Friday, May 29, 2015

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but--------- says former SWFWMD Director, Gary Kuhl

My memory is not what it was a few years back. But does ANYONE ever remember 75% of the voters in Florida agreeing on anything. And yet they did, about six months ago on what would seem a “no brainer” idea to strongly support. It was Amendment 1. It began through the petition process and was on the ballot in November 2014. Its purpose is to use a portion of State real estate transaction fees to fund Florida land and water conservation efforts. It pinpointed funding for acquisition of those few remaining lands in Florida important in preserving our water and natural resources. No new taxes are involved.
Gary Kuhl
Former SWFWMD Director
Former Hernando County Administrator
Former Citrus County Administrator
Wildlife Photographer
 Amendment 1 was an idea initially embraced by hundreds of Floridians willing to spend their time and money to promote preserving some of “old” Florida and her natural resources. And then 4.2 million Floridians voted for it.
Golly day, our own governor only received 49% of the vote. This idea and this amendment were clearly not partisan----not Democratic, not Republican, not Tea Party, not Libertarian, not conservative, not liberal and not “extremist”. The people who voted for this amendment were from all across the spectrum. And it is because most people recognize the common sense value of protecting vital lands and water resources to insure Florida’s long term economy and well-being.
Not everyone finds interest nor sees the beauty of Florida’s springs, lakes, rivers, wetlands and white sandy beaches. Nor do some seem to mind actually watching the degradation of these wonders before their very own eyes. We all know our governor and some of our legislators seem pleased to announce that they are not scientists. But yes the data is there, and it is very easy to see the downfall of Indian River Lagoon, the St. John’s River, Silver Springs, Apalachicola Bay and Lake Okeechobee, to name a few, without benefit of scientists or data.
Take a look at photographs of Indian River Lagoon, many of our springs, lakes and rivers before our collective impact.   And now today take a hard look at these waters after years of dumping fertilizer, pesticides, untreated storm water runoff, sewage and animal waste into our surface and groundwater. A kid with a third grade education can see the changes---and they are not good.
Tri-Colored Heron
Kissimmee, Florida
2014-04-24 (351)
So if you don’t care about the beauty of these world class places and natural resources in Florida, do you care about where your drinking water will come from and how much it will cost? How about our economy—do you think people will continue to come to Florida to see dead wildlife floating in Indian River Lagoon, or nasty, noxious algae growing in our springs, lakes and rivers? Will they come to see cattle grazing in our State Parks?
So why would Florida’s Republican controlled legislature not receive, with open arms, a positive funding source requiring no new taxes, to protect Florida’s natural treasures?! I mean they are elected by the people aren’t they? There are likely several reasons.
1)      Many of our legislators hang out with folks who own or manage large sugar and agricultural interests in south Florida. This seems to be a big reason for rejection of some projects that could have a positive impact on Florida’s long term water supply. Trips to King Ranch to hunt deer courtesy of “Big Sugar”, followed by huge campaign donations to key elected State officials and the Republican AND Democratic parties, apparently are enough to influence votes. And then there are those helicopter rides by Alico, an agricultural company, to convince legislators to spend over a hundred million dollars for “water farms” on their properties. Large campaign contributions to key legislators followed the ride. Would someone please do a PhD dissertation comparing voting records of individual legislators to campaign donation sources?

2)      Then there are those in the legislature who apparently so resent 4.2 million voters who, gosh can you believe this, know more about Florida’s future water needs than they do. Not only are they willing to do nothing but they are very willing to divert monies intended by Amendment 1 for land acquisition, to funding current State staff salaries and operations. This then frees up “regular” State funds for their pet projects. This is a crock of you know what.  And it just further shows the arrogance of many state elected officials that choose to poke a finger in the eyes of millions of their constituents.

