Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scott’s Slingblade Swings Deep at SWFWMD

According to St. Petersburg Times writer, Craig Pittman, the staff at SWFWMD heard Tuesday (10.25.11) that more of them will be hitting the street, 20% of them by the first of the year.  130-150 staffers of the current 768 will be let go, fired if they don’t go voluntarily.
Surprisingly, this is not surprising.  The rumor has been swirling around the district’s headquarters building since former ED, Dave Moore, was eased out a few months ago and the interim director, Bill Bilenky, was given the ugly task of letting 30 initial unfortunates go.  Seeing what was going down at SFWMD and SJRWMD, it was expected that more of the same would be coming to SWFWMD.
According to the article, Guillory said he was forced to make a decision between recommending to the governing board a cut to environmental programs or people.  He chose people, probably because of the notion that the district’s job is more important than that of certain individuals, a tough but arguably correct decision given the circumstances. 
The dilemma was brought about by a totally arbitrary mandate by our CEO-governor and a legislature that runs in a blind herd and dresses in sheepskin (Johnnie Byrd was right).  They initially slashed water management district budgets around the state, SWFWMD’s to the tune of 44 percent, and now district staffers are saying they’ll need to cut another $30 million to meet the new revenue constraints.
This is the work of raw politics, make no mistake about it.  It has nothing to do with what is right or appropriate for good resource management, good people management, good government or even public interest.
It’s all about taking advantage of a terribly misguided infatuation with party rhetoric from the far right, having a myopic focus on the next election and being committed to being able to say to those who haven’t a clue or a care what the real impact will be on Florida’s future, “look what a fine job I’ve done!”
I can’t help but think of this governor’s resume which includes collecting hospitals, building a huge business conglomerate using the largesse of state and federal healthcare funds, and then leaving with several hundred million of those dollars in his pocket after his company was fined a record sum, over a billion dollars, for perpetrating fraud (while on his watch) and ripping off the public who paid for those programs.
I’m a Republican and I have to tell you, it’s more than embarrassing.
But the slashing and burning of the water management districts is just a partial indication of where this guy is going, intentionally or otherwise.
He has stopped environmental land buying programs that have been blessed, authorized and demanded by the public for over 30 years.  From the Conservation and Recreation Lands and Save Our Rivers programs of the seventies and eighties, to the Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever programs that were approved by referendum from 1990 to 2010.
He has stopped the development of rules designed to carry out statutory programs that have no other purpose but to preserve what remains of natural Florida.
He has ordered the review of regulatory programs that literally saved Florida from the degradation of the 1960’s, degradation that became dangerously apparent over the next 20 years as laws were required and demanded by the public to be stopped and the trend reversed.
Without a care or thought, he is hamstringing institutions at all levels and reducing their ability to ensure the state’s unique natural character is protected for the future.  He is apparently devoid of any understanding or belief that a healthy, viable natural environment is a critical ingredient for a healthy, viable economic future.
I hope someone is keeping tabs of the things he is doing so that when it can all finally be seen in toto, it will be enough for Florida voters to end the assault on their future and remove him from the office he purchased with $70 million of the reward money he got for running a company that stole from the public’s healthcare pocket.
I doubt Blake Guillory had a real crispy clear understanding of what he was getting himself into. 
Part of the blame for this mess should be laid at the feet of a majority of head-bobbing SWFWMD governing board members who are probably patting themselves on the back for being able to get through a 54-item agenda that required 377-pages of attached information in just a few hours during which they calmly agreed to get rid of 130 to 150 faithful staff human beings without the issue even being noted on that same agenda. 
So much for government transparency and operating in the sunshine.  This is the same tactic the board used to dismantle its basin boards and fire the unpaid volunteer private citizens that served as members, people whose duty was simply to assure the taxes they levied were for good purposes and would be spent within their basins.  These boards served the public interest for 50 years but were summarily discarded without the intent ever showing up on a published agenda, a maneuver certainly blessed if not directed by the governor and his CEO-DEP minion, Herschel Vinyard.
Nevertheless, there are a few members on the current SWFWMD governing board who remind me of members of earlier times when decisions were made with the best facts available and all the wisdom they could muster.  They are like some other extraordinary people who never decided anything unless they were certain their decisions were the “right thing” to do and had the fortitude to say what needed to be said to the governor or anyone, even powerful senators in powerful positions, when political mischief was afoot and public interest wasn’t.
There are others on this board, however, who do not remind of those good people.  Bobbing heads. 
Where’s the concern that what’s being flushed down upon them from Tallahassee is not the right thing to do, that there is a very legitimate reason for what past legislatures and governors have given the districts to do, and that their ability to carry out those duties is being seriously undermined?
Why aren’t these board members, together with their colleagues from the other water management districts, traipsing off to the capitol building to see the governor personally, or if meeting with him face to face makes them too uncomfortable, at least writing him letters saying that what is happening is counter to decades of heartfelt work by some very smart people from both parties? 
SWFWMD’s governing board is abrogating its responsibilities.  Its members are letting others do what they should be doing themselves, specifically setting water policy for this region that is consistent with a rational state policy and supervising a dedicated staff.  They should be the ones saying how much their budget needs to be reduced in light of the region’s tough economic times and reduced construction activity.  They should be the ones to decide if there isn’t enough money coming from state documentary stamp taxes to buy more environmentally sensitive lands within their district.  They should be the ones to decide how much their staff might need to be reduced in light of reduced revenues and project activities.  They should be the ones to rein in and reduce their ad valorem tax levies in light of the region’s hard economic times. 
Instead they bob their heads like the Pep Boys and joke about meetings being too long because of too many questions from a few otherwise responsible board members. 
The fundamental question about this governing board that is becoming more and more apparent is, what are they there for?
These are ugly times for environmental resource management in Florida.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Scott Appoints Randall Maggard to SWFWMD Governing Board

