Friday, December 01, 2017

Thanks to outgoing St. Johns County Commission Chairman James K. Johns for publicly supporting lobbying disclosure rules.

More moral leadership is desired and required. St. Johns County needs ethics, lobbying disclosure and post-employment reform laws. Now.

Posted November 30, 2017 09:32 am
Commission roundup: Outgoing chair Johns speaks in favor of lobbyist disclosures

Before handing over the gavel to the St. Johns County Commission’s new chair, Henry Dean, Commissioner Jimmy Johns at the Nov. 21 meeting spoke in support of requiring lobbyist disclosures. He said he wants to know whom he’s talking to up front.

Johns also expressed concerns about the county’s open-ended contracts and said he felt a “gut check” was needed. He said some of the county’s contracts have been in place over 10 years and should be revisited.

Later, during closing comments, county attorney Patrick McCormack said there was a description of local government lobbying regulations provided at a recent training session with the Florida Association of Counties. He said there will likely be a proposal in the state legislature this year to come out with some standard regulations to be used by local governments.

“We will keep our eye on that,” he told commissioners.

McCormack didn’t address Johns’ comments regarding the open-ended contracts, but did circle back to another item brought up by the commission regarding possible term limits for commissioners.

There are no term limits currently on the books for St. Johns County commissioners, but rarely do any serve or even run for more than two four-year terms, at least in recent years.

McCormack said he always presumed only charter counties could impose term limits, but also said he hasn’t found any language prohibiting non-charter counties from doing so. However, he said he believed there was some relevant case law out there somewhere, and that he’d try to track it down and bring it back to the board.

Staging area agreement

At the head of Tuesday’s meeting, Dean said about two dozen oceanfront homeowners in Ponte Vedra Beach are in “dire straits” after hurricanes Matthew and Irma, and a series of nor’easters over the past year or so.

He said homes are increasingly in harm’s way with less and less beach between them and the ocean. He called for immediate action under the county’s ongoing emergency order, declared for Irma, to authorize use of Mickler’s Landing as a staging area for a group of homeowners to get privately-funded sand placement projects done.

The county will let a contractor use the public beach access point as a staging area on the condition they reimburse the county for any damages to the parking lot or property afterward.

A similar arrangement was put in place last year following Matthew.

County Administrator Michael Wanchick said he doesn’t want the landing closed for a long period of time due to limited access points. He said homeowners will aggregate their initiatives so workers can “get in and get out.”

Dean clarified all the work being done is at the homeowners’ expense.

Wanchick said Mickler’s Landing will be closed for a period of time yet to be determined, due to permitting and other looming uncertainties. He said the goal is to minimize disruption. Commissioner Jay Morris said the beach is not as crowded in the winter months anyway.

One of the Ponte Vedra homeowners speaking during public comment said they’re only looking for access, not financial help. She said what were once beaches have become cliffs, and the edges are getting closer and closer to the foundations of many homes, if they’re not already there.

“Obviously, everyone’s been through a lot of hell,” she said. “… It will come out of our own pockets and it’s not cheap. Thank God we can afford it, but we need the access.”

Commissioners unanimously gave the go-ahead to proceed.

More details, please

Commissioners voted to continue a major modification request for the County Road 210 Town Center planned unit development that would add about 154.4 acres of land for a total of 198.9 acres, increase commercial development from 445,000 square feet to 1,450,000 square feet and add 187,000 square feet of other non-residential uses. The request included several waivers, many regarding signage.

Over the course of a nearly two-hour presentation and discussion, commissioners expressed numerous concerns about a lack of specifics in the developer’s plans. While acknowledging the benefits of commercial development and making clear their intention to proceed once some details are ironed out, they determined the item wasn’t ready for prime time.

The applicant, Helow Properties, will work with county staff on additions and revisions, and come back to the board at a later meeting.

Other business

Due to its proximity to the holidays, the board’s Jan. 2 meeting has been canceled. The board will meet Dec. 5 and Dec. 19, but not again until Jan. 16.

Edward Adelbert Slavin · 
Thanks to outgoing St. Johns County Commission Chairman James K. Johns for publicly supporting lobbying disclosure rules. 
He's the first elected official in St. Johns County to do so. 
Government watchdog Tom Reynolds et al. have urged this reform in meetings. Thank you, Commissioner Johns, for listening to us.

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