ELECTION OF OFFICERS
Election of Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Second Vice Chairman
Commissioner Wayne Dukes nominated Commissioner John Mitten for Chairman. “It is my distinct pleasure, based on his growth in his short time here, and the amount of effort he puts in to this job to nominate Commissioner John Mitten as our Chair.
BOCC Chairman Steve Champion asked for a second, for which there was none.
Commissioner John Allocco and Chairman Champion both asked Mitten if he was interested in being the Chairman. “Are you sure you want the job?” Champion asked.
“Yes, he wants the job,” said Dukes. “Pass the gavel, Chairman. If you want to second it, pass the gavel.”
Mitten then answered, “Frankly, I didn’t think about it at all, until recently. I would think that it would find perhaps better use for those who are running next year, if I were to do it … that being said, I am asked to serve, that’s why I’m here, and if I’m asked to serve, that’s what I’ll do.”
“I can’t of any reason why anyone even questions that. That’s not the process,” Dukes said, “If there’s no second, there won’t be any seconds for any, right? What is this?”
Champion stated, “We can have another nomination, if you want.”
Commissioner John Allocco nominated Commissioner Jeff Holcomb. “This is his fourth year. I’d like to see him there.
Champion said that he had no preference between Mitten and Holcomb, but asked Holcomb if he would be interested in the BOCC Chair position since he is Chairman of the RAC, to which Holcomb answered affirmatively.
Commissioner Mitten seconded Holcomb’s nomination.
Dukes called for a discussion.
“All of my career, I have worked in large organizations, and most of that time, I was in upper management with hiring and firing abilities. One of the things I would have never done is place someone in charge of an agency when there’s known bias against the people in that agency. There is no way I can support Commissioner Holcomb for Chair, because he hasn’t shown that he has a working relationship with our administrator. In fact, the rumor is that he’d like to fire (County Administrator Len Sossamon) today.”
(County Administrator Sossamon was terminated at the Jan. 29, 2019 meeting.)
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb was elected Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners in a 4-1 vote.
After a short recess to switch officers, the board reconvened. Chairman Holcomb called for a nomination of Vice Chair. Allocco began by saying, “I want to make it clear, I think Commissioner Mitten is very well qualified, however we just had an election, and he is appointed. However I would agree that great chairman in (Holcomb’s) stead, and I would like to make the nomination for Commissioner Mitten to be our Vice Chairman.”
Commissioner John Mitten was elected Vice Chairman 5-0.
Champion nominated Allocco for Second Vice Chair, which also passed 5-0.
County’s retained claim to minerals, gas and oil on property sold
Ahmed Hamed explained, “The reserved interest as it reads on my deed states, ‘Hernando county reserves an undivided ¾ interest in title and all phosphate minerals and metals that are or may be in, on or under said land, and an undivided ½ interest in all petroleum that is, or may be in or under said land with the privilege to mine and develop same.’ I’m here to petition Hernando County to release its interest and title in my lot. My right to make this petition, and your authority to release this interest claim is established in Florida Statute 270.113, which states, “A local government, water management district or agency of the state, at its discretion sell or release reserved interest in any parcel of land, except that such sale or release shall be made upon petition of the purchaser for such interests and with a statement of reasons justifying such sale or release.” He also found two petitions in July 2016, where the county attorney’s office recommended release.
Emails to County Officials
Bill Loomis continued an ongoing commentary about not having received a response to an email to commissioners that he sent on March 29, 2017. He said brought the issue up on Oct. 9 and Nov. 27, 2018 meetings as well as the previous meeting.
He closed by saying, “So, Mr. Coller, if you have any questions about my question, I’d be more than happy to answer them at the next meeting because I have used up my three minutes.
Please, Rick (Foti), I would like to order a copy of this meeting dated January 18, 2018.”
Self Fueling at BKV
Gary Schraut addressed the board on the matter of a self-fueling operator at BKV. “This is going to be strange coming from me because I strongly … oppose self-fueling at the airport. It’s an unprofitable venture for our FBO (Fixed Base Operator). The operating rules require that the FBO sell that gas, and if (the FBO) didn’t have to sell that gass, he wouldn’t. Selling jet fuel, he’s required to do. So, the odd part about my discussion today is that the best partner the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport has had for over twenty years, has been the FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation). To go this far to get the grant, if I agree or disagree … I think we should revisit that. Let them know you’re revisiting it. I’m requesting you do…
With the new board coming into place, they can do some investigations on how this may be proper to move forward. I’ll stress, I do not want Hernando County in the fuel business. You don’t want to be in the fuel business... Our fuel prices .. I cannot tell you how many studies we’ve done on fuel sales at the airport, we’ve always been medium-range. As far as the quality of your airport, we’re not medium-range, we’re the finest general aviation airport in the entire state of Florida, over and over again...
