THE ISSUE: The original annexation battle with city of Inverness.
OUR OPINION: The sooner this is settled, the better.
Have you ever set yourself on a particular course of action, then, after it’s too late to reverse course, decided you didn’t want to do it? That’s probably how Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) members feel now regarding the original annexation fight they picked with the city of Inverness. There were two different cases, but the second was resolved a few weeks ago.
At issue currently is the 206 acres that the city of Inverness approved for annexation in February at the request of local attorney John Eden, who plans to develop it into an upscale, gated RV resort. He said he preferred to deal with city hall, not county government. The county is involved because it challenged the annexation’s legality based on components of Florida law.
Because of the county’s challenge, the issue is headed for court. Lawyers are lined up on both sides (slugging it out on the taxpayer’s dime). The legal process requires the issue go to mediation before it goes to a judge. But now, six months into the fight, BOCC members are saying they just want to get the matter settled soon. So does Eden, who told commissioners that their actions are “potentially wrecking the whole project.”
At the recent BOCC meeting, commissioner Jimmie T. Smith made the astonishing statement that per his reading of state law, the county’s attorney had provided information that was “100% factually wrong” and therefore the county should withdraw its objection. Commissioner Ron Kitchen accused Smith, who is not a lawyer, of becoming the “de facto attorney for one business” in the county. Things continued in this prickly vein.
Commissioner Scott Carnahan, who said he’s “tired of this dragging on,” urged the board to “get this in front of a judge.” But commissioners were reminded by the county attorney that state law calls for mediation. That’s scheduled for Oct. 3, and a court date, which the BOCC considers inevitable, would be much later, perhaps even in 2020.
After considerable wrangling, during which everyone asserted that a quick conclusion to the issue would be preferred, they finally brought it to a vote; a letter will be sent to the city of Inverness to “see if they would be agreeable to jointly agreeing not to have mediation.” This motion passed unanimously. The wording is important, as the county can’t be seen as acting in bad faith in trying to bypass mediation.
The ball will be in the city’s court at that point. And then, presumably, the judge’s.
We certainly are not qualified to interpret state law. We do, though, favor seeing this issue resolved as soon as possible. Carnahan made the excellent point that, when city utilities are extended to the proposed RV park, septic tanks would be removed and sewers installed, a move we fully support near all the county‘s water bodies.
Resolving this issue may result in another lesson learned. Eden preferred dealing with city hall, he said, not the county. BOCC members set the tone and attitude for county staff, so if they want staff to be more welcoming and open to helping businesses in the county, they need to model that behavior themselves.