Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Florida’s Water Management Districts

There’s a continuing swirl of rumors about the number of layoffs looming at SWFWMD.  The rumor mill has had the number for some time now at 60 to 70 employees, mostly from the area known as administrative services.  Despite claims by administrator, Blake Guillory, that the real number will be closer to “only” 30, the angst and worry by the staff continues and there’s good reason why. They simply aren’t being told anything.
Apparently, the district’s current protocol is to let individual managers know who’s going to get the boot in their area only and not the havoc that’s happening in the department next door.  Staff members talk about how the only way they know what’s happening is by the grapevine or by calling someone’s extension only to be told they’ve been “disappeared.”
(Sorry. I should have referred to department as “bureau” which is what all water management districts now are required to label certain sections of their respective staffs.  This is all part of Tallahassee’s reformation of water management districts to insure they walk, talk and look like Tallahassee state agencies.  Our ersatz governor has embarked upon this quest for no apparent good reason except perhaps because someone told him at a briefing one time that all government in Florida needs to walk, talk and look like it does in Tallahassee because it’ll somehow create new jobs and make government more efficient.  Don’t know this for a fact but it sounds like something from the former chair of his transition team regulatory reform subcommittee who wields vast knowledge of all things governmental because he’s a lawyer.)
Of course there’s also Guillory’s Standard Format Tentative Budget dated August 16, 2012, for the district’s 2012-13 fiscal year (Sandspur obtained a PDF copy, apparently intended as a briefing document for legislative staff but no link at SWFWMD could be found).  A graphic on page 10 of the document clearly indicates his intention is to reduce the staff from the current targeted 2011-12 level of 764 “FTEs” to 617.  That’s a reduction of 147 employees, not 30 as Guillory claims, and it’s a lot more than the 60-70 swirling around in the district’s staff breakroom every day.
I don’t know the reasons for these discrepancies.  I just know they exist, that they shouldn’t, and that the management staff of the district has handled a perhaps justifiably appropriate reduction of staff in an inexcusably unprofessional, insensitive, and irrational manner.  But it’s not just management incompetence at the district’s executive level. 
This terrible situation can and should be laid directly at the feet of a totally insensitive, uninformed and completely ill-equipped board of governors.  Why in the world don’t the executive director and the board chair hold face to face staff briefings district-wide? Simply lay out the plan, offer up why they are doing what they’re doing, and make a good faith effort to be straight up with their staff, without platitudes like “getting the water right” and “returning to core mission” that demean the professionalism and intelligence of a dedicated staff.   
The real human beings that work at SWFWMD, and at all of the water management districts, are not ill-behaved immature work animals who must be herded and treated as unfeeling dumb beasts. They’re due respect and consideration for the position in which they find themselves.  In many instances, they have dedicated their careers and lives to providing the public of Florida a tremendously important service.  To deny them this respect violates every management principle in the book and reflects a level of cold insensitivity that cannot be justified or rationalized, politically, economically, or otherwise.
Sadly, SWFWMD has not been the only perpetrator of these absurdities. Each of the other four districts has similar stories, as well as DEP.   Fear and intimidation through control of information is the new protocol for Florida government.
Is it because the plan is being dictated by the governor’s Tallahassee minions who are deeply embroiled in remaking state government into a service for special interests? Is it because these farcical leaders of the current rid-us-of-all-things-governmental mantra can’t even articulate a rational defense for issuing a mitigation bank permit that is fraught with special interest bennies, like the Highlands Ranch Mitigation permit?  Is it because they are brazenly attempting to cleanse Florida’s environment regulatory agencies of anything smacking of technical talent and science-based resource management capability?  Are they doing this because the new natural resource management protocol is to manage by intimidation, fear and political influence?
Sure looks like it.
Use of the term, “justifiably” is not to say that what this governor is doing to decimate the capabilities of the most strategically needed government agencies of this state is in any way appropriate.  It is simply to recognize that the impact of a global recession upon this country has had a significant effect upon the need for governmental services and a reasonable response is to reduce the presence of government at every point where that need has declined.
The problem is that the appropriate level to which water management district staffs and services should have been reduced has been drastically exceeded, despite the claims by Herschel Vinyard and the nodding heads of the water management district governing boards that all is well.  The party line they incessantly spew is that they are, for the first time in Florida’s history, “getting the water right.”  What a load of propagandistic crap.  The State of Florida is going to be paying the price for such irresponsible nonsense for a very long time in a lot of different ways.
The result of this delirium will hang like the darkest of clouds over the morale and technical capabilities of the state’s five water management districts for years, if not permanently.  The state’s much-needed construct for water resource management, where the objective was always wherever possible to insure decisions were science-based and in the public interest, is already suffering. The game has clearly become a strategy of management by intimidation, fear and political influence.
JD Alexander, the not-so-behind-the-scenes real leader of the senate for the last few years, was the poster child for how to achieve this.  Alexander, along with cowboy-boot-wearing CEO Scott and DEP’s Herschel Vinyard of similar pointy-toed footwear, have already made the incredibly dumb decision over the last two legislative sessions to cut SWFWMD’s budget well into the bone. Tea baggers surely rejoiced, but the reality is that Scott and Alexander shot Alexander’s home county squarely in the gluteus maximus by doing so.
The cuts and revenue limitations they levied upon SWFWMD were so harsh, even Polk County commissioners were begging Alexander not to do it because the county is literally banking upon the property-tax payers of the district’s 16 counties to pay for its much-needed new county-wide water supply system.
Nevertheless, SWFWMD’s ambassadors-of-all-things-hunky-dory are smiling sweetly and saying not to worry because the legislature in 2012 gave the district the option of levying more property taxes should more dollars be needed for the project.
Fat chance, right?
Truth is, it was a tea bagger pandering frenzy led by Scott, Alexander and an army of lobbyists owned by special interests to cut the districts not only in staff and funding but in every other way they can find.  They are not stopping at what’s prudent.  It is a frenzy of destruction and punishment for one of the Florida’s most important functions.  Florida, a state of tremendous natural diversity and ecological sensitivity, stands to lose the very characteristics that make it one of the most unique and desirable places in the world to work, live and play.  We are witnessing the release of forces that could affect the future of this state in all respects for a very long time, and it isn’t good.


