MCTA Lake PointThe Martin County Taxpayer Association (MCTA) has been monitoring county government for 65 years. Our goal has always been to make sure your tax dollars are used most effectively and there is a reasonable return on your investment in our county government. We analyze whether the expenditures focus on the most important needs or are they wasteful. We look at whether monies spent could be used for more appropriate purposes. We have many needs in Martin County and limited revenues, so we all have to be diligent and make sure our county commissioners are making the best choices. We also have to look at decisions affecting whether and how the county can obtain additional revenues and whether we are making reasonable decisions on the revenue side. For purpose of this column, let’s look at one of those expenditures, legal costs.
Lake Point, a sand and rock mine designed to become a future storm water treatment area to be deeded to government after twenty years of operation, sued Martin County for interference with their contract. They charged that some Commissioners had used their personal computers and electronic devices to communicate about their interests and asked the Court to allow access to those devices for purposes of discovery. After years of legal maneuvers the Court appointed an Arbitrator to step in to make recommendations to the parties. The Arbitrator found that the County Commissioners had abused required public records laws and demonstrated a pattern of lack of candor regarding those records and found the County liable for payment of attorney fees incurred by Lake Point.
The Board of County Commission has agreed to pay attorney fees of over $370,000, our money, to settle this part of the lawsuit over how some Commissioners used their personal and public emails. The County issued a press release on February 25th saying, "By doing so, Martin County decided to avoid further protracted litigation over this public records claim and the threat of greater attorney fees and costs on such claims. Instead, Martin County believes that those resources would be better served improving its existing policies concerning the public's access to "public records" under Florida Law."
While we have to agree with the decision to accept the Court appointed Arbitrator's decision, we consider having to pay those fees a blatant waste of tax dollars; our tax dollars. We are concerned with the recent growth of expenditures related to law suits. MCTA has suggested a policy of "negotiate, mediate before you litigate". We feel our hard earned tax dollars should be better spent on improvement rather than law suits. We understand the need to protect the County and enforce fair rules, but did we really need to get into this position where we are forced to pay unnecessary legal fees?
Before taking positions, changing regulations or amending long standing policy, the County Commission must consider the consequences. Our citizens have rights, property rights guaranteed by our State and Federal Constitutions. Abusing those rights for political purpose will always be costly.
Let us refocus our County's efforts toward public safety, infrastructure improvements, provision of libraries, parks and health facilities and economic prosperity. The Martin County Taxpayers Association and its many members pledge our help toward supporting those efforts and achieving those goals.
Wasting our money on law suits is not an efficient, useful or effective use of tax dollars.
Thomas Kenny III