Making a Mockery of the Florida CRC Part 2
Erratum: Constitution Revision Proposal 32 (voluntary school boards-removing compensation), by failing to get a majority of votes, *was* “reported unfavorably” by Chair Marva Johnson and then its supporters asked for a “do-over.” This is true. Florida Constitution Revision Commission (FLCRC) rules do NOT allow for proposals to be “retained in committee.” After some shady, behind the scenes discussion, Commissioner Donalds *was* allowed to “temporarily postpose” the proposal, but there was NO date certain (as required by FLCRC Rules). If Proposal 32 *is* heard in a future Education Committee and passes forward to the local government committee, it will demonstrate a flagrant disregard for both FLCRC rules and Florida’s sunshine laws, erode public confidence and “lead citizens to the conclusion that the CRC meetings are mere window-dressing for pre-determined outcomes.” Former Florida Coalition of School Board Members President Shawn Frost’s confidence in the eventual success of Proposal 32 suggests “window dressing” might be an accurate conclusion:
On November 27, 2017, Constitution Revision Commissioner, School Choice advocate and Collier County School Board Member, Erika Donalds presented Proposal 32 to the CRC Education Committee. Proposal 32 seeks to amend the Florida Constitution and make all local school board positions voluntary. When it came time for the roll call vote, shenanigans ensued. You can read about it in “Are Sore Losers Making a Mockery of the FLCRC?“. To briefly summarize, during the initial roll call vote, 4 of the 8 present commissioners voted against the proposal, and Chair Marva Johnson announced the P32 was “reported unfavorably.” At that point, Commissioner Chris Sprowls sprang into action, calling for a “do-over” (technically, he asked if the proposal could be “retained” which is the same thing as a “do-over”). Chair Marva Johnson allowed a brief recess and, when the commissioners returned, they enacted a well orchestrated process to allow the roll call vote to be re-opened, giving Ms. Donalds a chance to “temporarily postpone” her proposal. (It appears there had been an error in the initial roll call vote when they neglected to call for Ms. Donalds’ vote… but still… four no votes equaled defeat, regardless of Ms. Donalds’ eventual vote.)
In our previous post, we questioned whether Ms. Donalds was even eligible to vote due to CRC 1.17, since she is a sitting school board member who would lose her salary were this amendment to pass. Rule 1.17 clearly states: “If the vote is on a question which would inure to a Commissioner’s special private gain or loss… the Commissioner must file with the Secretary, prior to or at the time of the vote, a statement disclosing a conflict of interest which discloses the nature of his or her interest, and refrain from voting.” We were immediately informed by Ms. Donalds’ fellow Florida Coalition of School Board Member (FCSBM) colleague, Eric Robinson, the conflict of interest rules did not apply to Ms. Donalds because “for something to be a conflict it has to be specific and unique. Since it applies to all school board members it would not apply.” I wonder if it is even possible to amend the Constitution so as to only inure a private gain or loss to a single individual? (I hope not!) I did confirm with the staff at the FLCRC that the commissioners wrote their own rules and it was the sole responsibility of the individual commissioner to determine whether they had a conflict of interest. Gee, I wonder how many commissioners will be refraining from voting on proposals? Regardless, if Ms. Donalds doesn’t think it’s a conflict then I guess, in “CRC World”, it isn’t. To be clear, had Ms. Donalds voted Yes on Proposal 32, the vote still would have been a tie and the proposal would have been reported unfavorably.
Mr. Robinson, a Sarasota School Board member, also wanted to make sure everyone knew he is not a FCSBM Board Member, though he does serve in the significant role of 2018 Fiscal Best Practices Task Force Chairman.
We were not the only ones who noticed the shenanigans. Initial press reports were the proposal had been “narrowly reported unfavorable.” Clay County resident, Travis Christensen, who had testified against the proposal, wrote “I was at the meeting and at the end I didn’t know what the hell happened.” The First Amendment Foundation, according to a letter to CRC Chair Carlos Beruff, is both concerned about the apparent procedural issues AND possible sunshine law violations, calling on “all CRC members to uphold the democratic values that serve as the basis for Florida’s sunshine laws, and demand full and complete compliance with the law.”
“Granted, we do not have any direct evidence that Education Committee members discussed Proposal 32 during the ten-minute recess. However, it would certainly appear that such discussions took place. The committee recessed very soon after Commissioner Sprowls’ comments regarding the retention of Proposal 32. Upon returning from the recess, Commissioner Donalds interrupted a re-vote on the proposal and asked that the defeated proposal be temporarily postponed. Chairwoman Johnson agreed and announced that Proposal 32 was temporarily postponed. There was no discussion or debate of the interrupted vote or Donalds’ request, and the meeting was promptly adjourned.
The purpose of our open government laws is to allow the public an opportunity to oversee its government and hold it accountable for its actions. Those laws help to instill public trust in the governing process. The actions of the Education Committee last week erode public confidence and can lead citizens to the conclusion that the CRC meetings are mere window-dressing for pre-determined outcomes.” (emphasis ours)
We agree with the First Amendment Foundation.
If members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission are going to attempt to privatize public education by amending our Constitution, the least they could do is play by the rules and in the sunshine. Proposal 32 was voted down fair and square. If it returns for another vote it will make a mockery of the entire FLCRC process.