3)      One of the most talked about potential land purchases through Amendment 1 was negotiated by former Governor Crist with large sugar interests near Lake Okeechobee. A portion of this 46,000+ acre parcel was thought to provide some significant solutions for treating polluted waters prior to damaging discharges into major rivers in the area and ultimately, estuaries on both Florida coasts. Can you picture anything proposed by Crist to be pursued by a Republican controlled governor’s office and legislature? I mean that darn Crist decided Republicans were not his cup of tea. Can you believe he publicly shook hands with our current President? Of course the Governor Scott appointed South Florida Water Management District Governing Board says this idea will not work despite studies from the University of Florida that say otherwise. Oh and then there is that huge development now planned by the sugar folks to be constructed on a portion of the same land parcel. Hmmmm.
This State is totally controlled by the Republican Party. What an opportunity to do good things for our State and its people with, you would think, one party in control to set the agenda and then make it happen. All that can be seen right now in this State is a total lack of leadership, an agenda that further adds to many of our problems and very few solutions even under consideration. Will this group come together in the Special Legislative Session beginning June 1 or will it be more “big money talks” politics? Will our legislators do good things for our State, home of many world class springs, rivers, beaches, estuaries, wetlands and lakes--------or not?  It’s time to put what’s right on the table and then get it done.
Respectfully submitted: Gary Kuhl, May 21, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Removal of SWFWMD HQ from Brooksville to Tampa - a waste and a scheme

The Hernando County Board of County Commissioners will be considering a Resolution at its meeting this coming Tuesday asking the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District to reconsider its intent to move the headquarters of SWFWMD from Hernando County to Tampa as its staff has recommended. 

This is an extremely important matter for Hernando County and all the counties in the northern area of SWFWMD including Levy, Marion, Sumter, Citrus and Pasco, as well as the City of Brooksville. 

I hope you will consider attending this meeting and show support for your commissioners and the adoption of the resolution.  The meeting will be at 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, May 26, County Courthouse Brooksville, in the Hernando County Commission meeting room.

B a c k g r o u n d

SWFWMD started reducing staff several years ago in response to the Recession.  Without reference to the extent or manner by which the District carried out the reduction, everyone generally agrees the economy was down and a thoughtful reduction of at least some regulatory and legal staff was appropriate to reflect the reduced economic activity.

At the same time SWFWMD apparently began efforts to develop a long-term business plan that would attempt to determine “where the district was going” and how it would get there.  Meanwhile, the Governing Board also began relocating staff to Tampa in the interest of “greater efficiency” and without saying there was any underlying intent to move the headquarters of the District to Tampa, until Friday a week ago.  

On that date, May 15, 2015, at 1:22 p.m., the Executive Director of the District, Robert Beltran, issued an email to all district staff via “Internal Communications” saying,  

“I wanted to let you know that based on the findings of the District’s Business Plan, there is a presentation and resolution on Tuesday’s Governing Board agenda recommending that the Tampa Service Office be designated the District headquarters or principal office.” 

No public notice

There was no public notice this was going to happen.  In fact, the Resolution was not shown on the agenda.  Nor was it announced anywhere publically that it was going to be recommended to the Governing Board.  Neither the resolution nor any reference to it could be found within the 260-page packet of informational materials accompanying the Agenda. It became known only because an anonymous staff member who received Beltran’s email forwarded it to a non-staff member who then forwarded it to me.

Because it was done so surreptitiously, it appears the purpose was to prevent those who will be most affected by the move from learning about it and having an opportunity to let their positions be known; or, it was mistake so egregious that it now demands the entire matter of relocating major district services and operations to Tampa should be abandoned and the completed relocations reversed.

Hernando County’s Legislative Delegation steps up

Senator Simpson appeared before the Governing Board that Tuesday to voice his position firmly against the move, face to face with the Board members; and Representative Blaise Ingoglia registered his opposition to the district’s proposed action in a media release jointly issued by Senator Simpson and the Representative. 

The real plan

The district’s orchestrated response, repeated over and again by board members and staff, is that there are no immediate plans to move existing staff from the Brooksville location and, thus, they reasoned to Senator Simpson, Hernando County and City of Brooksville representatives who also attended the meeting, there will be no economic impact.  Both staff and District Governing Board members disingenuously and conveniently never mentioned the impacts already caused by relocating to Tampa the hundreds of management and technical service positions once housed at the headquarters building in Hernando County, including: Well Construction permitting staff; Environmental Resource permitting staff; Water Use permitting staff; Regulation Production And Administration staff; Executive, Administrative and Support staff; Field Compliance staff, and; Legal staff

It was an intentional deflection meant to mislead.  However, by implying accurately that there would be no economic loss because there would be no further reduction in current payroll levels, the claim was also a de facto admission that significant economic damage is occurring and will continue to occur as a result of the hundreds of employees already removed to Tampa. 