I ask that with respect to our partner, FDOT that we revisit this, look at it, and look at what would happen if we use these funds, create this new asset at the airport, and then search for a qualified operator with a history of doing this successfully. Because we can build it, if you don’t turn it on, yes, it’s a waste...”
(Commissioners voted in favor of moving forward on the aircraft self fueling facility in 5-0 vote on Jan. 29, 2019.)
Shauna Lloyd, Partnership Specialist for the Central Florida 2020 census addressed the board regarding the upcoming census. “Since 1790 the US has been taking a census of the population. It’s quite important, because that’s how the money is allocated, as well as our representation. We here in Florida actually gained two seats in the last census in 2010, so now we’re the third largest state after California and Texas. That was a very exciting development.
This has been strictly based on the number of people here in Florida. The census information is highly confidential. It’s sealed for 72 years, and there is Title 13 protection -- we can’t turn it over to any governmental agency. The reason for this is because we want everyone to respond to the census. If people don’t respond, then the counties and the cities aren’t getting the proper allocated money and resources for the people of their constituents.
The census is currently reaching out… to let you know we’ve started the education process. We’re going to be reaching out to you in the current months to work with you to form what we call ‘Complete Count Committees.’ Your Complete Count Committee is going to decide how best to reach the constituents of your county. These are going to be people of the county, in different sectors; education, small business… whatever entities you think would better impact your constituents.
Our job is to basically support you, to provide you with all of the information that you’re going to need going forward for the count.
The other reason the census is very important is the dollars. Florida’s estimated to get over $29-billion for federal funds. The money that’s determined in the census is actually going to be used for the next decade. So, a miscount, or anyone that’s not counted severely impacts a county’s budget. We want to make sure Hernando County and every other county in Florida is getting an accurate and complete count.
So, I’m reaching out… to say ‘hello’ and introduce myself, and to let you know that I’ll be reaching out to you individually, and also leave a packet here with you as well.”
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb asked about important dates associated with the census, which Lloyd replied, “April 1, which is the actual census date. This is the day everyone is supposed to respond. There are a few things that are different with the census this time, it is going to be self-reported. Any electronic device, internet is how it’s going to be done. You’ll receive a mailer sometime this spring … two postcards that are geotagged for your address.
The census is not recording information for me, myself, they’re recording on 123 Maple Street. (The Census) will send a postcard to that address with a code, saying to please go online, enter this code with the number of people in this household.
Then on April 1, all the numbers are due. Whoever does not respond by April 1 will have an ‘enumerator’ come to the door … The enumerators will be hired locally, and will (reside within the county).
Commissioner Wayne Dukes asked for clarification on information he recently received online, “The census counts people who are not here legally?”
Lloyd answered, “Correct, we count everyone. Because the census money is going to be used for everything from school programs to Pell grants, to the money that you get for construction of roadways. So regardless of the actual status, what happens is they’re actually using the resources. That’s why the information has been protected. It’s been that way since (President) Truman. They want the actual resources to go to where the numbers of people are.”
Backyard Duck Hunting on Hunter’s Lake
Christopher Enger of Spring Hill said to the board, “On January first of this year, our neighborhood was woken with gunshots in our backyard. You guys have since gotten the emails and phone calls from me and my neighbors.
We found out that there was duck hunting in our backyards. With the rain that we’ve had this fall, we now water in our canal on Hunter’s Lake. I’ve lived here for now 31 years at the same address. Me, my 11-year-old daughter, and my 19-year-old daughter … we’re all there. In those 31 years, we’ve only had 1 issue, and that was an alligator about 25 years ago…
We’ve called the Sheriff’s department and found out they’re allowed to hunt back there. Then we called the Florida Wildlife Commission, and found out they’re allowed to hunt. Then we were stunned to find out that they can actually hunt within five feet of our property.
We found that all we can do is get them for a ‘reckless discharge of a firearm’ which is a felony in Florida. We have no idea how that works, because our Sheriff’s office had no idea that law was even there when they first (responded).
