Sunday, May 26, 2013

Meeker abandons her job at SFWMD; heads for better deal

Melissa Meeker has resigned from her position of two years as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.  A Sun Sentinel article says she is leaving not because she was pushed out but because of a better offer she couldn’t refuse.
This should not surprise you.  Meeker has a history of “moving on.”  A glance at her vitae indicates she has used political opportunism to move to more important positions again and again staying only a few years at most before leaving. 
Is she a political hack, as some say, for her jumping from one governmental position to another just to widen her portfolio of connections and improve her political capital?  Or, is she the professional gadfly whose luster dims easily under the light of failed expectations and disappointment prompting her to grab the next ride to another opportunity?  Or, is she such a treasure chest of intellect and talent that suitors will do anything to lure her away, as she would have us believe?
Frankly, I don’t know what her deal is but I am confident it isn’t the latter. A search for shining moments where her professional ship has docked over the years leaves one scratching one’s head.  Nowhere does it mention any achievements of significance she could claim as her own.  It does say curiously, however, with the quotes being her own, that she “sold” her own consulting business so she could move on to bigger and better things.  What was she trying to communicate when she put the word sold in quotes?  Did she sell it or not?
Here’s her LinkedIn profile:
June 2011 – Present (2 years) 

Deputy Secretary of Water Policy and Ecosystem Projects, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
March 2011 – May 2011 (3 months)

Responsible for state water policy, coordination among water management districts, and implementation of ecosystem projects, including Everglades Restoration and ACF. 

Commissioner, FL Environmental Regulation Commission
2010 – 2011 (1 year) 

The Florida Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) is a non-salaried, seven-member board selected by the Governor, who represent agriculture, the development industry, local government, the environmental community, citizens, and members of the scientific and technical community.

The Commission sets standards and rules that protect Floridians and the environment based on sound scientific and technical validity, economic impacts, and risks and benefits to the public and Florida’s natural resources. Most issues that go before the ERC relate to air pollution, water quality and waste management.

Former Owner, Hesperides Group
2007 – 2011 (4 years) 

" ‘sold’ the business to move on to bigger and better things!” 

Director, Women in the Environment
2007 – 2011 (4 years)

A networking organization for women who work in environmental fields. 

Vice President, Tetra Tech EC, Inc.
July 2005 – January 2010 (4 years 7 months) 

National Water and Natural Resources Program Lead 

Board Member, Sustainable Treasure Coast, Inc.
2004 – 2010 (6 years)

Governing Board Member, South Florida Water Management District
2007 – 2009 (2 years) 

SE District Director, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
1997 – 2004 (7 years) 

So, what are we to think of Ms. Meeker (assuming it should matter)?  

One thing she did not say was that she served on hospital-trader Scott’s transition team, and worked with co-member and transition team sub-committee chair on regulatory reform, Doug Manson.  It was Manson’s sub-committee that devised the now despised grand plan of the Scott administration to dismantle and destroy the state’s nationally respected environmental regulatory framework.  This is a very ill-advised scheme that resulted in the firing of hundreds of regulatory professionals and loss of thousands of years of critical institutional memory under the guise of having to reduce government because of a fractured economy.   

Meeker has been very much a part of this overly destructive gambit which really could be putting Florida's economic future at risk.  It has become clear that the true reason for the attack on the state’s ability to provide fundamental protection for its natural systems was to reset the regulatory clock to an earlier time when environmental protection was no more than a concept and before it was a body of law.  The true reason was to allow power companies, mining companies, big agriculture, and developers-of-all-things-that-sprawl to once again have the freedom to ditch, dike, drain and pollute the state’s rivers, wetlands, lakes, springs and natural systems without restraint. 

Meeker was one of Scott’s minions who participated in the genesis of this idiocy and then signed on to help carry it out.  In her farewell email to the staff, she said she is proud of “what we have accomplished together …” i.e., the damage she wrought during the two short years of her presence, and the institutional incapacity she, Herschel Vinyard and Rick Scott have suffered upon the district.  (see Meeker resignation email to staff HERE.) 