The following was announced by the Governor’s office yesterday, 10.19.11:

Governor Rick Scott Appoints Randall Maggard to Governing Board, Southwest Florida Water Management District


10/19/2011 Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott announced the appointment of Randall S. Maggard to the Pasco County seat on the Governing Board, Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Maggard, 48, of Zephyrhills, has been the vice president of Sonny’s Discount Appliances Inc. since 1981. From 2003 to 2010, he served as a member of the Coastal Rivers Basin Board, including serving as vice chairman. He has also served as a member of the Zephyrhills Economic Development Council for two years. Maggard received an associate degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College. He succeeds Ronald E. Oakley and is appointed for a term beginning October 19, 2011, and ending March 1, 2015.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

P.S. – I do not own nor am I the president of or affiliated with “Sonny’s Discount Appliances, Inc” in any way ...... but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express one time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stupid is as stupid does (Sound the Alarm!)

When Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does,” he was saying, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.

Our CEO-Governor has declared that the water management districts need to sell off some of their environmentally sensitive lands acquired at the direction of Florida’s voters over the last 40-50 years, land that was considered so important to the future of Florida’s economy, quality of life and unique natural assets that it needed to be protected forever through public ownership.  He says the money is needed to help fund some significant revenue deficits the districts have incurred recently.

Cause a problem. Mandate a solution. Make it worse.

I have hope that one day the governor will realize the deficits to which he refers so disdainfully are the same ones he and his friends in the legislature caused when they capped the districts’ constitutionally-authorized funding of their budgets, which, by the way, could be interpreted as illegal state control of ad valorem taxing authority.  (State government, i.e., the legislature and the governor, is specifically prohibited by Florida’s constitution from levying property taxes, an authority it reserves for local governments.  Taking control from the local governing boards could be in violation of that prohibition.)

WMD’s are part of the answer, not the problem.

I have another hope that one day he’ll realize the collective revenue generating capacity of the water management districts is critically necessary for funding Florida’s vitally needed statutory protections for its unique and fragile natural systems.  But I don’t hold a lot of belief that any such realization is in the offing even though the state is practically stone broke and could never assume this fundamental responsibility. Stupid is as stupid does, and cutting the district’s revenues, so far, has the potential for becoming an historic stupid does.

Selling unique natural Florida to the highest bidder in a down market is not the answer

Some Atomic Brain of T-Town in a flash of brilliance devoid of simple logic has concluded that since the state is broke and the WMD’s have now been reduced to similarly broke state entities, maybe the districts should sell some public land.  CEO-secretary Vinyard, ever the laser-focused soldier, has consequently mandated the districts to review all properties in their respective inventories, identify which are non-essential, and get rid of any offending purposeless, useless and unneeded acres.

I attended a meeting last week in Orlando of about 50 very prominent and very concerned individuals to talk about how this exercise is terribly boneheaded and wrong.  The consensus, as I saw it, was that there are a number of very valid reasons why any significant selling of these lands will be just another huge mistake of massive proportion by a clueless administration.

