ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – With the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Board’s compliance issues, the Board couldn’t hold the vote to remove the only Hispanic and longest serving member, Supervisor Daisy Morales during Friday’s monthly meeting.
“More than 256,000 Orange County voters voted to re-elect me to another four-year team,” Morales said. “This Board, along with former and current soil and water candidates, attempted to overturn the will of the people on a sham process for political gain. This is an outrage and someone must be held accountable.”
Witnesses to the Spectacle
While OSWCD meetings typically only have one or two members of the public in attendance, today’s meeting, given the intended vote, seemed too juicy for some to miss. A few keen attendees showed up, including Sean McQuade, who ran against Supervisor Morales in 2018 and is currently running for Seat 3, a vacant seat, Daniel Romeo, who is also running for Seat 3, Mark Meta, current candidate for Supervisor Tiffany Dziekan‘s seat (Seat 5), Orange County Democratic Party Chair Wes Hodge, former Orange County Black Democratic Black Caucus Vice President Russell Drake, and a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel.
For the first time in a while, all four Supervisors were present. Nicole McLaren resigned from the Board Wednesday. Although, given the fact that she never submitted her Oath of Office form and $10 commission fee after her 2016 re-election, then-Governor Rick Scott never issued a commission certificate recognizing her as an elected official, technically making her seat vacant under State law for the duration of her second term.
Why the Vote Didn’t Happen
The Vote’s Very Motive is Nullified
Supervisor Morales entered the meeting well aware that the Board wanted to remove her on the basis of missing too many meetings. She explained to the Board that she complied with the agreed-upon call-in policy in lieu of being present, insisting that she called in and even heard the entire meeting each time, but whenever she tried to speak, no one could hear her.
Eddie, an audio/video specialist who works for Orange County and runs the A/V for the Board meetings, educated the Board on how to properly bring callers into a meeting, including the use of a code that he would need to give them in order to hear callers.
This enlightened the other Board members to the fact that Supervisor Morales’s “absences” were actually not willful. She indeed called in. She simply wasn’t heard.
FNN News questioned Board Chair and Supervisor Michael Barber about the Board’s compliance regarding its recent website. FNN News noticed that the Board’s website had only one upcoming meeting post for the April 2019 meeting, which was posted on May 1, 2019.
Additionally, there were no meeting minutes or meeting agendas for 2019 on the website, all of which is out of compliance with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO)’s Soil & Water Conservation District website requirements. FDEO is the third State agency the Board is out of compliance with.
As a result, Florida National News filed a public records request with Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Board Chair Michael Barber seeking documents related to the removal process of Supervisors Nicole McLaren and Daisy Morales.
The Vote Gets Postponed for Non-Compliance
When asked by the Orlando Sentinel if she would attend Friday’s meeting to defend her seat, Supervisor Morales replied in statement Wednesday evening: “I have nothing to defend. I’m not in violation of anything.” It turns out she might have been right.
In October 2019, USDA Conservationist Chuck O’Rourke emailed the OSWCD Board a memorandum from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Office of the General Counsel on how to legally remove a Board member, which is what initiated the Board’s goal to remove Nicole McLaren and its only sitting Hispanic member. However, it appears the other members didn’t do their homework.
When Board Chair Barber asked Treasurer Dziekan if she sent the legal notices to Morales and McLaren for their removal, she admitted she never sent them out. State law requires that the notices must be served to the concerned party and actually received by the concerned party seven days prior to the meeting. With that revelation, the vote couldn’t happen.
This Vote Was Doomed from the Start
The Board could never have made the vote to remove Nicole McLaren or Supervisor Morales Friday while coming into the vote non-compliant:
- The Board has not adopted a policy, bylaws or resolutions detailing Board member attendance requirements on which to base a vote for removal for neglect of duty and malfeasance. According to the 2019 meeting minutes, Nicole McLaren missed 10 meetings, Supervisor Dziekan missed seven, and while the meeting minutes present Morales as missing nine, her missed meetings shrank to none after Eddie explained the call-in process for the Chambers.
- No letters were sent to McLaren or Morales notifying them in writing within seven days of the meeting, as required by State law
- The meeting wasn’t publicly published on the Board’s website within 7 days of the meeting for public notice, as required by State law
- Supervisor Curtis’s seat, by State law, is currently vacant due to her delinquent Oath of Office form needing a notary stamp, so her vote wouldn’t technically count. Board Chair Michael Barber never addressed Cutis’s failure to have a commission certificate signed by Governor Ron DeSantis to legally hold office on the Board.
“This vote would need a super majority–four of five votes, not just three,” Supervisor Morales told FNN News Friday. “We as a Board need to get a full understanding of the laws that govern our District and do whatever is necessary to make sure this never happens to another Supervisor.”
Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org