Children’s Services Council vows to fight ‘disband’ edict

The Brevard County Children’s Services Council, a 10-member board of political appointees created in 1990 to help fund childcare for low-income families, won’t roll over in the wake of county commissioners last week disbanding them.

“Oh no, it’ll go to court. They don’t have the legal standing to do this,” Satellite Beach resident Kathryn Rudloff, a volunteer with the council, said Jan. 22 after the commission meeting.

She said the council will likely seek a court venue outside the 18th Judicial Circuit, which includes Brevard and Seminole counties, to get a fair hearing.

Rudloff spoke after the Brevard County Commission, in a 5-0 vote, repealed the 1990 ordinance that created the children’s agency and dissolved the board itself.

County Commission Chair Kristine Isnardi, of Palm Bay, introduced the repeal measure mainly to prevent the agency from gaining a taxing authority, by referendum, that she said would be unfair to homeowners.

“In a referendum, all voters would decide (the tax question), but only homeowners would be paying the tax,” Isnardi said.

Commissioners in July rejected the agency’s call for such a referendum. The council had proposed a special tax rate of 25 cents per every $1,000 of taxable property value in the first year.

That would have meant $37.50 in taxes from the typical South Beaches homeowner. And local United Way President Rob Trains calculated it would yield $8.4 million for children’s services.

But in future years, the rate could have gone to 33 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value – or $49.50 in the South Beaches. And that would have yielded $11.4 million.

And while council leaders had a general idea for allocating the revenue, commissioners complained, they never had a specific plan of how much money should go to which provider for what services.

During the meeting, Isnardi referred to County Attorney Eden Bentley’s advice, saying the commission could dissolve the children’s agency because the commission had created it – and the agency hadn’t collected taxes.

“If they had, that’s what would have required a referendum,” Isnardi said.

But Cocoa attorney Kim Rezanka, who takes on pro bono cases for the children’s agency, said the council had the authority granted by Florida statutes to collect taxes – regardless of whether the commission approved it – and that alone requires a referendum to dissolve it.

Isnardi frequently compared the council’s tax goal to “taxation without representation” because most of the 10 council leaders were appointed.

Three were elected – Isnardi, former School Board member Andy Ziegler and the chair, Circuit Judge Kelly McKibben.

But they didn’t hail from the same authority, Isnardi said, and couldn’t have voted as an elected body.

Emotions ran high in the Jan. 22 meeting, with Isnardi’s supporters calling the council a “scam,” arguing that individuals, not the government, should determine how to support charities. Council supporters, meanwhile, accused Isnardi of turning her back on poor children.

While former county commissioners created the agency in 1990, using new authority from Florida statutes, neither commissioners nor voters granted the agency a source of tax revenue since then. The agency only has received private donations.

“They never actually did anything,” Isnardi said. “All they did was strategize. They spent 30 years strategizing. And conducting expensive polls.”

In fact, a $17,000 poll led Isnardi and Rudloff into a heated one-on-one confrontation.

Isnardi said $17,000 was a waste of donations to survey 400 people. Rudloff said that was a typical price for what she said was a lengthy survey of respondents’ views of Brevard childcare issues and which politician could best “sell” the proposed referendum.

Each of the two women discounted the other’s familiarity with survey statistics.

Isnardi proposed putting on the chamber’s overhead projector a copy of a Facebook page, in which she said Rudloff misinformed the public of her intentions.

“Let’s do this,” Rudloff responded. “I’ve got all the time you want, Kristine.”

Nick Tomboulides, vice chairman of the Brevard County Republican Executive Committee, accused Rudloff of going after a $200,000 salary as chief executive if the children’s agency got taxing authority.

“The CSC has existed for 30 years and accomplished nothing,” he said. “It is run by politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and political insiders for no purpose but to plot for a future property tax hike so they can line their own pockets.”

Rudloff, who runs the Business Voice political committee, later said she has neither the qualifications nor interest in a chief executive job with the children’s agency. And she said Tomboulides’ comments were an insult to the council’s volunteers.

In the end, commission Vice Chair Bryan Lober, of Rockledge, made the motion to repeal. The children’s agency no doubt addressed serious issues, he said.

“But those issues are no different from the homeless, cancer, disabled veterans, etc. And I’ve not heard any reason why this group is more deserving than those,” he added.

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