Assuming the mandate is going to stick, our group focused on what would probably be the most important task which is to determine what is meant by “non-essential.”  In the past, there would have been very few properties considered non-essential. The belief was that an inseparably small parcel might not now be of significance but could become so in the future. 

And, the process to declare a small parcel no longer needed for public purposes, vetting the choice with the public who paid for it, advertising a solicitation for bids, comparing and choosing the top few, having the governing board select one, and having the state approve it (including perhaps even having to go before the Govenor and Cabinet), and then arguing with the state over who gets the money, is simply onerous and most likely not worth the expense of the process.  Nevertheless, though worried about how easily mischief might find its way, we concluded that under a tighter definition and with greater latitude from the state, there are probably a relatively few small parcels that could be found “non-essential” and sold.

The devil, however, will reside subcutaneously amidst the tiny follicular details. Open up the definition of non-essential too much and the baby will be sold with the bathwater.  Shorten the disposal recipe too much and ugly missteps, fraud and, should I even say it, poisonous politics could ruin the cake. 

Never eat your seed corn

If the motivation is truly just to generate money to operate the districts, nothing could be more stupid is as stupid does.  No one at the meeting could keep from rolling their eyes when it was mentioned the districts might use money from the sale of property for operational purposes. 

It would be a classic no-no.  Never, NEVER, should non-recurring revenues be used to fund recurring expenses.  It is a fundamental rule of management even a freshman legislator should understand.  It’s like digging the hole you’re already in deeper or, as a Sarasota County commissioner succinctly put it, “It would be like eating your seed corn.”  It just isn’t done, not by responsible managers anyway.

But wait!  That’s not all. 

Let’s assume a few dollars do come in from such a sale.  If the original purchase involved state largesse (Save Our Rivers, P-2000, CARL, Florida Forever, etc.), there would be a legitimate question as to where the income from the sale should then go.  Should it be used by a broke water management district “to buy more land” as has been whispered by certain vacuous T-Town minions, or should it go back to state coffers that are so empty they echo so “no new taxes” will be needed to balance the state budget?

Buy high, sell low

Which brings up the next question. What sense does it make to sell anything in this economic climate?  To generate enough money to make the exercise worth doing would require the sale of tracts of significant acres.  Let’s say a tract in Citrus County of maybe 10,000 acres was purchased for $17 million sometime in the past.  How much would the final offer have to be to make a deal worth it to the public who invested the $17 million?  Is the appraised value going to be at least as high as the original purchase price in today’s market?  Probably not.  Would the public accept any amount less than the original purchase price?  Certainly not.

Now is the time to buy, not sell

In reality, the thought should not be to sell at all, but to buy.  Now!  Even the most challenged portfolio managers know the time to buy is when land values are in the pits, not sell. 

But the Dynamic Duo of T-Town has inexplicably placed a hold on all land purchases by the districts and is directing the districts to sell “non-essential” environmental lands anyway.  As stated, they just shouldn’t be selling anything!  In fact, they should be looking to buy property that until recently was just too expensive to consider.  Now’s the time to buy properties that are extraordinarily unique and might never again be possible to place in public ownership for future generations to enjoy and appreciate as Florida used to be.

Does finding no human footprints mean the land is unused and worthless?

At one point during the discussion at our table, it was asked if land that “… has not had any public footprints” on it since acquired should be considered unused and non-essential?

The answer is absolutely not.  Many of these properties considered ecologically fragile and unique were placed in public ownership because of it.  Protection and preservation of important natural assets are fundamental to any environmental land acquisition program.  Allowing inappropriate public use could destroy the very characteristics for which the property was purchased in the first place. 

This is not to say public access should be totally denied.  Even Ecuador allows the Galapagos Islands to have limited and carefully managed public access.  Every property is comprehensively assessed to assure the public will be able to enjoy it in ways that are appropriate for the reasons the land was acquired and which does not jeopardize public safety. 

In fact, this is a process required by statute.  Called a management plan, it’s the district’s responsibility to develop the best mix of public uses for every tract in its ownership that is consistent with protecting and preserving the property in a manner that reflects the reason it was acquired.

Science-based decision making

Over time, the methodology used by the water management districts to identify ecologically important lands has become based upon sound science because science is the best way to eliminate human bias and politics from the decision.  When tens of millions of public dollars are involved, the process needs to be squeaky clean and as free of arbitrary human biases as possible, especially political influence.

