Transparency Issues Regarding Lake County Government Agencies (Florida)
by Vance Jochim, FiscalRangers.com
Updated March 14, 2011 - Lake County, Florida
These transparency issues are based upon my observations attending Board meetings and other events for the Lake County Board of Commissioners (BCC), as well as the Lake County School District (LCSD), the North Lake County Hospital District (NLCHD), the Lake County Legislators' Delegation annual meetings, and other agencies since 2006 while writing my blog on local Lake County, FL government agency fiscal fiascos. Score ranking for each attribute of good transparency is 1-5 - Best is 5, and negative scores are given for BAD attitude. Send comments or proposed revisions to FiscalRangers AT comcast DOT com .
|Transparency Issue||Lake County Commission - Board of County Commissioners (BCC)||Lake County School District (LCSD)||Other Agencies:
- North Lake County Hospital District (NLCHD) - after reading the column below, NLCHD Board members should be castigated and resign.
- Lake County Legislators" Delegation meetings.
- Cities (not currently reviewed, but will be added in the future)
|Open Meetings for public||Meetings are open, but held during day when many cannot attend. (3)||Regular meetings held at night (good) but most workshops where details are discussed are held during the day. (4)||NLCHD holds meetings at night when public can attend. (5)|
|Meetings are in consistent locations.||BCC regular board meetings always held in round admin building in Tavares. However, they have some workshops in Clermont or other locations, which are not videotaped and the address is not always clearly publicised. Sometimes, the remote workshops seem to be clearly located to avoid public scrutiny for discussions. (3)||All meetings are held during the day at the LCSD Board meeting office, or Monday evening meetings are at the BCC conference room. There may be an occasional meeting at other locations but they are noticed. (4)||NLCHD meetings are all held at the BCC chambers. (5) However, there are only three meetings each year.|
|Meetings are properly noticed in advertisements (required), and optionally on websites.||Meeting notices are advertised once a month in one local paper, but also posted on website in Commissioner Calendar section. Workshops not always clearly posted on website. Important items are sometimes NOT on agenda, but added as a surprise 1-3 days before meeting, giving impression they are trying to hide the issue from public notice. (2)||Regular evening meetings and workshops advertised, and also disclosed on website calendar. LCSD uses "Board Docs" to post agendas of regular Board meetings, and NOW posts workshop agendas. LCSD is most open of all agenices. (5)||NLCHD advertises the three required annual meetings ONCE for each meeting. They do not have a website or email list to notify interested parties. The public has to either accidentally see the ONE ad, or have someone tell them to even know the meetings exist. (1)|
|Audio recordings of all meetings
are created as required by open meeting regulations.
||Audio recordings are taken by the Board Support office of the County Clerk for both regular and offsite meetings. They are not modified or edited, and available for $3 on a CD within 1-3 days. Not posted on websites. Score would be 5, but audio recordings not posted on website. ( 4)||Audio recordings in the LCSD Board conference room are taken by Assistant to the Commissioners, and are available on CD fairly quickly. For meetings held at the BCC Conference room (round admin building), the recordings are taken by the same Board Support office of the County Clerk and are available in 1-3 days for $3 on CD. There are several advisory committees and those audio recordings may vary in quality depending on the staffer assigned to take them. Examples include the union bargaining sessions and the Internal Audit Committee. (4) for Board meetings, (3) for committee meetings. Score would be 5, but audio recordings not posted on website.||Audio recordings were poor or lackadaisical until the
NLCHD moved meetings to the County Commissioner chambers about 2010,
where the County Clerk's Board Support unit now makes the recordings and
they are available within 1-3 days. Score would be 5, but
audio recordings not posted on website. ( 4)
|Meeting summaries of agreed actions and decisions are created and posted.||BCC is only agency that does this. Thus you can verify what they voted is what you heard during meeting (votes not always clear). (5)||LCSD - Not done - you have to get audio recording or wait up to 2 months for minutes to determine what was decided. (0)||NLCHD - Not done - you have to get audio recording or wait up to SIX months for minutes to determine what was decided. Minutes are created by County Clerk's Board support unit and they don't have deadlines, such as 1-2 weeks, so they might not be done for months until just prior to the next Board meeting. (0)|
|Minutes of prior meetings are available on a timely basis, accurately transcribed, and posted on a website.||BCC minutes are prepared by the Board Support office of the County Clerk and are very accurate compared to audio recordings. However the unit doesn't have enough staff and could take a month to do the minutes.||LCSD minutes are NOT timely and public must wait up to 2 months before they are "approved" by Board, then available.||NLCHD
minutes are prepared by the County Clerk's Board Support unit and are
accurate, but not prepared on a timely basis, and are NOT posted on any
website. You have to contact the Board's attorney or accountant to
get them, and the attorney is not always cooperative.
