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.


  1. Blake's arrogance is only superseded by his incompetence. He has never worked in any Government capacity and it painfully shows. The pristine Florida rivers that we all know, love and cherish will soon be no more. "Governor" Scott will use Blake to his dirty work. In the end it is just another death knell for Florida. Those connected with Scott will profit from real estate and quid quo pro transactions while the average Floridian waits on them in local cafe.

  2. Amen! Scott's short-sighted and selfish agenda are setting Florida back decades when it comes to environmental protection. And the Governing Board members should be ashamed of themselves. They may not be able to change the policies that Scott has set in motion, but seeing the casual disregard some of them demonstrate for both Florida's future and employees' livelihoods is appalling. I propose Occupy Broad Street!

  3. This is your best piece yet! Very powerful and spot on. Another thing that plays right in to your theme here is that the Governing Board commissioned a consultant to do a staffing survey about 6 months ago. The results showed there was no need for any additional layoffs. So here you have a board that spends who knows how much money to do a staffing survey then turns around and ignores the results and agrees with the ED to lay off 150 people. You’d think maybe one of them might have pointed this out as being something that they should at least discuss. The other thing that sticks out like a sore thumb here is that there was apparently no comparative analysis presented, i.e., which environmental programs would need to be cut if the current staffing level was maintained, or cut by 100 positions, or 50 positions, etc. When I worked at SWFWMD under you and Dave, we wouldn’t have dreamed of going to the board with this type of far-reaching recommendation without being fully prepared to brief the board on all aspects of the issue. Further evidence that this is just what you said it is: “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.”

  4. Sonny, we’ve been thinking the same about Governing Board members. Why aren’t some of them advocating for their District and its programs and employees? What have they got to gain from licking Scott’s boots? Many of them are influential in their own right. I don’t understand their motivation in keeping silent. Has Scott threatened them with dire consequences if they oppose him?

  5. I believe the atmosphere of fear in Florida politics has reached a toxic level. Anyone in a politically vulnerable position is afraid of saying anything because Scott and legislative leaders have shown no hesitation to wield their powers of revenge on those who dare. It is a very dangerous situation for anyone who wants to serve the public’s true interests and simply do the right thing.

    - Sandspur

  6. Great message Sonny! Keep it up. I hope your messages are getting to the Governor's desk through some surrogate method.... not that he cares worth a hoot, but perhaps we can hope ---- at least -- that he is getting his eyes and ears full.

  7. Has anyone taken a look at the VESP (Voluntary Employee Separation Agreement sent out by the minions under CEO Y. Scott. It states that, if you sign the agreement, you are agreeing to resign from SWFWMD. This, in effect, nulifies any chance of you being able to apply for unemployment insurance. When queried the HR minions referred everyone to Workforce Alliance. This means you either take the early piece of little cheese and don't collect unemployment benefits or wait until February and be fired, get no package and be able to apply for the unemployment benifits.
    Did the CEO or his hand selected senior citizen governors, at any time, ask the employees, those who actually know what SWFWMD does, what they would suggest be done to save money, such as one or two days per month with no pay and/or a 10% cut in salary. Yes, they would take home less money. But, they would have health benefits and their seniority (pension amounts) would contuinue to increase. Hey CEO Yul, you didn't ask your former empoloyees for suggestions and look what happened to your former company. I guess that's exactlt what you want to happen to SWFWMD. Is your ego that swelled you would resort to that AGAIN?