Exposed: Florida’s “shadow government” – unelected boards and committees

When Floridians go to the voting booth they elect representatives who are expected to make decisions on their behalf.

However, over time the decision making in Florida has been relegated to unelected boards and committees. These boards have grown in number, in membership and are becoming more costly to maintain. Boards and committees have become more powerful, touching every aspect of life in the state. Some have found that board findings/recommendations are rubber stamped by elected officials.

Jackie Schutz, from the office of Governor Rick Scott, told WDW – FL that he and his predecessors, appoint approximately 3,000 members to 750 boards or committees. The exact number of boards/committees and actual count of members is not known by the Governor’s office. The cost to operate these boards is also unknown, as they are funded by various government agencies and bureaus.

Schultz states, “Most appointing authorities are given in each individual statute, such as 471.007 for Board of Professional Engineers.” WDW – FL tried repeatedly to get an accounting of the exact numbers and costs. The information if provided will be included as an update to this column.

A list of some of the boards and committees may be found here. Some of these boards include: Board of Athlete AgentsBarbers’ Board, Board of Cosmetology, Board of Employee Leasing CompaniesPublic Employees Relations Commission and the Talent Agencies Licensing Board.

Tad Mackie, from Sarasota, FL worries that, “Many of these state level boards are really NGOs and represent special interest groups who are essentially lobbyists appointed by our governor and legislature.”

These boards and committees exist at every level of government. Cities, counties and school boards all have committees and in some cases sub-committees and boards.

Seminole County, FL lists 15 advisory boards. Pinellas County lists 13 advisory boards with 102 members. Lake County has 19 advisory boards. St. Johns County has 20 advisory boards. Using  an average of 15 county level advisory boards for Florida’s 67 counties the total number of boards/committees is approximately 1005. Using an average of 5 members per board that equates to approximately 5,025 board members.

The city of Sarasota, FL lists 22 boards including: The Employee Retirement Account Committee (5 members), Nuisance Abatement Board (7 members), Public Art Committee (6 members) and the powerful Planning Board (5 members). Each board requires staff support, creates rules and requires citizens to appear before them before appearing at a City Commission meeting. In some cases a committee will expend allocated funds and report directly to the City Commission.

The Sarasota City Administrator is required to do an annual report on the purpose, membership  and cost of each board. The 2012 annual report on boards and committees shows the city in FY 2011/2012 spent approximately $1.1 million supporting its 22 boards/committees (includes salaries, legal fees and operating costs).

Florida has 283 cities, 108 towns and 19 villages. If we use an average cost of $800,000 per municipality the total cost to taxpayers is approximately $32.8 million. Using an average of 15 boards/committees at the municipality level we have about 6,105 boards/committees.

If you add it up the number of boards/committees at the city, county and state levels it amounts to 7,860. Using five members on each board that is about 39,300 appointees. This figure does not include the number of staff needed to support them.

Some fear that these unelected boards and committee have become a “shadow government” in Florida.

NOTE: WDW – FL did not look at Florida’s 67 public school districts, 5 water management districts or other special taxing authorities like those in Pinellas County for the purpose of this column.

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