Lee commissioners show concern over potential Planning Council rule changes

Lee Herald Favicon 16Lee County Commissioners have expressed concern about a proposal by the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council to change its voting requirements.

Florida law requires counties to be members of one of the 10 regional planning councils which were originally designed to help coordinate development issues between overlapping cities and counties. Much of that authority has handed over to other state agencies, leaving the councils struggling to find relevancy.

Attorneys for a number of local government agencies have said that members of the planning council can withdraw funding from the council while still legally staying members as long as they submit a notice 12 months in advance. This would save some counties as much as $100,000 a year in dues.

Sarasota, Lee, and Charlotte Counties have all submitted their notice along with the village of Estero, leaving just Collier, Hendry, and Glades County in the loop. This, along with the low participation rate of members who are still in good standing, has made it difficult for the council to reach the majority of members currently required for a quorum. The proposal, which will be debated at the council’s meeting on Thursday, would lower the minimum number of members required in order to hold a vote from a majority of members to one-third of members.

County Attorney Richard Wesch expressed concern that the proposal could endanger Lee County’s ability to leave the RPC

“We do think that the timing of this is interesting given the long-term history of the RPC and the attempts now to effect the membership and voting quorum requirements, given that [multiple] member counties have expressed a desire to withdraw,” Wesch said.

Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass told the board that he believed the proposal was an attempt by the RPC to change its bylaws and force counties to continue to pay their dues.

“What they are trying to do is reduce the amount of quorum required to make a vote,” said Pendergrass. “Since they have had most of the counties, I believe all of the counties, cement that they are going to withdraw, and some cities too… they are just trying to reduce that to save those people and keep the RCP’s doors open. But they’re still going to charge us. That’s what the goal is, to change the interlocal agreement so we have to pay for it.”

Commissioner Brian Hamman agreed.

“This appears to be an example of a bureaucracy that just won’t let go. Now that they’ve realized that we’re ready to get out of it they’re trying to change the rules to keep us back in,” said Hamman.

The commission voted 4-1 to sign a letter opposing any revisions to the bylaws, with Commissioner Frank Mann in dissent. Mann said that discussion over the bylaws had been ongoing.

“It’s not like it was sprung on us,” Mann said.

Note: An earlier version of this report erroneously included Hendry County among the counties leaving the council. For clarity, an addition has been included with the Commission’s vote on showing their opposition. The headline has also been updated for clarity.

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