Lake County Legislator's Delegation meetings - the six Lake County State legislators have a single annual public meeting to hear comments and requests from agencies and the public and they are the WORST of any local agencies in creating the minimally required audio recordings and printed minutes. Audio recordings and minutes are prepared by the staff of the Legislator who is meeting Chair. For the two most recent meetings, minutes and audio recordings were inept, hard to request, not accurate (just summaries), not timely and not available by web or downloading. Rank (-5) for bad attitude on the part of Marlene O'Toole and Paula Dockery's staffs.
|Videos of meetings. This is especially helpful if online videos and archived copies are available so members of the public don't have to travel to meetings, and can view videos from work or later from home in real time. This feature provides more transparency over meetings than offering long delayed printed minutes or audio recordings.||BCC Board meetings held in the normal Board chambers ARE recorded on video tape because they have equipment there. They are also streamed live via a website link, AND the archive video copy is posted on the Board agenda page within one day. (5) for main meetings. However, remote or committee meetings are NOT videotaped, so (0) for that. Combined score is (4) for being the leader. Thanks go to Jimmy Conner for pushing them to create the online video service.||No videos available. (0)||No videos available, even thought the NLCHD meets in the County BCC chambers which has video equipment, the Board majority has REFUSED to atuthorize videotaping the meetings. Thus activists and this author now personally videotape the meetings. Score (-2) for bad attitude.|
|Wi-Fi available for visitors to pull up meeting agendas and supporting documents during meetings.||BCC provides wi-fi in the main BCC chamber hall, and you can pull up online agendas and posted supporting documents. Not available at remote meetings or most committee meetings. (3)||Only available for Monday evening meetings held at BCC chambers, because BCC has open wi-fi. Not available at LCSD offices or committee meetings. (1)||NLCHD has NO website and the Board majority has refused to create one, so even though meetings are at the BCC chambers which have wif-fi, there is no official website to look at. (0).|
|Website available that makes it
easy for public to get full information on meetings, with:
- Calendar online that shows ALL meetings, including regular meetings, workshops, committees.
- Agendas posted at least 3 days prior to meeting.
- Agenda item documents posted online for viewing.
- Minutes posted in timely manner.
|Very good website, with online agendas, most supporting documents, online video archives of meetings in the main BCC conference room. However, workshops are not always posted on agenda and there may not be a workshop agenda. BCC says they are "properly noticed" by citing their monthly advertisement. You have to look at a different page to see schedule of "regular meetings" but it doesn't clearly specify workshops. Process is not consistent, when ALL meetings, including workshops and committees should be posted on a single list or calendar at least a week before the meeting. BCC has habit of adding new, controversial agenda items at last minute, like on Monday afternoon, and many viewers may miss those items. Our impression is that it is done intentionally to reduce public scrutiny. (3)||Regular meetings are posted in both the BCC calendar and the "Board Docs". New visitors can get confused because the information in the Calendar does not always match Board Docs. Board Docs has listing of upcoming and prior meetings, but does not always contain supporting documents. Staff is good at posting all upcoming items in agenda, but some staff Directors consistently do NOT post online supporting documents, and others do.||NLCHD - The hospital supporting Baord majority
consistently refuses to create a website so the public can see agendas,
minutes, etc. This author has created one at
Score: (-5) for bad attitude.
|Availability of last minute supporting documents. Since meetings are supposed to be advertised early, you would think presenters would be required to provide supporting documents for earlier online posting, or at least electronic copies to post within 1-2 days of discussion. NOPE.||BCC minutes and audio recordings are created very well by the County Clerk's Board Support unit. BCC does post online "agenda request" documents for every agenda item, and some departments are good at posting online supporting documents by the prior week. However, anyone bringing added Powerpoints or supporting documents for Board meetings give a copy to the County Clerk's staff, but there is NO method to scan and post them on the agenda item for the public record. Request for such documents have to be made directly to the speaker as the Court Clerk doesn't seem to have a process to handle or post them online. This is a major weakness, allowing some presenters to giver presentations with no easy way to review their information. (0)||The same problem exists with the
LCSD. It is my imprssion that some Directors intentionally
only bring printed documents so the public cannot view the information
being presented to the Board.
