The recent Blueprint agenda had only one topic: the agency’s governance structure, including its mysterious Intergovernmental Management Committee (IMC). Commissioners abruptly adjourned after two Commissioners raised questions about whether the agency was violating Florida Sunshine law.
While the IA consists of the elected city and county commissioners, City Manager Reese Goad and County Administrator Vince Long make up a so-called ‘management committee’, which governs many actions of the Intergovernmental Agency. The two non-elected officials wield immense organizational and operational power over the administration of Leon County’s 1% sales tax. Blueprint’s legal counsel Susan Dawson argues that Goad and Long, acting as the IMC, are exempt from Florida’s Sunshine Law.
As Commissioners challenged that legal position, five members of the twelve-member body voted to adjourn the public meeting abruptly. County Commissioners Carolyn Cummings and Bill Proctor left the meeting minutes before the vote. Commissioners voting in favor of adjournment were Mayor John Dailey, Commissioners Williams-Cox, Curtis Richardson, Jimbo Jackson and Nick Maddox.
City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox made the motion to adjourn after just two Commissioners could question the management structure. The meeting was cut short before Commissioners Kristin Dozier and Rick Minor were provided an opportunity to speak, despite the meeting being focused on increased transparency. The meeting also included a public discussion for the first time about extending the Florida Sunshine laws to apply to the senior managers at Blueprint when they make decisions together.
Before the meeting, all Commissioners received a letter from the bipartisan Citizens for Ethics Reform (the group responsible for passing the Tallahassee ethics ballot referendum approved by voters in 2014). In the letter, the group stated that Blueprint violated Florida’s Sunshine law by not conducting meetings of Goad and Long, acting as the IMC, in the Sunshine.
“Florida’s Sunshine Law, as it relates to public meetings and minutes, provides an exemption for a group (by whatever name) that is merely researching and reporting facts to government decision-makers,” the letter reads. “That same ‘group’ is not exempt from the Sunshine Law when it formulates and presents recommendations or when it is transacting public business,” the letter said.
Williams-Cox Moves to Adjourn Blueprint Meeting
After two Commissioners asked questions on the item, City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox made a motion to adjourn the meeting an hour and a half early, saying, “We’ve exhausted the agenda item.” Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey was eagerly encouraging her motion, captured on Our Tallahassee’s camera feed of the meeting.
The public’s questions surrounding the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, which administers the 1% sales tax, have grown for years. Skepticism around the governance structure of the nearly billion-dollar public agency has come to a fever pitch in recent weeks. It has been fueled by public outcry after city and county commissioners voted 7-5 to spend $27 million ($7 million of it just on interest charges) on the Seminole Boosters pending skybox project at Doak Campbell stadium.
This most recent meeting resulted from a motion made by City Commissioner Jack Porter at the end of the February 24th Blueprint meeting. Just hours after a motion was made to review Blueprint’s management structure, the IMC was photographed flying together on a New York vacation with Blueprint Manager Ben Pingree (hired by Goad and Long) and State Prosecutor Jack Campbell.
‘CHILLING’, ‘EXTREME’, ‘WRONG’: Reactions from candidates and elected officials
“This extreme and radical approach to governing is not sustainable,” said City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, Seat 3, on Facebook. “Our meeting was abruptly ended an hour and a half early to stop the discussion of asking the Attorney General for an opinion on whether our agency is adhering to open meeting laws,” Matlow said.
“I voted against adjournment because we shouldn’t cut off debate in this way, even when we don’t like the discussion,” said Rick Minor, Leon County Commission, District 3, in a recent statement to the Tallahassee Democrat. “To the public, it looks like we aren’t being open and transparent.”
“Let’s be clear: the public was silenced at yesterday’s Blueprint meeting in a chilling way when IA board members voted to abruptly adjourn a meeting in the middle of a discussion about bringing accountability and Sunshine to Blueprint, denying several commissioners the opportunity to speak,” said City Commissioner Jack Porter, Seat 1, in a recent Facebook post.
“Suddenly adjourning mid-discussion was wrong and degrades the people’s trust in local government,” said David O’Keefe, a candidate for Leon County Commission, District 5. O’Keefe attended the Blueprint meeting and took to Facebook video minutes after the shocking adjournment. “It’s time to elect officials that know they serve the public,” O’Keefe said.
More on the 1% Sales Tax Agency:
“Instead of trying to seriously address these issues, our opponent, Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox decided that she didn’t like that, and led the charge to abruptly end the meeting.” Adner Marcelin, a candidate for City Commission Seat 5 said in a recent Facebook post. “It’s clear that we need new leadership in city hall. We deserve accountability, transparency, and a leader who takes that responsibility seriously,” Marcelin said.
“Why is the IMC not already under sunshine? Who wouldn’t want it to be? Why would you end a meeting at the mere inquiry? Tsk-Tsk” said Josh Johnson in a tweet. Johnson is a candidate for Leon County Commission At-Large, a seat currently held by Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox.
Commissioner Maddox voted for the motion to adjourn and published an op-ed the morning of the meeting, criticizing local government reformers’ “persistent tantrums” in their efforts to challenge what Maddox says is “a responsible and collegial North Florida brand of democratic politics,” referring to the City Hall establishment.
Late last year, Mayor John Dailey also abruptly adjourned a City Commission meeting, silencing City Commissioner Jack Porter while waiting her turn to weigh in on city ethics reform. At a recent campaign event, Dailey referred to advocates of reforming local government as people “who always want to talk about the horrible things of our community.”
Sunshine Violation Back Story
Citizens for Ethics Reform Letter
Read the letter sent from Citizens for Ethics Reform to Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency Directors.