In the 1960s, there was a popular Broadway play and later a movie titled How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Local governments, a la the Volusia County Council, could easily produce a stage or film show titled How to Spend Millions Without Doing Anything.
Each regular County Council meeting has an agenda, or order of business items slated for discussion or action. Within that agenda, notably at the beginning, is a portion of business known as the consent agenda. The same is true for municipal governments, as well, whose elected bodies convene to decide the issues of the day and spend money.
The consent agenda is that part of the agenda usually consisting of routine or housekeeping items deemed to be quite commonplace and noncontroversial.
Under the standard operating rules, the governing body may approve all of the items en masse with a single vote. A member of that body may, however, remove or “pull” one or more items for discussion or special attention, but unless an item is pulled, it stands to be approved with all others listed on the consent agenda.
The consent agenda may be rather lengthy. The agenda for the County Council’s June 6 meeting, for example, had a consent agenda of 36 items. At that meeting, the council chose to approve all items with a single option to OK them as a group, with no discussion or mention of any of the matters so listed.
In so doing, the council thus agreed to spend almost $4.2 million — in only a few seconds!
Sometimes, however, a public administrator, such as a manager, or a staffer will put on the consent agenda a pricey item or an item that, if it were to be placed in the regular order of business, would raise attention and may be voted down. Sometimes the consent agenda is referred to as “the stealth agenda,” meaning an item may be approved under the radar, without attracting attention and possible rejection.
Because the consent agenda has a reputation of being noncontroversial, savvy staffers may put volatile matters on it in the hope that the elected officials will simply not notice them and thus approve them.
Even though the consent agenda has a reputation for being routine and quite benign, the sums of cash may be sizable fortunes for the average working citizen.
For example, there is an expenditure of $1 million for a promotion agreement for Avelo Airlines. There is also an outlay of $795,750 for remedial repairs of the parking garage of the Volusia County Courthouse at 101 N. Alabama Ave. in DeLand, as well as $930,215 for bus engines for Votran buses, and also $600,000 for traffic-signal equipment.
To be fair, the June 6 consent agenda also included three items involving proportionate-share payments for development in Daytona Beach. Proportionate share refers to cash paid by developers to cover some of the costs that new homes, businesses or other structures, such as medical buildings, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, private schools and other private development, impose upon the local roads. The three proportionate-share cases together promise $1.4 million in revenue for the county’s road needs in the Daytona Beach area.
Thus, if one subtracts the money the county stands to receive to offset the expenses of the new growth, the council spent a net sum of $2.8 million — very quickly and very quietly. And this process plays out repeatedly, not just in the County Council Chambers, but in city halls around the county and around the state.
Again, to be fair, occasionally an alert official does object to a proposed expenditure. That happened earlier this spring, when freshman County Council Member Troy Kent raised questions about a proposal to award a bid for the construction of a restroom at county Fire Station 15.
The cost of the project was put at approximately $255,000 — the lowest of six bids the county received. Kent, however, told his council peers and the audience he had found cheaper prices for toilets and sinks in an advertisement for a home-improvement retail chain, and he wondered why the county was spending what seemed like extra money.
Stung by Kent’s scrutiny of the project, the county administration and Fire Services agreed to take another look at the cost. When the item reappeared before the County Council May 16, the price had not changed, and neither did Kent’s opposition.
“It’s too rich for my blood,” he told his colleagues, as he cast the lone dissenting vote against the award of the contract to an Orlando construction firm.