I’ve reached out to you, commissioners, and I’ve heard that you are going to get with legal to find out what you can do.
We have children in our neighborhood. We have veterans with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), and we have elderly neighbors who walk early in the morning. We were told that if you get shot … you can just go to the hospital, and get it taken care of. This was by a Sheriff’s deputy.
I have a petition signed by at least 103 neighbors asking you to do something about the duck hunting in our neighborhood. We’re not against hunting. We’re (also) gun owners … we just don’t want it in our residential neighborhood.
Michael Burmann said, “I am a hunter, and my parents reside on Hunter’s lake. So I’ve seen both ends of it. They do live on a canal, and we’ve seen people shoot right into the back yard … It’s not just the channels, there are houses right on the open lake, and people can go right up to the back of that house, as the law is written currently … Florida’s unique. Most other states require a 250-300 yard distance away from a property line.” Burmann reported an increase in the number of hunters in the last two years, when it hasn’t been an issue in the past.
Elton Ben Hammonds told the board that both he and his neighbor have service animals, and the dogs have been frightened by the gunshots heard in the area. Hammonds described the noise before and after sunset as “A re-enactment for the Battle of Fallujah. I’m not being funny about that. I was there.” He also reported that a neighbor actually had a glass sliding door shattered by a stray pellet.
Randy Kelly added that an elementary school and Pasco-Hernando State College is situated on Hunter’s Lake. Kelly added that residents of Hunter’s Lake feed the ducks, causing a legal problem since “baiting animals and hunting is against the law.”
Dawn Klein added that she was told by an HCSO Deputy that scaring the ducks away from residences was in fact, illegal, and that anyone doing so could receive a citation.
Sand at the State Park entering the Weeki Wachee river
Shannon Turbeville asked for the board’s support in sending a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Turbeville stated, “The letter would simply request that (DEP) take any and all measures to stop their sand that they installed at the state park from entering the (Weeki Wachee) river during rain events. I want to be clear that I don’t think it’s fair to blame the state park … for the sedimentation problem plaguing the river. However, we have to tackle one issue at a time, as we become aware of a problem, and not bury it in tax dollars.”
Turbeville went on to show a seawall installed in 2006 with damage allowing sand to flow through portions of the wall separated from the ground, and into the river.
Baker Act Facilities
Randy Kelly recalled his recent experience where a 10-year old child needed hospitalization under the Baker Act (Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 (Florida Statute 394.451-394.47891). Kelly said, “We’re here in Hernando County, and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) picked up the child, then took the child to Pinebrook, which is an intake facility, to find the child a bed. Once the child got there, we were told that the two closest facilities were Ocala and Orlando. Now this 10-year old child is way off in Titusville, which is 128 miles away from where we live. I’m wondering if the commission can look into something for the juveniles, because this seems to be … a regular occurence. Children are taken, then sent halfway across the state to a treatment facility because we have no juvenile treatment facilities within our county.”
Kelly added that he has to travel to Gainesville to receive mental health services for another child.
County’s retained claim to minerals, gas and oil on property sold
County Attorney Garth Coller stated that the release would need to be put to a vote in a future meeting. Commissioner Wayne Dukes stated, “I think we should definitely do that, but I also think we should ask the legal department to take a look at this. If the lots are in residential (zones) and they’re only of that size, I think a limited sight should be on there so we don’t have to keep doing this.
Emails to County Officials
Commissioner Wayne Dukes asked County Attorney Garth Coller, “Isn’t it true, that as a city commissioner, if there was some sort of investigation about anything that you could come and get my personal email, and my county email, and my phone … everything?” Coller answered in the affirmative, “It’s all public record.”
Self Fueling at BKV
County Administrator Len Sossamon said that he’d already scheduled a discussion of the grant for January 29, 2019. “I did so after having a conversation with Airport Manager Kevin Daugherty, because he’d had a phone call from Ray Clark at FDOT, who promised us that we’d shortly be getting a letter stating that if the BOCC did not reconsider its rejection of the bids to build a self-fueling facility, that we would indeed get a follow-up letter that states in thirty days, they would expect repayment of that $89-thousand grant.”
The board came to a consensus that discussion for reconsideration would take place at the January 29th meeting. As noted before commissioners voted 5-0 to move forward on self fueling facility on Jan. 29.
Dukes replied, “The problem is with our sanctuary states now, you’ve got thousands of people who are here illegally, and they can actually get more representatives and more influence in Washington. That doesn’t seem right.”
