“”Brevard County Commission Meeting: Deliberating Transparency, Governance, and Wickham Park’s Fate Amidst Term Limit Controversy””
Written by-Iulia Lupse
Brevard County, FL – The Brevard County Commission meeting held earlier this week was a forum for robust discussions encompassing various issues, from electoral reform to community development projects. While the meeting agenda was packed with diverse topics, recent events surrounding transparency set the stage for heightened public engagement.
In early February, the Brevard County Commission discontinued the televised broadcast of public comments during their meetings. County Communications Director Don Walker says he implemented this change to ensure the efficiency of the meetings. Although audio of the speakers remained available, the video component was temporarily suspended.
This move drew criticism from some residents and local candidates, who argued that turning the cameras off would limit public participation in the meetings. John Dittmore, a candidate for the Brevard County Commission District 3 seat, and John Tobia, a two-term Brevard County Commissioner running for Brevard County Supervisor of Elections, opposed this change.
The decision not to televise public comments was met with public outrage, prompting the commission to reconsider. The commission decided to reinstate the televised broadcast of public comments, and the cameras were turned back on during the meeting on February 20th.
Amidst this backdrop of renewed transparency, the February 20th meeting delved into substantive discussions on electoral reform and administrative matters. District 1 County Commissioner Rita Pritchett made waves when she filed on February 19th to run for Brevard County Tax Collector against incumbent Lisa Cullen. This decision comes as Pritchett finds herself in her final year on the Board of Brevard County Commissioners.
Pritchett recently introduced a new proposal to implement term limits for Constitutional officers. The proposal sought to impose a limit of three four-year terms for positions including Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Clerk of the Circuit Court, and Supervisor of Elections. Terms that began before 2024 would not have been counted under this proposal.
Pritchett’s proposal sparked considerable debate among commissioners and residents alike. Some voiced support for term limits, citing the need for fresh perspectives and increased accountability in these crucial positions. Others, however, expressed reservations, arguing that term limits could disrupt administrative continuity and potentially undermine the effectiveness of experienced officials.
One Brevard County resident weighed in, stating, “Term limits apply when you’re talking about policy-making positions. Term limits on administrative positions would be a great disservice to our county.” Another highlighted the differences between Constitutional officers, who implement policies, and Commission officers, who make policies. She suggested that this proposal would remove people who have been doing a great job from their seats.
During the meeting, Commissioner Rita Pritchett addressed the proposal, stating, “I said last year that I was going to bring this proposal forward this year. There was a lot of information about people wanting term limits. I’m a proponent of three-term limits. When I brought this forward, my thought was not to affect anybody that’s currently in office. Once you get somebody in an office as an incumbent, it’s really hard to beat them.”
However, not everyone was convinced by Pritchett’s arguments. Some residents raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, particularly in light of Pritchett’s candidacy for Tax Collector. Commissioner John Tobia recused himself from Tuesday’s vote, while Pritchett did not.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, one resident stepped forward to commend Commissioner Tobia for filing Form 8B, a document designed to address potential conflicts of interest among public officers. In doing so, the resident expressed a desire for Commissioner Pritchett to have taken similar action in disclosing any potential conflicts related to her candidacy for Tax Collector.
Despite the spirited debate surrounding the proposal, the term limits for constitutional officers in Brevard County will not come to a vote this year. The proposal failed to advance as no other commissioners seconded the motion, resulting in its failure to progress further.
Tensions also flared over the future of Wickham Park at the latest Brevard County Commission meeting. The park, known for hosting events like the Renaissance Fair, has recently become a focal point of disagreement between event organizers, local residents, and county officials.
Shortly after the meeting concluded, Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey took to Facebook to publish a letter received from the Board of County Commissioners regarding the future of Wickham Park. The Mayor expressed surprise at the timing of the correspondence, noting that it arrived before the scheduled discussion at the City Council meeting or Commissioner Tobia’s planned agenda item for the March Commission meeting. He emphasized the importance of public involvement in decisions concerning Wickham Park, citing the history of Brevard County transferring parks to municipalities, including several in Melbourne.
The letter highlighted the county’s commitment to maintaining Wickham Park as a crucial component of its Park and Recreation System, describing it as “our country’s central park” with offerings for everyone to enjoy. During the meeting, District 4 Commissioner Rob Feltner presented the county’s position on Wickham Park, indicating their reluctance to transfer control of the park to Melbourne.
Wickham Park, spanning nearly 400 acres and operated by Brevard County, has recently faced changes in its usage policies, sparking Mayor Alfrey’s push for the city to assume control. Commissioner Tobia, advocating for the transfer, described it as beneficial for all parties involved, while Commissioner Goodson clarified the county’s financial responsibility for maintaining the park.
Residents took to social media to voice their opinions in response to the growing debate over Wickham Park’s future. One resident expressed frustration over the removal of popular events like the Strawberry Festival, Light Festival, and Renaissance Fair, questioning why the county continues to deter events that bring economic benefits and enjoyment to the area.
Another resident raised concerns about homeless individuals occupying the park and causing discomfort for other visitors, questioning the county’s management of the park in light of its supposed high regard. On the other side, another local questioned the necessity for the city of Melbourne to take on additional responsibilities, suggesting a focus on improving existing parks instead. In response to the latter comment, Mayor Alfrey acknowledged the city’s existing involvement in patrolling the park and operating its community center.
As the discussion surrounding Wickham Park’s future continues, it remains to be seen what decisions will be made regarding its management. The topic is scheduled to be revisited at the upcoming Board of County Commissioners meeting in March.
About the writer: Iulia Lupse is an experienced researcher, writer, and entrepreneur with a strong track record in news media and politics.