Today, every scrap of pertinent physical information about a tract can be visually depicted in a very precise way using Geographic Information Systems technology.  By creating digital layers on a digitally created topographic aerial photograph, the heaviest concentrations of desirable and undesirable traits become quickly and easily apparent.  Topography, archeology, bio-diversity, flood elevations, wetlands, recharge characteristics, geology, rare and endangered species are just a few of the types of information that can be depicted.

This is also how any so-called surplus lands should be identified, with science and objectivity and without political influence.

So, if there are all these plausible reasons to think that selling even justifiably non-essential property is bad business, bad public policy and particularly bad karma, where is the drive to do so coming from, if not from just plain egregiously poor judgment?

Sound the alarm!

These lands were not bought to be managed as a portfolio for profit-making.  They were placed in public ownership with the expectation that they would be protected and preserved for generations, yes, even centuries.  They were not purchased for speculation to be sold to operate government at any time, especially when the economy is down.  Such is not only counterintuitive but a fraud perpetrated upon the public who voted to acquire these valuable lands for legitimate purposes and paid for them. 

At the end of the meeting, each table was asked to identify a single idea or conclusion that might lead to further action.  As each reported, it was clear.  There was a strong, defined feeling that the proposal to sell lands needs to be reconsidered for all the reasons stated.  But there was also the fear that, despite these misgivings, there is a powerful misguided push to go forward anyway. 

Clearly, there was the feeling that too much heartfelt work, public investment and potential harm to Florida’s future exists not to sound an alarm, an alarm that needs to be heard by all who care about Florida’s future in all respects: quality of life, economy and natural environment.  There needs to be a unified voice of opposition against this ill-advised, ill-considered idea.

So, add this one alarmed voice to the others and yours.  This terribly misguided strategy, so destructive to the good work and intentions of so many highly respected, bi-partisan leaders over decades, needs to be stopped now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SJRWMD Shakeup Raises Concerns

Water district's shake-up raises concerns
10/10/2011 - 11:06 AM
With the St. Johns River Water Management District set to replace its ousted executive director this week, efforts by its board members to mold the powerful environmental agency into a smaller operation on friendlier terms with developers and utilities have created in some cases at least the appearance that a board member's company could gain an unfair advantage when dealing with the district, according to an Orlando Sentinel report.

The district's seven board members include three consultants whose companies have sought, or have assisted others in seeking, permits from the district, whose job it is to regulate and protect drinking water, wetlands and waterways in Central and North Florida.

Two of those three board members have already recused themselves from votes on permits involving their companies, and all three have said they will be diligent in opting out of future decisions whenever they might stand to gain financially.

But the three board members — Charles Drake, Maryam Ghyabi and John Miklos — have taken active and visible roles in the agency's downsizing this summer, which included slashing 130 jobs, or 20 percent of the work force.

Though driven by a sharp reduction in the district's budget this year, the process also had the goal of changing the district's culture from one that some board members characterized as rigid and tightly controlled by senior managers to one in which individual staffers will work more independently and cooperatively with developers and water utilities when reviewing permits.

In such a climate, the remaining staff members fear being next in line for dismissal should they do something a board member perceives as detrimental to a business' proposed project or overly protective of the environment, according to several employees who spoke privately with the Sentinel.

"There certainly is an appearance of potential impropriety," said board member Richard Hamann, a law professor at the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida. "It puts a lot of pressure on employees when district board members are involved with permit applications."

"I'm concerned about how we deal with this in a way that's ethical and responsible," Hamann said.

The agency, which had grown in size and power since its inception in 1972, was turned upside down earlier this year when the Legislature slashed its main source of income, local property taxes, by 25 percent. The state's four other water-management districts were similarly affected.
See related Orlando Sentinel Story,
Find the story here:

SJRWMD Hires Former Board Member as New Executive Director

The following news release was provided 10.11.11 by the SJRWMD:


