Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's really going on at SWFWMD?

Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2011 3:54 PM
To: Sonny's Friends
Subject: What is really going on at SWFWMD?

Dear Friend,

There is much interest in what might be going on behind the scenes at SWFWMD.  I’m being asked a lot of questions.  Here’s what I’m beginning to piece together. 

Caution, much of this must be considered speculation.  (Which, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not accurate, does it?)

What are the real objectives for doing away with the Basin Boards?  The unblemished word that I’m getting is that the Governor is bent upon reducing the overall number of taxing districts in the state (“for his presidential run”, it was stated).  Killing useless taxing districts, per se, is not a bad idea actually, but SWFWMD’s watershed-basin-based taxing districts definitely do not fall into this category.  Because of blind adherence to a broad objective, however, they are being summarily discarded with the bath water, supposedly in the interest of “greater efficiency.”  Unfortunately, there is virtually no interest in keeping taxing decisions at the lowest public level as they are now, or keeping the cost of expenditures upon the backs those who will benefit from them. 

Will the trashing of the basin boards result in one river basin’s taxes now going to other river basins?  The current claim that basin monies will continue to be spent only in the basins from which the taxes were levied will only be operative until the current basin funds have been expended.  After that, basin boundaries will be “virtual”, i.e., without distinction as it relates to where taxes will be levied or spent.  The Governing Board will be levying the taxes and targeting the benefactors, with one not necessarily relating to the other.  So, the answer is, yes, inevitably.

Was the Sunshine Law violated the way this was handled?  I don’t know.  But I do know I can’t find where the subject was specifically mentioned on the meeting agenda although an Item 64b mentions, “Governor Scott’s Direction on Water Management”.  No mention of a resolution or any suggestion of an intent to do away with the existence of over 40 basin board members.  If the way it was decided and action taken didn’t violate the law, the law failed us because “the public” has not had any indication this was coming and it should have.  The Governor needs to hear the voice of the public else he run without bit and rein and by definition become something other than a governor of a state in the United States of America.

How did the Governor’s Office force the Governing Board to do this?  I am informed they were basically told, if you don’t disband the Basin Boards, we just won’t make any more appointments and they’ll wither like a peach on a dead tree, which is exactly what happened.  By June 2011 the District was faced with having only one functioning basin board of seven due to lack of quorums.  The Governor had simply stopped making the appointments needed to keep them functional and the governing board felt it had no choice.  It literally chewed its own arms off to stay alive.

How will any new arrangement affect water resource protection and development in SWFWMD in the future.  To answer this question, one needs to understand what the legislature did to the districts.  The legislature placed new limits on how much revenue they can raise to carry out their responsibilities, the same responsibilities it gave them in earlier years.  SWFWMD is being reduced 36%.  The legislature also gave itself the right to veto any specific expenditure it might not like in a proposed district budget (this needs to be confirmed.  not 100% certain).  This means of course that any disgruntled despoiler of the state’s natural systems can lobby a perennially hyper political legislature to have the district punished for doing its job.  Never mind that this is what the courts are for and why regulations are subjected in the first place to a horrendous review and appellate process before they can be implemented to be certain they are fair, effective and needed.  Overall, the legislature continued its quest to remove as much existing protection from the state’s remaining sensitive natural systems as it possibly could.  This was just part of that scheme.  By controlling water district budgets, the political control of the boards and how they will carry out the district’s statutory mission is complete.  My answer:  We’re in for a decaying state of affairs and quality of life.

Isn’t additional legislation or constitutional authority needed to do all this?  Word is that it has all been run through the Department of Revenue and they say, no.  However, at some point the fact that the legislature is prohibited by Florida’s Constitution from levying an ad valorem tax may come into play.  If the legislature gets too possessive of water management district funding capacity and it reaches the level of “control” in a constitutional sense, someone might file a law suit and turn all this obsession on its legislative head.  This may very well happen.  The history of water management is filled with such court filings.  Having said as much, though, it would only be another battle in the war.  In the end, the legislature does have control of the water management districts as it should have, but the people have control of the legislature, at least theoretically.

Is Dave Moore’s resignation the result the of pressure from the Governor’s office?  In a word, yes.  Street conversation (Monroe Street) has it that the Gov is determined to move the present guard out in favor of his own pickings.  New ED’s and General Counsels.  Over the last 40 years that I’ve been involved in water management, this is what it has come down to.  The Governing Board is being reduced to just a group of mannequins talking a lot but not really doing anything because it’s the governor behind the curtain pulling the strings doing the doing.  Tallahassee has concluded, most apparently, that local, respected, hard working citizens can’t be trusted to do it right on their own.  This is a shame, and it’s dangerous.

In my humble opinion, Dave Moore has given public service his all for over 30 years and has done a tremendous job.  Florida is indebted to him. I thank him and wish him the best.


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