This appears to have been the strategy all along.  Make the moves slowly over a period of time and justify them as being in the interest of greater efficiency during a global recession.  Then make the claim once completed that it only makes sense to designate the Tampa field office as district headquarters because most of the staff and operations are already there. 

SWFWMD’s justification

1.     Tampa is most Centrally located site
a.     Better access for public and Governing Board

Comment – It appears the real reason for the move is to provide easier access for Board members to get to meetings.  Over the years, the district has constructed three major offices: Brooksville, Tampa and Sarasota. Each of these buildings were designed to accommodate meetings so the Governing and formerly existing local Basin Boards could meet and engage the local citizenry; the basin boards of that area would always hold their regular and special meetings in the closest office; and the Governing Board could meet in any of them from time to time as gestures of good will to move government and its decisions closer to the affected public. The district covers some 10,000 square miles. It is not good will to indicate the Governing Board will always meet in Tampa because it’s convenient for Board members.  Any location for million dollar public facilities is not for the convenience of Board members.  It is for the convenience of the public.  Board members are temporary.  The public and the facilities built to deliver services to them are permanent. 

2.     Site for Governing Board meetings

Comment – Yes, this is true.  The building was originally built so it could be used regularly by the several basin boards of the Tampa bay area and the Governing board from time to time.  It can and should continue to be used by the Governing Board perhaps on a rotating basis with the Sarasota and Brooksville offices. There is no justification, however, for consolidating staff in Tampa when a multimillion dollar facility designed and built to house them already exists in Brooksville.  The moves to Tampa that seem almost whimsical have likely consumed most if not all the available space there which was never intended to accommodate headquarters staffing levels.  Remember, the relocations that have occurred happened during a time when the staff was reduced by 40%, according to Paul Sentf former SWFWMD chairman.  If most space is taken now at that level, once the economy becomes reenergized the District will need to begin hiring again - that is if it intends to return to carrying out its statutory duties - and then the “need” will be to build another bigger and better but duplicative District headquarters in Tampa.  This is practically an unavoidable, terribly wasteful and ill-advised scenario if the headquarters staff isn’t moved back to the building intended for them in Hernando County. 

3.     Consolidations have already occurred
a.     No immediate plans to move additional staff

Comment – This is hardly comforting in light of the damage already done to the residents of Hernando County, its sister counties north of Tampa Bay, and the City of Brooksville.  It is also a disingenuous claim in light of the relocations already perpetrated which are causing and will continue to cause compounding economic losses to the area for years to come.  It will not be a one-time loss. 

4.     Tampa is fastest growing area

Comment – The fastest growing area doesn’t mean the only growing area.  A rising economy will lift all boats.  There will be an increasing need for effective and responsive resource regulation and management from Marion and Levy counties on the north, to Charlotte and Sarasota Counties on the south of SWFWMD.  Resource management and regulation is not necessarily needed most in the “fastest growing” area.  There are huge problems to be resolved throughout the district that will require the District’s concentrated attention.  In fact, there seems to be little relationship to the Tampa area perhaps being the fastest growing and the argument that the district’s headquarters should, therefore, be located there.  Agricultural interests will necessarily be concerned that the focus of the district is now, as former chair Senft put it, on the “bright lights of the big city.” 

5.     Largest educated labor pool
Comment – This point should actually be offensive to all the counties not considered part of the “educated labor pool” to which it mysteriously refers.  It also ignores the fact that good, steady, important jobs that pay reasonably well, combined with reasonable benefits and a reasonable retirement program, will always be able to attract talented employees to do complicated tasks.  It also reflects a serious lack of knowledge of actual SWFWMD experience during a number of very serious economic ups and downs.  It is not location near a university that brings qualified candidates.  It is a host of other factors.  During good economic times, for example, when technical consulting businesses are flourishing and professional salaries are higher than those a government organization can pay, higher qualified candidates will be more difficult to attract.  When opposite conditions exist and consulting opportunities are on a down turn, better qualified candidates gravitate to government jobs that are less affected by temporary economic conditions and provide steady income with much greater reliability for their families.  Highly technical positions will not be filled by new university graduates and new university graduates can be easily attracted to good job opportunities no matter the location.  