District Board hires new executive director
PALATKA, Fla., Oct. 11, 2011 -- The St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board today voted unanimously to hire Hans G. Tanzler III as its new executive director effective immediately.
Tanzler has served as the District's general counsel since July, after having served three years on the District's Governing Board.
"Mr. Tanzler brings extensive experience leading large organizations with a well formulated and fiscally conservative approach," said Governing Board Chairman Leonard Wood. "He has a very balanced background in the public and private sectors, and I am pleased that we will be able to benefit from his leadership skills and experience."
Tanzler, 60, received law degrees from the University of Florida and has been a member of the Florida Bar for more than 30 years. He is also a certified public accountant and has worked as an assistant U.S. attorney, an Internal Revenue Service attorney, an attorney in private practice, and a senior corporate business executive.
Tanzler has been active for more than 20 years with volunteer and community activities, currently serving on the boards of the University of Florida Foundation and The Conservation Trust of Florida. He previously served as chairman of the Jacksonville Zoological Society and commissioner for the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission.
"I am extremely honored that the Board has entrusted this position to me, and I am looking forward to leading this agency," Tanzler said. "I come in with one agenda -- to effect good government. The District has accomplished much in preserving and protecting our region's water resources, and I look forward to continuing that work, with additional emphasis on good customer service."
The search committee -- made up of Board members Lad Daniels, John Miklos and Maryam Ghyabi -- was created in August and held five public meetings to identify the search criteria, evaluate the 21 applicants, and interview the committee's top three candidates.
Tanzler, whose appointment is subject to confirmation by Florida's governor and Senate, replaces Kirby B. Green III, who retired Oct. 3 after 10 years as District executive director.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Second Look at SWFWMD’s New Dawn

Blake Guillory certainly arrived at SWFWMD with a flash.  Before he even walked through the door, he began shaking the organizational tree.  But was he really wrong to target some of the district’s highest ranking managers and arrange for them to leave?
I’ve made quite a deal about it being just another sign of Governor Rick Scott’s ruthless and insensitive “reduction in government size and cost” campaign but was Blake Guillory really wrong in what he did?
Here’s what I think.
If he made any mistake, it was in the timing but, really, he just did what I’ve done at least twice in my own career, one of those times at SWFWMD in 1997.  I just didn't do it so dramatically.  So, maybe we need to recognize the fact that every new leader needs to put his own team in place and let that dog lie.
As for whether or not the board blessed the release of the district’s general counsel, Bill Bilenky, its chief regulatory manager, Richard Owen, and its chief technical manager, Bruce Wirth, board members are saying that, while they assumed there would be changes, they were not specifically aware that he was going to do what he did.  The three individuals involved are each very capable and respected professionals and among the highest ranking at the district.  One would have thought that board members were at least briefed that the policy world they direct at SWFWMD was about to have a sizable seismic bump.
The fact that they were not is important because if Guillory had briefed them and gotten a nod to proceed from a majority of them, it’s the same as polling which can be viewed as a violation of the Sunshine Law.  Apparently this did not happen, based upon board members’ comments to Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times which was reported a day after the word got out.
If Guillory did anything wrong, again, it was the timing, something that would probably not have raised an eyebrow in the private sector.  There, it wouldn’t be considered very unusual for a new CEO to clean house and restructure it to his own liking immediately upon taking over.  If one is going to be held responsible for the success of an organization, he is wise to begin with a new slate of his own making. 
In this case, however, it was a shock to have taken such action so quickly, but also gutsy.  From one point of view it wasn’t real good headwork but from another it was a statement of firmness that he has arrived and it’s a new day at the district.
But this isn’t the private sector.  Whatever is done in government, especially at an agency that affects so many people in so many ways, a manager can never forget there is a very bright light shining on virtually everything he or she does.  Every decision is going to be scrutinized and, frankly, every decision is going to have those who think it’s good and those who think it stinks.  Not some decisions, all decisions.  It is truly a glass house and Guillory just had his first lesson in transparency.  Maybe that’s a scar that’s good to get early on, the first of many he can expect as the head of water management district.
He has not held a government position before, I understand.  Watching government from the outside, no matter how close one might be, is nothing like having to run it from the inside.  I’ve met Blake Guillory previously when he was a consulting engineer and I was working at another agency but I don’t know him personally.  His peers speak very highly of him.
So, no matter what I might think of the governor’s methods, I hope we can give the new director at SWFWMD a chance to show us what he’s got before we get too critical of his.
There are tremendous challenges ahead for him. 

