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8 Months Later: Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Remains Out of Compliance

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Nearly a year after Florida National News broke the story, the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District remains in non-compliance.

 

Meeting Protocol

On March 20, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order modifying meetings to take place virtually as the COVID-19 pandemic first made its impact on the state of Florida. The OSWCD Board had opted for Board members to be able to call into meetings in addition to in-person attendance since 2019.

Given the Governor’s order, the Board opted to use WebEx as its virtual platform and conducted a workshop on how to use the system in July.

The Board has its next meeting scheduled for this Friday, August 28, but the public wasn’t notified within the seven-day window.

According to the Florida Department of Equal Opportunity (DEO), special districts (e.g. Soil & Water Conservation Districts) are required to list their meetings on the Florida Administrative Register and provide the public seven days’ advanced notice to allow the public an opportunity to attend the meeting.

The OSWCD properly posted public notice of its regularly scheduled meetings, set for the second Friday of each month, on the Florida Administrative Register, from April to December 2020. The meetings are also listed in the Florida Department of Agriculture’s event calendar. However, the listings have an incorrect address of 301 S. Rosalind Avenue instead of 201 Rosalind Avenue, which is where the Orange County Commission Chambers are located.

Moreover, there was a slight hiccup with the August meeting.

While the regularly scheduled August 14 meeting was posted for public notice, the virtual meeting was cancelled at the last minute–almost literally. Seven minutes prior to the meeting start, Supervisor Daisy Morales contacted Board Chair Michael Barber (while including all of the Supervisors in the email thread) to confirm whether the meeting was happening due to not having received a meeting agenda–which is not listed on the Board’s website–nor the WebEx link in order to join the virtual meeting. With four minutes left before start time, Chairman Barber replied back stating that the meeting would have to be postponed due to technical difficulties, offering a new meeting date set for two weeks later, August 28–this Friday.

“I had updated all of our public notices with a link to the meeting, and even posted it to our website, but that link is not working,” said Chairman Barber in his reply to Supervisor Morales. “I have been talking with the IT guys to get the issues fixed, but as of this moment, it is not. I am proposing that we reschedule our August meeting to August 28th. That is exactly 2 weeks from today. That will hopefully give me time to fix the technical issues and comply with the 10 day public notice requirement.”

In response to Chairman Barber’s email, Supervisor Morales replied stating, “I have a conflict that day, is there any other day, or other options[?].”

Chairman Barber didn’t reply to her question, and no other Supervisor confirmed the August 28th date nor recommended any postponement dates.

 

The Non-Compliant Website

According to the DEO, compliant special district website features include but are not limited to:

  • a tentative budget (stays on the website for 45 days)
  • the final adopted budget and any budget amendments, (stays on the site for at least two years)
  • seven days advanced notice of meetings and workshops, along with the agenda and any materials that go along with the meetings
  • a final, complete audit for the past year

In the “What We Do” section of the website, under “General Financial Information”, the tentative budget has “see attached” listed next to it (unlinked), but in the “Financials” section, the tentative budget is listed as “Coming Soon.”

In January’s Board meeting, Chairman Barber acknowledged that the OSWCD website was non-compliant, but from its inception in 2019 to date, the website is still out of compliance, missing consistent public postings about upcoming meetings through the year. The latest meeting announcement was posted August 13 ahead of the August 14 meeting, and to date there are no agendas or meeting minutes posted there. Each respective page (Agendas, Minutes) has text indicating towards minutes or an agenda, but it’s plain text on both pages, not links–which is what Chairman Barber referred to in his email cancelling the August 14 meeting.

(clockwise from top left): Screen captures from the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District website show its meetings disclaimer notifying visitors of the WebEx virtual meetings (but no link), an error message for the Upcoming Events page, the absence of meeting minutes and meeting agendas.

(clockwise from top left): Screen captures from the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District website show its meetings disclaimer notifying visitors of the WebEx virtual meetings (but no link), an error message for the Upcoming Events page, the absence of meeting minutes and meeting agendas.

Nicole McLaren is also still listed on the website as Supervisor for Seat 3, despite her recent resignation.

Image taken from orangesoilandwater.org (screen capture)

Image taken from orangesoilandwater.org (screen capture)

Florida National News contacted Chairman Barber for comment and for a copy of August’s agenda, but received no response.

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Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | mellissa.thomas@floridanationalnews.com

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