The CFO consistently does not post supporting documents on budget and other issues or provide them in printed form at the meetings. The score would be worse, but some Directors are the opposite of the CFO and post documentation online or bring extra printed copies for the public and press.
Score is (-2) (for bad attitude on the part of the CFO & Superintendant related to budget and financial hearings)
|NLCHD - Ha Ha Ha - are you kidding? As
mentioned earlier, the Board refuses to have a website. Hospital
staff will present and give information at Board meetings and copies are
not available at all to anyone except the Board. (-5) for bad
|Attitude of staff in presenting information at meetings - is it just for the Board, or presented in a manner to facilitate understanding by public visitors?||For BCC meetings, this varies. Not all presenters give verbal background for the public to understand an issue that was discussed at prior meetings. Agenda request documents are more descriptive about background on an issue. I have found I cannot rely on staff presentations, agenda descriptions or supporting documents to understand the history of an issue. Staff needs to consistently prepare verbal and printed information to not rely on remembering prior meeting discussions. Usually, the Board will get preliminary discussions from staff and detailed "board packages" that may contain more than posted online. However, staff usually does make good use of Powerpoints for some presentations to describe issues in a LOGICAL manner.(2)||This varies by presenter. There is no consistent quality of presentations, and many staff seem not to have taken classes in presentations or organization. Thus, it is not uncommon to see a Director come in with 6 different spreadsheets, memos, etc and given them to the Board at the last minute and try to describe how they related to each other. LCSD staff need to upgrade their presentation methods to provide issues in logical, related formats. You would think the Superintendant or Deputies would require consistent presentation methods, but they do not. (2) for skills, but most Directors have a more positive attitude in sharing data. Thus rank is (3)||NLCHD - This Board gets information on agendas and in printed documents from the Board Accountant, Attorney and Hospital staff. None of it is provided earlier or after meetings on a website, or easily obtained after meetings. (-5) for bad attitude. Public records requests have to be filed for any documents, and cooperation varies. The accountant cooperates, and the attorney does not.|
|Agendas provide clear discussion of issue and ALWAYS provide accurate estimate of "fiscal impact" so readers know which are the major spending items.||BCC agendas have improved, but sometimes fiscal impact is left out, and you have to read the supporting documents to find the items relates to a $200,000 expense. A clear example was an agenda item to add over 200 EMS employees to the County health insurance without any analysis of the added budget. They did the same when adding employees from the Court Clerk to the BCC plan. However, most items do provide accurate estimates of fiscal impact. The score would be higher, but some items exclude fiscal $ impacts, and are large amounts, possibly done intentionally for consent items. (3)||Accuracy varies. (3)||NLCHD - Their agenda has only one fiscal issue, usually. To approve giving about $10-million to two hospitals without any rules on how or where funds are to be spent. (-5) for bad attitude in never specifying rules about where funds should be spent, and what expenses are not allowed. (-5)|
|Copies of agenda are available at each meeting.||Yes - (5)||Yes (5)||Yes (5)|
|Public records requests handled in timely manner without constraints.||1) Meeting minutes and
information handled well by Board Support Dept. of County Clerk.
2) However, weak process to get documents provided by speakers during meeting and not posted earlier online.
3) Non-meeting requests handled efficiently for reasonable costs by the BCC Attorney's office, who has a paralegal assigned to provide the information.
Rank (4) - would be 5 if meeting documents cited in (2) above were easily requested AND uploaded automatically as an attachment to agenda item. BCC staff and Court Clerk staff are great to work with when requesting documents.
|Much better now that they have a very cooperative and responsive Public Information officer who handles requests. However, our bad, prior experiences getting public records requests or meeting support documents from the CFO downgrade the rank until we can verify improvement. (3)||NLCHD - each request varies. Documents are not
posted online and it takes a long time to get some documents and there
is no process to ensure public can see all documents given to the Board
by staff or meeting presenters. (-2) for bad attitude.