Earlier this year, we learned in a Palm Beach Post Editorial that someone had placed an amendment on a bill last legislative session that allowed only Meeker’s district to place advertising signs on the district’s public property.  Suddenly and without notice, a proposal was placed before the governing board to enter a contract that would benefit former board member Harkley Thorton.  Here’s what the Post concluded: 

  • The amendment allowing the billboards — disguised as “public information systems” — was a last-minute provision in a must-pass bill to fund the water districts. That’s the tactic Tallahassee uses to sneak stuff through with no debate;
  • Former Sen. Paula Dockery, a member of the committee where the bill originated, says former House Speaker Dean Cannon’s office backed the amendment;
  • Mr. Thornton chaired Mr. Cannon’s political spending committee in 2010, and the two are friends;
  • Mr. Thornton, who owns the billboard company Florida Communication Advisors, is a former business partner of South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Melissa Meeker;
  • Mr. Thornton’s company is negotiating with the district on a contract to install billboards in a dozen counties, including Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Martin, Orange and part of Broward.
And there’s more:

  • South Florida is the only one of the state’s five water management districts with a billboard plan;
  • Mr. Thornton and his wife each donated $4,700 to Mike Haridopolos, who was Senate president when the bill was passed. 
The thought that occurred to many when all this hit the street was said best by the Post: 

 “When Ms. Meeker took over, she said the district would focus only on its core missions: flood control, water supply and environmental restoration.  Where do billboards fit?” 

On February 7, The Everglades Review reported that the district dropped the proposal saying, “Public backlash over allowing billboards on public land persuaded the South Florida Water Management District on Tuesday to drop its controversial money-making venture…. But so many questions remain unanswered.” 

Here are some other controversies in which the district has become embroiled under her leadership (reported by Everglades Hub at 

Jan. 24: No-bid leases: Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet bless two land deals by the water district that award no-bid, 30-year agricultural leases in the Everglades to major farming companies despite complaints from environmentalists and a water district official that the public was neither aware of nor consulted on the deals. The district came under fire last year for its long-standing policy of renewing agricultural leases without putting them out for competitive bid.

Feb. 27: No-interview hiring: Water district governing board member Dan DeLisi has resigned and accepted a position as the district’s chief of staff. DeLisi, 39, sent his resignation letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday. On Friday, DeLisi said he submitted his application for the chief of staff position. Although he did not interview for the position, on Tuesday DeLisi was offered the job over 53 other applicants.

May 20: Mecca deal: When the water district governing board voted this month to offer Palm Beach County $26 million for a former citrus grove, the same value determined by an appraiser hired by the county, the district’s board was not told of another county appraisal that had valued the property between $14.8 and $22.5 million 

Except for the fact that this woman is obviously filled with burning ambition, her ultimate destination has never been clear.  The Sun Sentinel reports she was offered a position at a large international consulting firm without even asking.  She indicated that the promise was of a future so much better than her life at SFWMD that she could not deny herself the opportunity.   

So, Meeker now rejoins the private sector.  Let’s hope that’s where she stays.  That’s where she belongs.  Maybe the damage she'll do there will limited to her own interests and not so much the public's.  She says she does not intend to do business with the South Florida Water Management District in the near future.  Let us hope that’s forever.
As she leaves a once respected institution badly weakened and maybe even broken, and a confused staff that before she arrived knew a whole lot better what is needed to accomplish its complex and crucially important duties, I for one do not understand why anyone might think she did a good job.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Senator Bob Graham : Demand that legislators stop serving the whims of special interests.

The internet has given voice to virtually anyone with a computer and an itch to say whatever might be on his or her mind, and clearly, a lot of us, me included, take advantage of the opportunity regardless of our credentials.  It is becoming so common that hearing the truly legitimate voices amidst all the clatter and fog is getting more and more difficult.  So, when someone who is truly qualified, credentialed and universally respected speaks out, it’s important we pause and take the time to listen.

Former Florida Governor and U. S. Senator Bob Graham is just such a voice.

