The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Friday, October 26, 2001, at 9:00 a.m., in the Board of County Commissioners' Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Catherine C. Hanson, Chairman (via telephone); Robert A. Pool, Vice Chairman; Welton G. Cadwell; Jennifer Hill; and Debbie Stivender. Others present were: William Neron, the newly selected County Manager (via telephone); Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney/Interim County Manager; Melanie Marsh, Assistant County Attorney; Wendy Taylor, Executive Office Manager, Board of County Commissioners' Office; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; and Kathryn A. Schwartz, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Hanson, who was present via telephone, asked that Commr. Pool chair the meeting.
Commr. Pool expressed his appreciation to the Board and those present for having agreed to come together, on such short notice, for today's special meeting to discuss important issues concerning Sugarloaf Mountain (Sugarloaf). He explained that the purpose of today's meeting is to decide where the County should direct itself with regard to the potential purchase of Sugarloaf for parks, green space, and to inquire into the acceptability, by the County and the landowners, of a two-week deferral of the October 30, 2001, meeting, before Governor Jeb Bush and members of his Cabinet, in order to afford the parties time to investigate their options. Commr. Pool discussed the possibility of a partnership, which would provide financial support, through other governmental agencies, such as The Trust for Public Land (TPL). He agreed that public taxpayer moneys should not be used, and he stated that additional time was needed to investigate the willingness, if any, of private or public agencies to assist the County in the acquisition of Sugarloaf.
Commr. Hill expressed her concern that today's meeting should be held in closed session, due to the ongoing litigation. It was explained to her, by Ms. Melanie Marsh, Assistant County Attorney, that the purpose of today's meeting is simply to ask for a postponement of the upcoming meeting in Tallahassee, which can be done in an open session. It was noted that today's meeting was not advertised as a closed session.
Commr. Stivender inquired into past County negotiations for the acquisition of Sugarloaf. It was explained that only recently the Board has been exploring the concept of forming partnerships with outside groups or individuals that could possibly help in the acquisition of Sugarloaf. It was emphasized that a two-week extension of the meeting in Tallahassee would provide some time to see whether partnerships were available.
Discussion occurred regarding the use of state-allocated pari-mutuel funds to assist in the purchase of Sugarloaf. It was explained that Lake County's tentative goal was to use its share of the pari-mutual dollars, which could be spent by the County as it felt appropriate, for parks and recreation. There was some disagreement among the Board members as to whether or not the pari-mutual funds were taxpayer dollars.
Commr. Pool clarified that he was not suggesting all of Lake County's allocated pari-mutual dollars be used in the acquisition of Sugarloaf. He explained that these funds were simply another source to be investigated where possibly a portion of these dollars, for parks and green space, could also be used for Sugarloaf. He stated that potential partners might be encouraged to come forward if they knew that some of these dollars were available.
Mr. Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney/Interim County Manager, briefly explained the procedures of the Florida Adjudicatory and Water Commission (FLAWAC), once it has made its decision, and what options were available to the parties, in the appeal process, through the District Court of Appeals.
Ms. Cecelia Bonifay, Esquire, who represents the landowners, distributed to the Board copies of an October 25, 2001, letter, addressed to Commr. Pool, from Mr. Philip Tatich, Esquire, wherein the landowners' position is outlined. She explained that the understanding of the landowners, after meeting with the Cabinet Aides, was that Lake County had represented that it was going to in some way participate in the funding for the acquisition of Sugarloaf and that it was also going to look for financial assistance through partnerships. She stated that the landowners have listened, been cooperative, and been available, having maintained that position throughout the course of these events. She spoke about the administrative appeal that has been going on for over a year and the position of her clients; that if there are no commitments and no plans, then the parties are still where they have been all along. Ms. Bonifay stated it was her understanding that there was not a consensus of the Board to spend Lake County dollars for this acquisition; that nothing has been offered in terms of alternate proposals with regard to the project itself; and that things have pretty much remained the same. She stated that, ultimately, it is the decision of the landowners whether or not to agree to a two-week extension, but she felt that, unless there was a definitive course of action, the two-week extension would not be productive.
Commr. Pool described the process in Tallahassee as a forum where all interested parties are afforded the opportunity to speak on the issues that are important to them. He stated that he would attend the October 30, 2001, meeting, with the Governor and his Cabinet, if the two-week extension is not granted today. He realized that two weeks may or may not be enough time to seek out and find some of the possible partners.
Commr. Hill stated that it would be very difficult for staff to be directed to find partners for the purchase of this piece of property when the cost was unknown. She stated that budget funds have not been allocated for the purchase of Sugarloaf, and she noted that extensive budget cuts were expected from Tallahassee, and she did not feel that the County should put itself in a position where it did not have available funding, especially in light of the possible major reductions in spending by the Legislature. She thought it was too early to ask for a deferral and that the Governor should go ahead and make his decision.
Commr. Hanson thought that the request for a two-week deferral was appropriate, in order to give the parties more time to explore all available options. She stated there are funds that have already been set aside for a purchase such as this and explained that they are available as matching funds if there was to be a purchase of Sugarloaf.
After some discussion, the Board decided not to open the meeting for public comment, noting that it was appropriate for the Board to make the decision on whether to grant the two-week extension.
Commr. Hanson made a motion that the Board approve a two-week deferral of the October 30, 2001, meeting, in Tallahassee, in order to give the County, State, or other agencies and individuals, who have an interest in the matter, an opportunity to explore other options for funding. Commr. Cadwell stated that he would second the motion for discussion purposes.
Under discussion, Commr. Cadwell stated the opinion that meaningful discussions would not occur between the County and potential partners because neither he nor a majority of the Board was prepared to commit local dollars for the acquisition. He realized that money had been set aside for the purchase of parks but thought that the Board had already earmarked these funds for active recreation and for facilities intended for use by all citizens, especially young persons.
Commr. Hanson stated that the final decision on how to spend these dollars would need to come back before the Board for final approval. She reminded the Board that the one-cent sales tax, coming up for vote on November 6, 2001, if passed, would include dollars for the purchase of open space and parkland.
Commr. Stivender felt that it was premature to ask for a two-week extension and stated that the Sugarloaf issue should go before the Governor and his Cabinet for a decision, as planned, and then the Board could address the matter of what to do with Sugarloaf, based on the Governor's decision. She stated that either way the decision goes there would still be opportunities for negotiation, but it was hoped that, through the process in Tallahassee, a decision would be returned that would be better for all parties.
Commr. Cadwell stated that he appreciated the efforts of Commr. Hanson and Commr. Pool, but he agreed with Commr. Stivender and felt that the Board should move forward with the process and to address the issue after the Governor's office has made its decision.
Commr. Pool stated that he will look forward to the Governor's decision, should the request for a two-week extension not be successful. He stated that he would respect the Governor's decision, and the decision of the Board today.
The Chairman called for a vote on the motion, which failed by a 2-3 vote.
Commrs. Cadwell, Stivender, and Hill voted "No."
Commr. Pool expressed his appreciation to those present for taking the time to come together today on an important issue. He stated that he would see the Governor, in Tallahassee, on October 30, 2001. Commr. Hanson was thanked for joining in through the conference call and helping to make a decision.
As a final matter, Commr. Stivender played a short video, created by staff, for the Board and the public to view, which supports the continuation of the one-cent sales tax that is coming up for a vote on November 6, 2001. The video highlighted areas in which the proceeds would be used to protect the quality of life in Lake County.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting adjourned at 9:45 a.m.
________________________________________ CATHERINE C. HANSON, CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK