Why did the Governing Board get rid of the District’s basin boards? It’s beginning to appear a little like a perfect storm where power, ignorance, arrogance, and plain and simple thoughtlessness all came together at once to sink the public’s legitimate interests. Not saying I understand it all. Here’s what I think I know.
There’s been pressure on the staff over the last few years to take action that reflects the state’s dismal economic collapse: become more efficient, reduce positions and expenses, end redundancies, lower the millage rate, etc. Certainly understandable. However, the staff may not have responded as aggressively as some powerful folks wanted. What was once pressure may have molted into pointed direction, that direction originating in part from the OPAAGA study referenced in the now infamous Resolution 10-11 that vaporized the basin boards.
Maybe some deals were struck. I heard J. D. Alexander wants a “Regional Water Supply Authority” to be created in Imperial Polk County, a completely irrational idea from a statutory point of view but maybe not so much from a let’s-get-the-district-to-pay-for-our-water-supply point of view. Said another way this would sound a lot like, let’s get the property taxpayers of the entire district to pay for our water supply.
There’s always a lot of horse trading, political threatening, and quid pro quo-ing going on when the gang’s in Tallahassee Town usually involving the executive director who frequently ends up with the smelly end of the stick … but not always. I have no idea how the basin board thing may have gotten mixed up in such a conversation but if there’s pressure on the district staff to get more efficient, getting rid of the basins would probably sound like an enticing card to play.
On top of that was the inexplicable inaction by the Governor who just stopped making appointments. This brought a different kind of pressure. Staff saw the basin boards becoming unable to carry out normal business due to lack of quorums. The situation was getting critical. Thus, the decision to do away with them and transfer their taxing authority to the governing board must have seemed like the only alternative.
Stack on top of that the startling lack of institutional knowledge that comes with every new governor and the fact that it has never been as glaringly evident as with this one. Why in the world does SWFWMD need eight basin boards? How inefficient can you get? Get on with it! Whack’em!
The governor claims to believe that government should be held closest to the people. If he understood the function of the basin boards perhaps he would have been more responsible about making timely appointments thereby assuring that at least that part of the much scrutinized water management taxing authority would in fact remain controlled at the very lowest possible level.
Then there was (is) a district staff that did not push back against OPAAGA’s concept of getting rid of the basins and maybe even proffered the idea to the minions in the new governor’s office and DEP behind closed doors. I believe they knew how political it could get so they were not likely interested in being too blatant about any support they held for the idea.
It needs to be asked, where was the GB when this crisis was building? In the past, the governor’s appointees would have been pulling political chits, making the governor aware of the problem, educating him on the political benefits of having basin boards, reminding him of how American it just happens to be, and, of course, vigorously urging him to do his job and make the appointments. To my knowledge, none of this happened.
Advising the governor of difficult issues is a fundamental responsibility of any person appointed to give direction to a very significant agency, wouldn’t you think? Has the climate in Tallahassee become so lethal that even the messengers get bloodied now? If so, it’s very unfortunate and makes for a government poorly run, at least, and dangerous, at most.
There’s likely much discussion going on about the impact that subsuming the basins’ taxing capacity will have upon the district’s ability to do its job. They’re probably still trying to figure out how to continue doing basin business in a way that will withstand legal challenge. They are also probably more than a little nervous about whether the way they adopted The Resolution met all the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. I mean, it wasn’t even on the agenda! Reasonable notice? Hardly. If it was in compliance with the law, the law failed us.
What to do?
So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I respectfully think the governing board should do:
· Step back and take another look, this time with a wider angle lens and full transparency.
· Hold a public meeting on the matter. Hear what folks think about the deal. Do not fear what they have to say or try to avoid talking with them about it. Maybe no one will even show or say anything, but at least they will have had the chance.
· Take action only after proper legal notice. Have the item on an AGENDA!
· Meanwhile, communicate directly with the governor, not through minions, his or theirs. Make him aware of the basin boards’ purposes from a political, philosophical and governmental point of view.
· Fearlessly urge him to make the appointments he is charged by law to make. This is HIS DUTY.
· And finally, re-establish the basin boards. Maybe just three big ones: northern, middle, and southern, but re-establish them.
The governing board will be holding a meeting soon to discuss the situation. I urge all former board members, basin and governing boards, to attend if possible. County leaders who now may be realizing they are losing a valuable and effective communications path to the district should also attend as well as all other interested folks. If and when the Board provides a chance to talk about it, it might be the last. Calls and emails now would be completely appropriate as well.
I‘ll try to provide more information about when and where as learn it.