|Charges for public records requests are reasonable||Yes - verify the rate before you order anything.||Yes - verify the rate before you order anything.||Not much available - electronic versions provided at no cost, no real public policy on printed copies.|
|Important agenda issues are not hidden in the "consent agenda", but are "pulled" for discussion by staff or Board members to ensure reasons for major decisions are not buried in consent items.||BCC varies on this issue. Some Board members like Jimmy Conners will pull an item just to ensure the Board is on record to discuss a decision. But, other items are buried in the consent agenda and approved automatically without discussion, so the public has no idea why an issue was approved by Board members.||LCSD Board members are the most open of any agency. They will pull items just to have a dialog, and staff seems most open. I do not get the impression that any major issue is buried in a consent item to hide it from public scrutiny. However, two of the Board members, Debbie Stivender and Rosanne Brandeburg do not seem as enthusiastic, but make comments challenging another Board member's interest in dialog. They seem more interested in just approving staff recommendations, and having short meetings than providing public record of reasons why they want to approve budget items. (4) since not all Board members encourage open discussion.||NLCHD Board members consist of a majority of 4 of 6 members who support minimal discussions, but they have allowed full discussions generated by public input, so at least the public input on issues are on the public record. (5)|
|Public Input is allowed during all meetings.||BCC is very restrictive in allowing public input. They don't allow it during monthly zoning hearing meetings, even though non-zoning issues are voted and approved during the same meetings. Thus, they seem to put some controversial issues on that agenda just to avoid hearing the public on an issue. After pressure from this author, they moved the public input session for regular meetings from the END of the agenda to near the Beginning, thus public input could be given BEFORE a decision was made. However, they do NOT allow public input during individual agenda items, and they do not pull items for public discussion if a anyone requests it. There have been meetings about major decision items and 30 people may show up and the Chair (previously Welton Cadwell, now Jennifer Hill) would not let anyone talk except supporters of a favored issue (like City officials, but not voters). Committee meetings do not always list public input on agendas. Public input is not always allowed at workshops; Thus we rank BCC as (-2) for a BAD and RESTRICTIVE attitude on allowing public input. It was always clear that prior Chair Welton Cadwell just didn't want to hear anyone, and new Chair Jennifer Hill seems to continue that attitude.||LCSD is the most open agency for public input. They allow general public input at the end of every meeting. They require a public input request card, but if you turn it in about any agenda item, even consent items, they will let you speak for 3-minutes. Rank: (+10) for GOOD attitude regarding public input.||NLCHD is very good at allowing any and all members to give public input, and does not restrict talking time, thus I may disagree with them on many issues, but they also get a rank of (+10) for a GOOD attitude in allowing public input.|
|Agency Policies are usually initiated and approved by Board members - a major duty. Are the policies easily available?||Yes - online on the website. (5)||Yes - online on the website. (5)||NLCHD - Ha, Ha, Ha. Are you kidding. What policies. No website either. (0)|
|Budget documents are available
in printed version for a price and online. Approving the budget is
one of the major duties of Board members, thus proposed and final budget
"books" should be easily and quickly available.
Electronic versions of budgets, including all the details, sorted in
different formats should be available in this day and age.
||You can order the BCC proposed
and final 400+ page budget books in printed format from the County Clerk
Board Support office for a reasonable price ($70+?). You can
download the full, detailed budget book from the website for no cost.
(5) for providing the full versions electronically from the website.
|For LCSD, there is NO electronic version available at all except a 17 page regulatory format that no one can understand but a fund accounting specialist. You can order the 400+ page book for over $100. Other school districts prepare 150+ page budget books that give a good overview, but that is not done here. (-5) for bad attitude.||NLCHD - There is no real budget. They collect around $10-million based upon a standard 1-mill property tax rate, and split it between two hospitals. However, it is a pain to get anything from staff and there is no website to even provide the annual financial report. (-5) for bad attitude.|
|Annual, audited financial reports(known as the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) are available both in printed and electonic format.||Yes - no problem. (5)||Yes - no problem (5)||See above regarding bad attitude. (-5)|
|Availability of printed budgets and CAFR's at public locations. Other government agencies provide final and proposed copies of budgets, CAFR's and other important documents in public libraries. However, it seems Florida does not mandate that, which would ensure a public copy is always available and not "lost". Reduces ability of researchers to locate and compare data between years.||BCC - might have a printed copy in the offices, but none in libraries.||LCSD - might have a printed copy in the offices, but none in libraries.||NLCHD - ha , ha , ha - are you kidding? They don't care about transparency. No website, no public copies in libraries. (-5) for bad attitude.|
|Availability of departmental & program and function performance metrics on a monthly basis||To be researched||To be researched||NLCHD - Ha, Ha, Ha - are you kidding? There are NO rules established by the Board on how, where the funds are to be spent, and no performance, program or function metrics. (0)|
|Quality of departmental, program and function performance metrics. The public deserves the same level of management as corporations to measure and determine productivity and efficiency of staff, programs,etc. It should be publicly available so management efficiency can be evaluated.||To be researched further.
