Below is an email I sent to the county commissioners today:
“I had planned to speak at the July BCC meeting in West Pasco, but since there is no meeting scheduled for July, I am sending you my comments by email instead.
I wanted to speak about the county’s procedures for purchasing real estate.
In September 2016, a Public Records Request was filed with the county requesting, “Pasco County’s Procedures for Acquisition of Real Property”. The official response from the county was to provide the document entitled Pasco County Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program (ELAMP) Standard Operating Procedures. That document had a date stamp on it of June 8, 2007. No other documents were produced in response to that request, and since the county is required by state law to respond to these requests, it would be logical to assume that this is in fact the only document that deals with property acquisition by the county. It would also be logical to assume that since this was produced by the county in response to a lawful request, that it is in fact responsive to the PRR and is a valid document. That would be logical, but it would be incorrect.
In the course of the lawsuit filed to contest the MSBU to purchase the Gulf Harbors golf course, the attorney for the county has pled that this SOP document was not approved by the BCC, and therefore was not binding. It was even characterized as just a draft. This document appears to have been produced in 2007, and 11 years later it is being referred to as a draft.
The county doubled down recently, when the deposition was taken of the county representative, who was designated by the county’s attorney to have the legal authority to speak for the county in that lawsuit. When he was asked “How does ELAMP use that document”, referring to the Standard Operating Procedures, his answer, under oath, was “We’re not required to use this”. He also testified that “It’s the County’s position that policies must be adopted by the Board in order for them to be official and be required by staff to follow up.”
Whether or not it is truly the case that the SOP does not have to be followed, that is the position the county has committed to in the lawsuit. So apparently, if you are to believe the county attorney’s office, ELAMP has no written procedures it must follow when they purchase real estate. ELAMP uses Penny For Pasco funds to purchase property, and the county has now represented that there are no procedures the county is obligated to follow when ELAMP spends the voter approved Penny For Pasco funds.
And since no other documents were produced in response to the PRR, we are led to believe that the county has no written procedures at all that govern the county’s purchase of real estate, either under ELAMP, or otherwise. This lack of oversight is apparent in the case of the county’s purchase of the Magnolia Valley and the Timber Oaks golf courses, where environmental testing was only done after the purchase by the county, contrary to any definition of good practices.
As commissioners, you may or not have been aware of the lack of any valid procedures, but now you are. You are now also aware that ELAMP did in fact have such procedures since 2007, but maintains that it was not obligated to follow them since they were not approved by the board. This has a very simple fix. At the next meeting of the BCC, just approve the existing ELAMP SOP, whether it is necessary or not, in order to provide certainty in the county’s acquisition process. Now that you are aware of this discrepancy, will you take that action to correct it, or are you in fact agreeing with the position taken by the county’s attorney in the lawsuit that there are no binding procedures?