Lloyd stated she couldn’t speak to the status of the individuals responding to the 2020 census. She did say, “If you have only enough money for 10 people to go to a hospital, but you actually have 20, then some people are not going to receive services.”
Commissioner John Allocco asked, “What is being protected? The fact that they are illegal, and they’re being counted, so we get representatives in the state to vote? I’m curious what the ‘protected’ part is, because to me it seems like, even though it’s been there since Truman, back when Truman was president, we had people trying to change the demographics of this country as well, and the voting records of the country. My concern is that if we’re using this improperly because of protected information, we’re growing government, and we’re increasing the cost to the citizens who are actually paying taxes. I know everybody pays sales tax, but we haven’t moved to a sales-tax-based system for our federal government, we’re still focused on ad-valorem taxes. I’m curious as to what this protected information is, if the whole purpose is to give information to organizations like ourselves.”
Lloyd responded, “(The information) is given at an aggregate level. You’re going to get the information on what’s called a ‘Census Tract.’ A tract is bigger than 2-3 city blocks, so you’ll know how many people reside in a tract. Lloyd also said that the only required information to provide is a name, but some respondents provide self-identifying information.
Commissioner Steve Champion asked, “What’s to stop the fraud from happening? Let’s say there’s motivated people for political reasons to gain seats, etc., what’s to stop them from putting ten names on there that don’t exist? Can you imagine the rampant fraud? In a state like California, they just start adding names. Then there are people who are motivated and get groups together, and they go around, adding names, ten, twenty, thirty people in a household… Is there any fraud investigation behind stuff like that?”
Lloyd answered in the affirmative, “They do cross reference the numbers with the numbers they’ve had, and they do internal (checks). I’m not privy to how and what they’re using to cross-reference.” Lloyd offered to get the information as a follow-up.
Allocco added, “If they were doing anything about the fraud, we wouldn’t have single residences with 25-100 IRS returns.”
Backyard Duck Hunting on Hunter’s Lake
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb clarified that the problem exists with the hunting in the canals, not hunting on the lake. This has become a problem this year because there is enough water for the first time to allow boats back into the canals.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes added that clearing 15 acres of Tussock finally gave the ducks a place to congregate. “When we got the emails, the first thing I did was reach out to one of our attorneys, and he actually sent me back verbatim, the state statute. It’s actually stated in the (Florida) Constitution that the only person who controls hunting is FWC … We don’t have any jurisdiction, by the Constitution.”
Dukes addressed County Attorney Garth Coller, asking how the situation could be addressed, to which Coller responded, “We don’t. In fact the legislature has made it crystal clear that not only does this board not have the authority to regulate firearms … but if you try to, you are committing a criminal act, and you can be fined and removed from office.”
Steve Champion said, “I own a gun store, I know the laws … I was afraid of that when it came to hunting, because we can actually be charged with a crime for restricting a gun range or any kind of activity. With that said, when bullet crosses your property line, that (shooter) is guilty of a felony. The reckless people out there hunting, we have to put a stop to that.”
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb said there are certain areas in canals, where no matter which direction a gun is being fired, it would be aimed at a private property.
Commissioner John Mitten reported that FWC is actually aware of the problem existing with residential lakes across the entire state, as well as in Hernando county. “It is my understanding that (FWC) is working on a way to mitigate the challenges that (Enger) is facing, as well as many others around the state. He went on to say, “With government, things are a process. There may be collaboration between the county and FWC as we go forward, but until they work their end out, it’s difficult for us to know where to begin and how much we can do until they tell us that.”
Commissioner John Allocco said, “The law says you cannot discharge a firearm within a certain distance of a home (where ammunition can cross one’s property line), so if an area doesn’t qualify for those distances, then FWC should be able to make hunting off-limits in those areas, because it does not fit the law. This is where we have to make sure we are enforcing or making our state departments enforce the laws the way they’re written.”
The board voted 5-0 in consensus to write a letter to FWC regarding the issue.
Baker Act Facilities
Commissioner John Allocco stated, “Senator (Wilton) Simpson has been spearheading a lot of the mental illness funding from the state… I would recommend that you first reach out to him and see if he has any plans for further funding for mental illness in the area.” Allocco also said that mental health care is expensive, and there is very little reimbursement to facilities and providers. “That’s why Baycare is no longer seeing (patients for mental health issues) as well.”
TO BE CONTINUED....