We have posted earlier about the poor quality of the "activity" metrics listed in departmental budget sections. There is no comparison to what a corporation would measure.
|To be researched - Schools do have metrics regarding academic performance, such as the FCAT and No Child left Behind (or whatever the Feds named it this year).||NLCHD - Ha, Ha, Ha - are you kidding? There are NO rules established by the Board on how, where the funds are to be spent, and no performance, program or function metrics. (0)|
|Internal Audit: Is there an independent internal audit function to review agency operations for efficiency, effectiveness and economy and provide public reports on findings? . What is the quality and availability of audit reports. This is different than the standard financial audits completed every year for agency financial statements. (Note: This author was an internal auditor for 18+ years, so I know something about this function.)||LCSD has a "District Auditor" who conducts a few audits based upon a Board and Audit Committe approved risk plan. He also has funds to use outside auditors to review construction contracts and other areas. He is a CPA and not a Certified Internal Auditor or Certified Fraud Examiner. Audit reports and audit plans are on the website. However, reports are hard to understand. (4)||The BCC has no internal auditor of their own. The separate Court Clerk internal audit department does conduct a few audits of BCC, but rarely. One reason is the County Board has never given full authority to audit anything (called a charter) to the auditor, and the Court Clerk will not let him initiate audits without BCC approval (which is SLOW and RARE). Additionally, the Audit Director was hired without competitve applications, and is related to a prior County Clerk, thus credibility is up in the air because in his first year, there have not been ANY audits of BCC that have been published. Read more HERE about internal audit and other oversight for BCC. (1)||NLCHD - No internal audits or forensic audits. We have recommended they have one each year to trace where funds given to local hospitals are actually spent, but no action has been taken. (-2)|
|Is there an internal audit policy committee appointed by the Board that holds public meetings to review and approve risk analysis, audit plans, and quality of reports.||Yes - five members, mostly CPA's (not Certified Internal Auditors - CIAs) have periodic meetings and provide guidance to District Auditor and Board on internal audit issues. (Note: CIAs are RARE in Lake County. (5)||None - No policy or committee. The BCC members recently (March, 2011) discussed appointing an audit or finance steering committee. See link above for details why. We recommended that the committee include industrial company controllers rather than just CPA's to provide operational perspective. (0)||None - NLCHD has a contracted accountant and only has financial audits. See above. (0)|
|Monthly financial reports: Are they published online within 30 days of the month end closing?|
|Capital Improvement (buildings and renovation) Planning and Budget Reports - Are monthly, annual and 5 year plans posted with monthly actual spending compared to plan? Is there a clear report that shows planned and actual project spending to date, even if spending runs more than one budget year?|
|Are check registers are posted online monthly, with year to date totals? Done on a timely basis - less than 30 days from end of a month.||Not done at all. (0)||Not done at all in Lake County.
School districts in various states are doing this so the public can research who is getting the money. We had an earlier posting HERE regarding four examples elsewhere. (0)
|NLCHD - minimal check issues, but not posted anywhere. (0)|
|Departmental reports and documents posted online||Many are - to be researched before ranking this.||Many are - to be researched before ranking this.||No website. Ha Ha Ha - are you kidding? They should be posting the financial statements, minutes, agendas, and related Hospital financial reports (990 report, audited financials, etc), but none are posted in a central place for public scrutiny. (-5) for bad attitude.|
|Committee Reports, agendas, etc are posted online and in understandable formats. These would be public committees with appointed members of the public subject to sunshine laws.||Some are - to be researched further. (3)||Most committees are internal, and nothing is published. Only Audit Committee documents are now published. (3)||NLCHD- Ha, Ha, Ha. Are you kidding? Nothing. (-5) for bad attitude.|
|More to be added later - vj|
|Total Transparency Scores - To be calculated soon:|
References on Transparency
This is a Transparency "Toolkit" published by the United Nations for use in improving Democracy in developing countries. Of course, it takes the approach that Big Government is the best provider of services.