Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Barfield Replaces MIRA Appointee Who Voted Against Chuck Nelson

 
Chuck Nelson                              Jim Barfield
MERRITT ISLAND, Florida - The Brevard County Commission voted 4 to 1 to replace Jim Barfield's district's appointee to the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency (MIRA) Board after she had voted against former Commissioner Chuck Nelson becoming MIRA's new director in June.


Nelson, who had sought to become MIRA's director back in January, faced criticism for seeking the $85k MIRA top job because he would be barred from going before the County Commission for two years after his Commission term ended due to Florida Ethics Rules.  During his last year as a county commissioner, Nelson pushed for the expansion of MIRA to encompass virtually all of Merritt Island’s commercially-zoned property.

Nelson's application to MIRA caused Commissioner Trudie Infantini to propose a policy barring former county commissioners from holding positions with agencies that received over 50% of their funding from the county for two years after they leave office. That policy passed by a 3-2 vote with Infantini, Andy Anderson, and Curt Smith voting "yes," while Barfield and Robin Fisher voted "no." 

Nelson withdrew his name from consideration as MIRA director hours after the Commission passed the policy back in January, saying that he didn't want "to be an impediment" or cause criticism to the agency. Nelson's withdrawal drew praise from conservative radio talk show host Bill Mick and earned a "Thumbs Up" by FLORIDA TODAY's editorial board.

However, Nelson's benevolence was short-lived. That's because he re-applied for the position six months later in June after the Florida Attorney General's Office issued a legal memo which questioned the County Commission's authority to restrict former commissioners from holding positions in county-funded agencies. The MIRA board then voted 3-2 against Nelson becoming MIRA Director in favor of a different candidate.

One of the MIRA board members who voted against Nelson, Tonya Knappman, claimed that Barfield replaced her although she had not resigned her position. 

"Well, let's get the rest of the story," Barfield said at the Commission meeting. "First off, I've been on many boards. Many large corporation boards, small corporation, medium-sized corporations. And there comes a time when you have leadership, that you need to maybe replace out a couple people. And what you do, is that adds that spark, and it makes it that much more successful. So I reached out to this individual, Ms. Knapp, and I asked for her resignation. She verbally told me, "Yes, that she'd consider it anyway."  So she gave me her resignation. I asked directly, I got a direct answer."

Barfield then asked County Attorney Scott Knox if a verbal resignation was acceptable. Knox advised to Barfield that, "Yes it is."

"Just to make the point, so people understand," continued Barfield. "MIRA, it's a CRA, it's like other organizations - in a way, but it is boards, and I know there have been certain accusations about things, but it's unfounded, and I'm really not even going to go there. But what I will say is - we need to move forward with MIRA. We replaced another person last meeting, and that didn't even come up." 

"I guess it would be up to interpretation what the person said," replied Commissioner Trudie Infantini. "But since the person [Knappman] has been in correspondence with me and others, and has told, in writing, that she did not resign. Perhaps you misheard her, I don't know, I wasn't present, only those two individuals. And so I only have what I have in writing, stating that she did not resign.  So I do not believe that it is a lawful reappointment, but, you know, I am only one out of five."

After the meeting, Barfield's office provided Brevard Times with a letter from Barfield to Knapp to support his assertion that she verbally resigned over the phone.  

Meanwhile, Ms. Knappman sent the following email to all County Commissioners regarding the appointment:

In a phone call from commissioner Jim Barfield, he told me the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency (MIRA) is going in another direction and he wants me to resign. I have been on the MIRA board for over eight years and was reappointed by Barfield in December of 2014. This is a volunteer position. I receive no compensation for my time.

On the board I have worked to make sure the taxpayer's money is spent judiciously and researching applicants for grants making sure they meet the requirements. I have worked to help beautify Merritt Island while keeping cost in mind. I have always felt the purpose of MIRA was to improve Merritt Island and not to overdevelop it.

In a recent meeting we voted for a new director between three candidates. Lisa Frazier won 3 to 2.  Herman, Barber and myself voted for Frazier, Lawrence and Synder voted for former commissioner Chuck Nelson. Both candidates were qualified however due to current regulations Nelson cannot fully represent the board and therefore is only able to perform approximately 70% of the director's duties. I do not feel it is justifiable to use taxpayer dollars to pay someone for a fulltime position who can only perform as a part-time employee.

I received no explanation as to what direction Barfield wants MIRA to go and I can only guess what action I have taken that prompted him to ask for my resignation. I have not resigned but if I do resign it is because MIRA is not going in the direction I feel will benefit the citizens of Merritt Island.

Tanya M. Knappman