6.     No reduction in quality of services
Comment – Not sure what the point is here. There would certainly be no reduction of services caused by the District headquarters remaining in Brooksville.  There must be concern that loss of services was a possibility by being located in Tampa.  For over 50 years there has never been an issue with delivery of services caused by the District headquarters being in Brooksville.  In fact, as offered by James Kimbrough of SunTrust Bank at the Tuesday meeting, in many cases it has been an advantage by offering neutral ground for powerful urban governments to meet and resolve expensive legal battles over resource related issues.  The so-called Tampa Bay Water Wars, which was, in fact, a decades-long series of historic, precedent-setting legal battles, is a prime example. 

7.     Majority of the district staff will be retiring over the next ten years
This is a red herring argument.  While the statement may be true, the fact is no additional hiring will take place until vacancies actually occur.  When there is an important vacancy, the recruitment process will typically be nationwide, not up and down Tampa’s Fowler Avenue.  Filling vacancies will be easy or difficult in each case as it always has been, depending upon the level of expertise required, the economy, and the nation-wide availability of that particular expertise.  Actually, many of these vacancies will likely have nothing to do with STEM positions and simply represent normal turnover that might be expected within an agency over such a long time frame.  Consider that the district just fired some 40% of its workforce.  Now it is suggesting there will be a problem filling vacancies in five or ten years so it’ll have to move the headquarters to Tampa!  Nonsense.

This whole exercise of moving the majority of District staff from an existing multi-million dollar state of the art facility in Brooksville to Tampa will ultimately prove to be a monumental waste of time, energy and public dollars if allowed to proceed.  It has been handled unprofessionally and purposefully out of the public eye.   The arguments used to justify the move are weak and appear politically contrived.  The legislature, the county commissioners of all the northern counties of the district, and the public should be outraged.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

SWFWMD Governing Board members give Hernando BOCC and City of Brooksville 60-day reprieve

SWFWMD gives 60 day reprieve from moving SWFWMD from Brooksville to Tampa, but minds are clearly made up. 
Board members cynically claim there will be no further economic impact upon Hernando County and the City of Brooksville without pointing out that it's because most personnel have already been relocated and the damage already done.  
Hernando's bowing its neck.  Says impact will be harmful and long-lasting just as the county struggles to recover from the Recession. 
Senator Simpson says he is against the move.  He objects, telling governing board members SWFWMD needs to give the legislative process a chance to work.  Implication is, if not, there may be legislative consequences.  In a news release, Both Senator Simpson and Representative Blaise Ingoglia have registered their objections to SWFWMD's governing board action. 

Watch the discussion on YouTube  HERE.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Scott yanks SWFWMD Headquarters from Hernando County

Hernando County should be real proud of the fact that after 53 years as the designated headquarters of the 16-county Southwest Florida Water Management District, Rick Scott has decided the District’s head office should be moved from Hernando’s regional airport to Tampa. Brooksville’s historic patriarch, Alfred McKethan - the fellow responsible for it being located here in the first place when the district was formed in 1961 - is probably seething (may he rest in peace).   

While the move has been in the tea leaves for anyone concerned to see, it is still a jolt.  Or, is it?  Knowing what I knew then, I asked former County Commissioner Dave Russell a few years ago if he knew about what was happening and if there was concern that a very significant employee base was about to be taken away from Hernando County (based on Scott’s slingblading of district staff and basin boards) and the response was basically no response.  As if to say, who cares? 

This current and actual turn of events revealed late Friday afternoon in the email below to all district employees from district staffer Robert Beltran raises several questions. 
For one, I wonder what role Blaise Ingoglia’s little skirmish with Scott over the Republican State Committee chairmanship played in this embarrassment for Hernando County, Ingoglia’s home county.  Ingoglia is our state House member as well as the state Republican Committee Chairman.  You’ll recall how he unceremoniously yanked that appointment away from Scott’s favored son a few months back and assumed the mantel himself, much to the embarrassment of State CEO Scott.  Such quid pro quo, screw me and I’ll screw you, mentality is common in Tallahassee, where ethics are as ephemeral as flatulence in a windstorm and foul play is fundamental human behavior.  Though it will surely be denied, it would not surprise me one wit.  Our boy Blaise, under any circumstance, should be red-faced PO’ed. 
Blaise, was this on your radar?  Where are you? 

