferred into a trust fund / special asset account with the Space Coast Health Foundation. The County makes the same threat that they may press legal action for criminal conversion and civil theft.

The Space Coast Health Foundation replied basically saying they have done nothing wrong, and have acted within the laws of the State of Florida.

ANALYSIS:

Whether you believe the CSC should exist, should be able to bring a ballot initiative to the voters, etc., is not the point of our posts on this issue. We think to some extent how people feel about the CSC itself is irrelevant. (We feel a need to keep repeating that.) What matters to us is how the CSC is being treated by the County Commission and the hypocrisy of the County itself. We say that based on the following reasons:

1) When the CSC made the legal request to appear on the ballot for voters to approve a tax, the County Commission voted against the initiative and then told the CSC that they could go out and start a petition drive to get the issue on the ballot. The CSC started to do that when the County Commission freaked out and realized they didn’t want the issue on the ballot or in front of the people in a petition to get the issue on a ballot. While the Commission couldn’t stop the CSC from gathering signatures, the Commission declared they could shutter the CSC itself. The Commission tried to block off the very route they told the CSC to take.

2) When the CSC objected to the action of the County Commission in dissolving the CSC, the County Commission said “go ahead and take us to court.” When the CSC started to do just that, the Commission again panicked and decided that they wanted the money that would allow the CSC to take them to court. As we said earlier, this was not tax money. This was not money the CSC had gotten through a government grant. This was not money given to the CSC by the County for the administration of programs. This was money that was donated to the CSC. This was money from the pockets of citizens.

The County wanted to stop the CSC from taking them to court by taking their funds.

Twice the County and the County Commissioners said “go ahead” (the petition and the lawsuit) and instead of acting as responsible and honorable people, they tried to block and thwart the very legal routes they told the CSC to take.

There are two further oddities in those actions.

First, during the meeting of March 26, 2019, County Attorney Bentley said that she had reached out to the firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker P.A., LLC asking if they would take the mediation case “pro bono.” Lewis, Longman & Walker refused saying their contract was with a legitimate client and they were going to proceed. The amazing thing to us is that Bentley and the County want a private law firm to work for free while the County uses tax payer dollars to fund the case.

Think about that for a moment. The County wants a private firm to work for free while their legal team is being paid by tax dollars to go after money that was legally donated by citizens to a legal group of citizens.

Secondly, prior to and during the January 22, 2019 Commission meeting where the ordinance “dissolving” the CSC was passed, (which is the heart of the legal battle) Commissioner Isnardi said she had concerns with the CSC because their lawful ability to appeal to the voters to approve a tax to increase funding for the CSC was “taxation without representation.” We disagree with her on that point, but one thing is for sure – we don’t remember patriots taking the field of battle 240 years ago with the cry of “CONFISCATION WITH REPRESENTATION!” We don’t remember anyone saying “come take our goods and our money because you are elected officials,” which is exactly what the County is doing.

If anything, the law is the other way – that private goods and money cannot be seized without due process.

We recognize the idea that the County Commissioners are saying that due process was the vote on the ordinance dissolving the CSC, but the validity – the legality of that process – is part of the lack of due process claim.

(In October, 2018, a case called Timbs v. Indiana was decided by the Supreme Court saying that states seizing property in criminal cases was a violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments – that of due process.)

The due process here is the very procedure the County is trying to avoid. They initially rejected going to mediation to resolve the question of whether they could dissolve the CSC by ordinance. They then tried to swoop in and take the money that would allow the CSC to seek a resolution through the legal system. After finding out they had to mediate the dispute, the County then withdrew from mediation by saying there would be a “significant legal harm” if they went through the process. (That would be harm if and only if they lost the mediation and the CSC would seek reimbursement for legal fees.)

Now they are threatening people, organizations and law firms with both criminal and civil threats.

As we have repeatedly said, we don’t have a position on the CSC itself.

What we do know is that if 5 elected officials can uses the weight and resources of the County government to try and deny a group from the very legal remedies they told the group were available, they can do that to you too.

If they can claim that a sitting Judge and a law firm may be part of criminal and civil crimes – a judge and law firm with the resources to fight the County – they can do the same thing to you.