His agency budget has been limited by the governor and legislature to the point where there is a valid question whether it can now do the tasks it has been assigned by law to do. 
He has a staff that is badly rattled by all the slashing and gashing at all the water management districts and government everywhere, at all levels.  People are rightfully afraid of losing their jobs.  He has marching orders from the governor to reinvent, reorganize, reduce, rethink how water is being managed and to find a way to do it more efficiently.  He will have to do this without causing detriment to the state’s unique natural character and quality of life. 
But, clearly, his first job will be to find a way to lead his newly adopted staff to a new sense of stability and worth, to reassure them that the work they do is critical to our future and our children’s future.  He will need to convince them of this despite the cynicism and negative attitudes so pervasive in today’s political climate.  If he is successful, he will have all the respect and allegiance he needs from the hard-working, dedicated staff I know them to be.
Next he will need to turn to the enormous and difficult responsibilities of the district which are now his own.
He will be responsible for assuring water flows cleanly in all the natural streams, rivers and lakes of the 10,000 square miles of the district, an area the size of the state of Vermont. 
He will be responsible for assuring aquifers, where 90% of our population gets its drinking water, remain fresh, safe and unpolluted.
He will be responsible for assuring 450,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands under his stewardship are properly managed and cared for in a way that preserves all the reasons they were placed in public ownership anyway.  And while doing so, allow the public to avail themselves of those lands and enjoy their bounty in passive ways.
He will be responsible for assuring the enormous police powers of the agency are administered with fairness and wisdom, and in a way that least intrudes into the lives of those directly affected by them.
He will be responsible for the safety and property of over four million people during major rainfall events and the inevitable floods that follow.  After the flooding, he will need to refocus and start worrying about how he’s going to assure there will be enough water to grow and sustain the commerce of the region in an environmentally sensitive way.
Let there be no mistake about this.  It is a huge and difficult task.
So, Mr. Guillory, welcome aboard.  I truly wish you and all those under your supervision and care success in every respect.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guillory Arrives at SWFWMD Wielding Scott’s Slingblade With A Vengeance

True to form, new guy at SWFWMD and newly appointed executive director Blake Guillory began the now Scott-standard renovation of his new workplace by removing and replacing its old guard.
First to suffer the signature swing of Scott’s sling blade was Richard Owen, long-term planning director and, more recently, deputy director of the district’s 16-county wide regulatory program.
Street rumor has it that Richard was told last Friday he was to be “released”, even before Guillory reported for his first day at work which must’ve been Monday, 10.3.11.  I don’t know how it went down but it looks a lot like the board knew beforehand what was obviously dictated from T-Town by CEO-Scott’s boy, Herschel Vinyard, and somehow, in unison, and without benefit of an “advertised meeting” must have blessed the action.
Magnanimously, Richard will be able to stay until December or January to complete his 30 years of dedicated service to the public as weel as the proper management of the state’s water resources and the preservation of its natural environment.
Maybe Bill Bilenky, district general counsel serving as interim executive director until Guillory’s arrival, will tell us how the Board blessed the action without infracting the state’s Sunshine Law.  Maybe he’ll also explain, if not, why there’s even a governing board if all the shots are so blatantly being called from the methane-infused, oxygen free atmosphere of Tallahassee.
Or maybe he won’t.  Guillory has given him his marching orders as well, if we’re to believe the smoke boiling from the second floor offices of the new director.  No word yet on when the highly respected general counsel will pack his pictures and memoirs from over ten years of service and leave this chapter of his professional life behind.
Also mentioned in the rush of rumor and innuendo swirling around the district’s Brooksville headquarters is the departure of deputy director Bruce Wirth, another long term staffer who has been involved in the technical management side of the district’s activities for decades.
What lies ahead is most probably the further morphing of one more water management district into another state agency to be utterly and completely controlled from T-Town by Scott and his minions.
Whether that is good or bad remains to be realized.  I fear it will not be good.   It is myopia at its worst by a new governor who doesn’t understand what serving the public interests really means.  It is more than economic development at any price.  The price we will pay for the destruction and loss of this state’s natural identity will far outweigh the benefit of any new jobs Scott may accidentally generate in the next few years.  The loss will be generational, perhaps for all time.
Let me say, nevertheless, that change itself is not always bad.  I have talked with some of those already released from the district and urged them to think of this as an opportunity to shed any constraining views they may have had of themselves and let their aspirations fly.  Despite how dark the outside looks in the job market these days, there are brighter days ahead.
Adversity brings necessity.  Necessity brings creativity and courage to do things one might not have tried under different circumstances.  And with successful survival during perilous times, which is a certainty knowing the noble character and profound strength of those gone and going, comes the growth of one’s self, a higher confidence and a grand realization that whatever life brings, no matter what, everything’s going to be okay.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Florida Forever ... sort of" published an editorial today, 10.01.11, which reflects legitimate concern about the current move to surplus and sell environmental lands bought through the historic and unprecedented programs voted for and paid for by Florida residents over the last 40 years.