I wonder if Senator Wilton Simpson, Hernando’s fair-haired rising star of the Florida Senate was aware this was going to happen, and did he bless this diss of one of his most important district counties?  If he did … wow!  Says how important he believes his political future depends upon being on the in with the folks in Tallahassee and that his constituents back home can go pound sand.  Hopefully, on the other hand, if he did not know, he will start raising sand instead, and lots of it, QUICKLY! 

Wilton, say it isn’t so! 
With all the talk by the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and County Commissioners about Hernando’s lagging economy and the need to bring in new blood (jobs and money), I wonder how indignant the Chamber and the Commissioners are going to be when they learn one of the more significant payrolls in the County is leaving for Tampa.  Don’t be misled by Beltran’s attempt to deflect the reality by saying there will be no staff reductions here.  He can say that because it has already happened right in front of the Commission’s noses over the last three years and without a peep from the Chamber.  Additionally, his email is glaringly contradictory.  On the one hand he suggests the employment base is in Tampa and that’s a main reason to move the district there, while on the other he claims doing so will not impact staff numbers here.  If there’s no impact, why do it if not just to stick it to Hernando County/
Is this local reaction a ploy by the Republican Party in Hernando?  To bow low and say nothing in order to not appear disloyal to Tallahassee and spotlight the mounting incompetence of Rick Scott and the potential collusion of our two state legislators whose sights may be beyond any loyalty to Hernando County?  Everyone in the County should be outraged that this is happening, especially the County Commissioners, the county’s legislative delegation and the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.  Will they not now say something?  Anything?
So far, the silence is deafening.  Guess all us unqualified and unavailable Hernando County country yayhoos should all just go pound sand.



Subject: FW: Message from the Executive Director: Resolution Designating the Tampa Office as the District Headquarters

From: Internal Communications
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2015 1:22 PM
To: All_Users
Subject: Message from the Executive Director: Resolution Designating the Tampa Office as the District Headquarters

Dear Staff, 

I wanted to let you know that based on the findings in the District’s Business Plan, there is a presentation and resolution on Tuesday’s Governing Board agenda recommending that the Tampa Service Office be designated the District’s headquarters or principal office 

The Business Plan, which was developed by staff, has identified an immediate need to begin planning for staff succession and recruitment to ensure our future success.  This is due to retirements and potential turnover within the next 10 years. As you are already aware, the District has consolidated Regulation and Legal staff in Tampa. Most of the Governing Board meetings and all of the Advisory Committee meetings take place in Tampa. One of the main reasons for this is that the Tampa Office is the most centrally located District office, and provides better operational efficiencies and accessibility to our customers. Looking to the future, the Tampa Bay region has the largest labor pool and a highly educated labor force to recruit from. 

The District is not anticipating closing any offices and there are no immediate plans to move additional staff to Tampa. In addition, there will be no changes to the level of service provided to any of the District’s regions. 

In fact, most staff and external stakeholders won’t notice any differences as a result of this change. If you have additional questions or concerns, please discuss them with your manager or bureau chief. 

Robert R. Beltran, P.E., BCEE
Executive Director
Phone: (352) 796-7211, ext. 4605
Fax: (352) 754-6874



Friday, May 15, 2015



South Florida water managers kill deal to buy U.S. Sugar farmland

Scott's actions convoluted, not convincing - Paula Dockery - League of women voters

Ocala Star Banner Editorial: Purge politics
Gainesville Sun Editorial: Political Purge
Miami Herald: Carl Hiaasen – Rick Scott no help in time of crisis
Tampa Tribune Editorial: Historic contempt for voters
WCTV Tallahassee: Groups angered over Florida’s proposed use of Conservation Money
Sun Sentinel Editorial: Water districts rejects buying sugar land for Everglades
Palm Beach Post: Algae bloom tests confirm presence of toxin in Lake Okeechobee
Lakeland Ledger:  Special Interests revisionist water history and the hijacking of Amendment 1
WLRN Miami:  Former Environmental Secretary Sees Lawmaker 'Hostility' Toward Land Acquisition
… the arrogance of Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature has no end.