If the Commission wants to claim that they can confiscate the donations of a charity because they don’t want to resolve the legal dispute, they can do the same thing to you.

As we said in our original posts on this issue, this whole thing could have been resolved by the County simply going to mediation and resolving the legal issue. That’s it. That’s all they had to do.

Yet the Commission doesn’t want to take the risk that they are wrong on this matter.

As we said, our concern is not the CSC per se, but rather if the County Commission can use County resources and tax dollars to deny a group their rights, they can do the same to any citizen within Brevard.



3 Responses to “We Don’t Remember History This Way: Brevard County And the Childrens’ Services Council.”

  1. Thomas L Gaume says:

    This is more than a County Issue, or an this issue specific to this problem.

    Citizens sue Government, they’re basically paying for both sides of the dispute.

    Government sues Government, Citizens pay both sides.

    Government sues private company and loses, Citizens pay the judgement, and for the legal fees for both sides.

    Pretty clear that the deck is stacked against the normal everyday Joe, all you have to do to defeat them is bleed them dry.

  2. Rob Rains says:

    Thank You! Totally agree with your key points!

    A few additional comments, in case you update your report:
    1) The CSC met on Monday, January 21st (the day prior to the County Commission meeting) and voted then to transfer the assets of the Council to the SCHF with provisions on how the funds were to be used if the Council was legally dissolved…a day prior the Commission’s vote. January 21st was a Federal holiday and banks were closed. The transfer was completed the following day, executing the Council’s directives.
    2) The timing and tactics – Commissioner Isnardi proposed to dissolve the Council at 10:30pm at the January 7th Commission meeting. The proposed dissolution ordinance was not on the agenda. The Council was not consulted or notified in advance by Commissioner Isnardi (a former Council member). The second vote was scheduled for the next Commission meeting the morning of January 22nd. The Council Chair Judge McKibben had a full court docket that morning. She respectfully asked to have the CSC vote pushed back two weeks to allow her to attend and speak for the Council. Her request was declined.
    3) Actually, the ballot petition route appeared to be non-viable. In reviewing the County Charter, both the County Attorney and the CSC Attorney felt that a petition for a tax might not be allowable. So the County Commission appeared to be the sole route for the CSC to be on the ballot – asking voters if they wanted to invest in more services for children in need. The Commission’s rush to dissolve the Council was the imaginary threat the Council would incur debt…which wasn’t even referenced at the 22nd meeting. Commissioner Isnardi’s staff and others then embarked on a disinformation campaign to discredit the Council and its members.
    4) The Commission may win in their battle to dissolve the Council. The threat of legal action by the County Attorney’s Office against citizen’s is taking a toll. Five members of the Council were approve by the County Commission for submission to the Governor’s Appointment Office and subsequently appointed by the Governor. These Council members/citizen’s are having to engage and pay for an attorney…for trying to help our community’s children!
    5) Please remember that State Statues that authorize a special taxing district are still in place…affirmative votes from three County Commissioners in the future would put the CSC on the ballot. If approved, a new Council would be created with taxing authority…and could only be dissolved by the voters.
    6) Lastly, by dissolving the Council, the Commission does a huge disservice to voters. An existing CSC, would be in position to detail where tax dollars would go, to establish priorities, and provide more information to voters on how their dollars would be used. By dissolving the current CSC, the Commission – which already has the power on access to the ballot – denies future Commission’s and voter’s potential valuable information that could help with decision making. It is a also disservice to silence a voice for children.

  3. Johnny public says:

    Beware of criticizing the commissioner Isnardi, or her people, her people have been known to make threats against her own constituents, as has she, at least her threats were about lawsuits, threats from “her people” were considered very physically threatening, and when confronted about said threats, the commissioner refused to take any action against “her people”. Beware the new wave of behavior (thugery) from the county commissioners, none of them seem to think there is anyone to answer to, as seen by recent antics from the county meetings… unfortunately we have a reached a period where our local politicians have no fear of public outcry,ethics violations,recalls, or laws broken…we are at a point where once elected, the king/queen can do as he/she pleases. We can only hope that soon the reign of BS from this county commission is checked by the voters of Brevard and these thugs are tossed out on their A**es!!

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