  1. One of the best things of my summer is being out of the sight of Scott and team. All the years by so many working to preserve Florida's environment and back to square one. Thanks for telling like you see it.

    I hope you are sending your messages to the members of the Tampa Bay Partnership!!

    Stay tough,

  2. Other than, working hard to insure our current governor is not re-elected to a second there anything the ordinary citizen can do today to help stop this bleeding? It is insane that one person (Gov. Scott) wields this much influence and power over the future of our state! This reconfirms how important my one vote counts!!! Thanks, Sandspur, and keep up the irritation in the buttocks of the current administration!

  3. This is terrific, as always. Hunter S. Thompson was somewhat of a hero in my younger days. Appreciate the reference.

    I got a call today that a "hit squad" came into the SW Florida DEP office and let go of 25 people, including some very experienced technical staff. Scott and Co. have been so successful at destroying the Districts, it looks like they are moving inside the DEP now with the same strategy: tow the line with Tallahassee or sayonara.

    1. The layoffs were confirmed by a report See the article here:


    2. For clarification, 617 is the current number of staff after last year's massacre. So the additional firing of 30-plus will count down from there. You saw it in the fy12-13 budget because that is the fiscal year we just began. That budget is on the District website: business and finance/budget. There is likely an outline of the fy13-14 budget somewhere but it would be an early, internal draft. 30 is apparently the number of involuntary layoffs but once again a voluntary incentive package is being offered to all.

      Keep up the good work, Sonny. It is needed more than ever.

  4. Goodbye, water quality. Hello, back to the old corporate, real estate, potassium miners. As it used to be, $$ TALKS and everything else walks.

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  6. Sonny thanks for keeping us informed. This is sickening and will only get worse if Romney is elected. He will destroy EPA. What can be done?

  7. I just saw this post on Sonny's blog. I was told at the end of September that my position was being eliminated. I find it amusing especially when an article appeared about 9/7/12 that the State was comfortable with the budgets of the water management districts and it stated there should be no more cuts. However, some staff were given choices to staying through the end of December or sometime into 2013. You learn to keep moving forward even though the economic climate is terrible.

  8. Well looks like the pain and suffering is beginning to let up for the hard working staff at SWFWMD. After 1 year of belt tightening and sacrifice the new executive Director is getting a raise! Now to hear Chairman Senth spin it, it is a non revenue impact decision. The Executive Director that took the job at the stated salary and benefits now feels it isn't enough. He, one of the faithfull Scott drones beat the drum of government excess since he's been there, but now wants more perks. The Board agreed to renew his contract with a $8,400 per year vehicle allowance and another week of paid vacation, another $3,200 per year value. Now the justification was he was putting all these miles on his personal vehical, for work purposes, because getting a pool vehical was inconvenient. Why is that? Mostly because he's never at the District headquarters, but instead glad handing around the state at non value events for the District such as professional group conferences in places like Orlando, southwest florida, and other areas of the State where Southwest WMD has no presence, nor should they. These are self promotion events that we the tax payers are paying for in his time and travel. The justification for the extra week, was the same. Time traveling to and from many of these meetings were outside of the "normal" 8 hours day. Well that is how it always was, the ED's are expected to work extra hours, not as a promotional speaker, but at public citizen meetings on issues associated with the actions directly related to the specific District, like the recent MFL meetings. There are plenty of those events and going to them is why the former ED's had the salaries and compensation that they had. That level of compensation was flet ecessive by the Scott adminsitration and reduced. Now the move to creep back to those levels is underway (compensation creep?. It will be interesting to see what the governor says to this, as once again there are no raises expected for the rank and file. If you want to get a clear reason behind the travel patterns just understand that this Executive Director does not live within the District. Yes he has a "room" in Tampa, but his home and family is in Palm Beach County and that is where you will find him most every weekend, and we the tax payers are funding the attendance at events that put him closer to home at the end of the week and at what time Monday morning does he check into the office. I'm sure he's working the phone on the way back over. Hey Governor Scott, where are you on this?