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Was the Pinellas County Commission out of order during its vote on the Cross-Bay Ferry?

There aren’t any formal rules that cover this maneuver. But one commissioner was still upset at how the vote went down.
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times 
Pinellas County commissioner Dave Eggers, left, talks with then Pinellas County vice chairman Karen Williams Seel, right, while attending a meeting to discuss the compensation package proposal for county administrator Barry Burton on Wednesday (8/29/18) in the 5th Floor assembly room at the Pinellas County Courthouse in downtown Clearwater.
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Pinellas County commissioner Dave Eggers, left, talks with then Pinellas County vice chairman Karen Williams Seel, right, while attending a meeting to discuss the compensation package proposal for county administrator Barry Burton on Wednesday (8/29/18) in the 5th Floor assembly room at the Pinellas County Courthouse in downtown Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Aug. 29, 2019

At least one Pinellas County commissioner is upset at the way a vote was conducted at last week’s meeting.

Commission Chair Karen Seel was moving through the list of county agenda items normally when she came upon a proposal to approve two more years of Pinellas funding for the Cross-Bay Ferry. The agenda item was read, and a motion was made by Commissioner Ken Welch to vote on the matter.

At that moment, four commissioners were at the dais: Seel and Welch, who supported funding the ferry; and Dave Eggers and Kathleen Peters, who opposed it. Two other commissioners and supporters of the ferry, Janet Long and Charlie Justice, were out of the room. (Commissioner Pat Gerard was absent for the meeting.)

Had a vote been taken then and there on the ferry funding, the measure wouldn’t have passed.

Related story: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tours local governments to drum up support for ferry

Related story: It’s official: Cross-Bay Ferry is coming back

But a vote wasn’t taken then and there. Instead, things got awkward.

“I knew that was going to be interesting,” Welch said with a laugh after his motion.

“Uh-oh,” Seel said. “I think we will take a —”

“I can second it to move it forward,” Peters offered. “So I’ll second it.”

“You will second it?” Seel asked.

Peters agreed.

But rather than call a vote, Seel called a five-minute recess. Once the other two commissioners were back, the vote was held, and the ferry funding passed, 4-2.

“I thought what Karen did was inappropriate,” Peters said in an interview. “She stopped (the meeting) to affect the outcome of the vote.”

Seel says she did no such thing. As chair, Seel said she wanted to have the whole commission there for what she considered an important discussion.

“I didn’t know how anything was going to go," Seel said. "(Peters) seconded it for purposes of discussion, so how did I know what the discussion was going to be?”

Eggers said it was the first time he can remember a chair calling a recess at that point during the discussion of an agenda item.

According County Attorney Jewel White, Seel’s actions did not break any procedural voting rules because the county does not appear to have any. Had a commissioner had a problem with how the vote went down, he or she could have raised the issue for a vote later in the meeting, White said.