Bob Graham was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1966 and reelected in 1968. He was elected to the Florida State Senate in 1970 and reelected in 1972 and 1976.
In 1978, he was elected the 38th Governor of Florida and served from 1979 to 1987.  He served as Florida’s United States Senator from 1987 to 2005. At retirement in 2003, he had served 38 consecutive years in public office.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about his career: 
Graham emphasized education, and placed a focus on improvement of the public universities in the state. By the end of his second term the state university system was among the first quartile of state systems in America, and its public schools and community colleges had substantially improved their academic standing.
In addition, Graham's administration focused on economic diversification and environmental policies. During his tenure as Governor, the state added 1.2 million jobs, and for the first time in state history the per capita income of Floridians exceeded the US average. For three of his eight years Florida was rated by the accounting firm Grant Thornton as having the best business climate of all states in the union.
Graham also launched the most extensive environmental protection program in the state's history, focused on preserving endangered lands. During his tenure thousands of acres of threatened and environmentally important lands were brought into state ownership for permanent protection. His keystone accomplishment was the establishment of the Save the Everglades program, which has now been joined by the federal government in a commitment to restore the Everglades.
Graham left the Governorship with an 83% approval rating.
Last Tuesday, the South Florida Sun Sentinel published a letter by Senator Graham that all of us should read if we have any concern for the future of Florida in any respect.  If you decide not to read his letter because he is a lifelong Democrat, it is probably safe to suggest you might just be part of the problem because partisan politics has become the fundamental cause of most of our problems today, from D.C to Tallahassee.  His message should be viewed absent of party interests, either Democrat or Republican.  Forget about party politics for just a moment and consider what the Senator has to say.  His letter is printed below, in full, with his permission.
Former Governor and
US Senator from Florida
Bob Graham
 The Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC) was founded after the devastating legislative session of 2011 which rolled back 40 years of bi-partisan environmental stewardship. Since the 1970’s Florida’s Governors and Legislators, Democrats and Republicans, have believed in the importance of protecting Florida’s land and water, and understood the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.  As history shows, this period of stewardship produced some of the best economic years Florida has ever had while improving natural resource management and land conversation. During the mid-1980’s Florida was using a deep tool box, in collaboration with private sector and local government, to manage Florida’s growth. At the same time, Florida was adding jobs at a rate of over 150,000 per year.  And these were quality jobs; for the first time in the state’s history, Floridian’s per capita income exceeded that of other Americans.
Since 2011 that legacy of stewardship has been replaced by the false mantra “environmental protection hurts the private sector”.  Now, pro-environmental legislation is dead on arrival, and virtually every anti-regulation bill considered is drafted by special interest industry lawyers and handed off to willing Senators and Representatives.  Florida’s conservation groups, not given an equal seat at the table when legislation is being crafted or considered, must fight back bad bills and amendments to hold on to what is left of our environmental legacy.
Jimmy Petronis
Sponsor of the
"... the worst bill
of the session"
            This year, we were faced with the best example yet of this system run amok.   The worst bill of the session, House Bill 999 and Senate Bill 1684, was blithely described by House Sponsor Jimmy Patronis as “a Christmas Tree” for those private interests who approached him with their special requests.  A 40-page bill, drafted by industry lobbyists, with more than two dozen sections weakening or eliminating environmental protections.
At one point or another, these bills contained language that would prevent local governments from protecting their waters from fertilizers producing algae and killing off native plants and wildlife; restrict the ability of the state to protect wetlands; preempt local governments from protecting critical wetlands; and take Florida a step closer to the privatization of our water resources.
I, and other FCC leaders, worked on this legislation for weeks and went to the Capitol to speak up for those who believe in protecting Florida’s environment for the health, prosperity, and enjoyment of ourselves and our children.  Thanks to the thousands of calls and emails from across the state, excellent coverage by Florida’s newspapers, and the wisdom of some important Senators, all of the provisions above were removed from the toxic train before it passed on the final day of legislative session.
Unfortunately, even with all these improvements, there is nothing in the bill that serves the public interest.  Perhaps the worst provision remaining in the final bill, annihilates the legal rights of a citizen or group to challenge the controversial 30 year no-bid leases granted by the Governor and Cabinet to two sugar companies in the Everglades Agricultural Area. For those who support consistent and meaningful environmental policy in this state, HB 999 is still a bad bill; bad politics and bad policy. Legislation like this does nothing to find solutions to the problems facing our state, economic or environmental.
There were some “victories” this session. Two bills proposed early in the session, Senate Bills 584 and 466, attacked public land conservation, our state’s most effective tool for protecting ecosystems, natural resources, and wildlife. Each of these bills died in committee following public opposition.
Other limited victories include a $10 million down payment towards the estimated over $100 million cost of repairing Wekiva, Silver, and scores of other imperiled Florida springs. Everglades restoration received a $70 million allocation. Funding for Florida Forever, although greater than recent years, is still dramatically below the $300,000,000 historically spent by the state on land conservation.  Most of the Florida Forever funding is not likely to become available as it is dependent on the sale of other public lands.
We should all be proud of the great work done by Florida’s conservation groups and concerned citizens this session, but Florida cannot take another special-interest serving legislative session.  We must start promoting legislation that strengthens environmental protection and fully funds land conservation and spring and river restoration.
Already, the response from the people of Florida and subsequent defeat of many of the most environmentally damaging special interest giveaways and legislation this year has sent a message our leaders in Tallahassee. Conservation groups are working well together on priority issues.  Next year we must demand that legislators stop serving the whims of special interests, and focus on their responsibilities to our, and future, generations of Floridians.
Senator Bob Graham