With the exception of one statement, which is misleading in my opinion, it represents a true concern, that Florida Forever lands were funded and purchased at the acquiescence of Florida’s voting public and should not be sold to fund water management district operations. 

Coopers Hawk
Spring Lake, Florida
(Vergara Photo Art)
In one sentence, the editorial suggests SWFWMD could possibly determine its entire ownership of 450,000 acres of environmental lands are surplus and sell them all.  I seriously doubt the governing board of SWFWMD will do that, but there is still lots of room for it to do mischief by misidentifying what is “non-essential.”

The operative mandate from CEO-governor Scott is to identify “non-essential” lands for surplus and sell them.  This would be fundamentally good business practice in most cases but the devil here is in how “non-essential” is defined and when the land is offered for sale.

Naiveté, ignorance or even malicious intent can come into play, intentionally or otherwise, with this board which is now completely under the control of CEO-governor Scott and Herschel “water-management-expert-by-virtue-of-appointment” Vinyard.

What’s worse is that the list of “surplus” lands is going to be developed by a “committee” of governing board members which is supposed to float about the district listening carefully for any “stakeholder” input.  That’s after they figure what a “stakeholder” is.  Sounds a bit like a snipe hunt to me.

I’d be willing to bet ten dollars against a Rick Scott doughnut that we will not see a “final” list of proposed properties to be surplussed until it is presented and recommended for final action by the governing board.  Less public angst, that way. Angst they want to avoid because it could be upsetting to the CEO-governor’s tea-party sling blade agenda.

The SWFWMD governing board demonstrated it is capable of this kind of shenanigan when it disbanded eight basin boards and fired all their 40 members without it even being on a published agenda, which I believe is blatantly illegal.

Great Egret
Florida wetlands
(Vergara Photo Art)
There is also a very valid question as to whether we should even be considering selling land while the market is as dead as Osama Bin Laden.  The amount of money to be developed is dromedary dust compared to what could likely be generated in a few years ... assuming they actually identify some truly non-essential properties.

Another concern is who will be buying these lands?  Most likely it will be well situated profiteers who will just sell them back to the state when the economy turns around and a now silent but more rational public realizes what a horrible tea-party mistake it was to spin them off in the first place.

We need to be watching to see if the land is truly “non-essential,” whether the land is sold using a legitimate bid-solicitation process, whether it is sold to the actual high bidder, and whether the bid reflects actual market value. 

We do not need more of what we learned from Harmon Shields and Elton Gissendanner … Herschel.

Here’s the editorial

Editorial: Florida Forever ... sort of
Environmentalists in Florida probably never thought they would look back with fondness on the days of Jeb Bush, but the conservative former Florida governor is looking greener and greener compared to the current administration.

Bush, never a friend of environmental regulation, was nonetheless an enthusiastic proponent of Florida Forever, the multibillion-dollar, decades-long state program to buy and preserve critical state lands forever. He and other Republicans saw it as a conservative, non-regulatory approach to environmental protection: If forests, wetlands and other habitat needed protecting, they reasoned, the best way to do it was buy them from their owners and let the state manage them.

Bush was such an advocate that in 2001 he called a legislative effort to redirect Florida Forever money into other projects "bad policy," and vetoed it.

The program purchases, dating back to the 1980s, were aimed at flood control, preserving aquifer recharge areas, protecting surface water quality, and saving critical wildlife habitat and prime
recreational and hunting lands for future generations.

Today, budget cuts and an active disinterest in not just regulation, but also preservation, in Tallahassee are putting momentum behind a very bad idea: selling large parcels of those lands to raise money for water management districts strapped for cash by reductions in their taxing authority.

No doubt there is some land that the state or its agencies can sell with little impact. Such house cleaning should be routine.

But the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported this week that at least three water management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection are looking into selling state lands, including lands in state
forests, parks and preserves. In the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the newspaper reported, 450,000 acres are being considered for possible sale.

Yes, state agencies have been told to sell off "non-essential" lands, but that definition is big enough to sail a cruise ship through. To paraphrase a now-famous saying, it depends on what the definition of "non-essential" is.

Fiscally, it would be bad enough to sell land now just because of low property values. But to sell land bought in the name of all Floridians to protect their state's natural resources, forever, is an intrinsically bad idea.