Brevard Commission Chair Bryan Lober: ‘Allow Court to Decide Without Theatrics and Political Posturing’
By Bryan Lober, Brevard County Commission Chair // January 17, 2020
Supermajority of County Commission found “critical need” existed to increase BCSO funding
As most everyone now knows, Clerk of Court Scott Ellis’ office sued the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners over the County Commission’s funding increase to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.
A supermajority of the County Commission found that a “critical need” existed, justifying BCSO’s increased funding.
Remember that, while BCSO’s funding has increased, as BCSO is only one of at least 20 buckets for which the County assesses tax, the overall County tax was not increased. Other buckets were kept flat or lowered to allow for public safety to be better prioritized.
Among the compelling arguments justifying the increase, Brevard has fewer patrol deputies than it should, given the size of our growing population.
This “critical need” is one that, by definition, will continue so long as our county either maintains or grows its population. No one, not even Clerk Ellis, has suggested our population is likely to decrease next year or the year after. Hence, the critical need found by a supermajority of the County Commission will not simply disappear.
Each budget year uses, as its baseline, the prior year’s budgeted values. This means that the baseline of this coming year’s budget will be based upon last year’s budget – a budget in which the County Commission found a “critical need” for the Sheriff’s Office.
This doesn’t mean that the Sheriff’s Office will or is automatically entitled to exceed the charter cap without a new or renewed finding of a “critical need” by a supermajority of the County Commission – as it should require.
However, Clerk Ellis’ argument is rather unique: that the coming year’s budget cannot use the prior year’s budget as its baseline. This interpretation is, in my opinion, not well-rooted in the law.
Rules of statutory interpretation are well established. While Clerk Ellis is absolutely entitled to make his arguments and I respect his right to do so, as an attorney and as a County Commissioner, I fundamentally disagree with them.
It was recently suggested, in a very public manner, by my colleague, Commissioner John Tobia, that Brevard County’s discussions with both in-house and outside counsel, regarding litigation strategies in defense of the lawsuit (and settlement options), be discussed publicly, outside of an executive session.
This is highly abnormal for any lawsuit filed against any governmental agency or entity.
Commissioner Tobia went the extra step of coauthoring, with Clerk Ellis, an Op-Ed for a local newspaper– arguing for exactly this to occur. Regardless of Commissioner Tobia’s beliefs, to have any Commissioner argue to take action which benefits the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the County in which that Commissioner was elected to serve is shocking.
Commissioner Tobia argues that executive sessions are appropriate when private entities sue the County but not in this case as he suggests that exploring litigation strategy in the open is necessary to allow for transparency to the taxpayers.
The problem is that all this would accomplish is to expose the County’s strengths and weaknesses to an entity that has sued it without requiring that entity to do likewise.
Here’s what I would propose: Clerk Ellis waive confidentiality with both his in-house and outside counsel regarding all settlement and litigation strategy discussions and the County will do likewise.
If Commissioner Tobia and Clerk Ellis want transparency, let’s have it both ways. Fair is fair. I want all emails, text messages, and written correspondence between Clerk employees and in-house and/or outside counsel on this issue. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.
Alternatively, let’s knock off the nonsense and allow each side to present its case to the Court and allow the Court to decide the matter without the theatrics and political posturing.
Brevard County Commission Chair Bryan Lober and his wife, Rebecca, have lived in Brevard County since 2011. Since adopting their one-eyed rescue dog, Winks, Lober and his family decided to make their forever home in Brevard County. Lober serves District 2, which includes Cocoa, Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Port Canaveral, Cape Canaveral, Avon by the Sea, Cocoa Beach, Snug Harbor, Patrick AFB and Rockledge. He is the only attorney serving on the Board of County Commissioners. Lober served as the 2016 – 2017 President of the Brevard County Bar Association – the youngest individual, on record, to have served in such capacity in the organization’s 65+ year history.
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