Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hernando County and City of Brooksville unite in opposition to SWFWMD’s Secret HQ move as word spreads

At a special meeting on Monday, June 22, 2015, the Brooksville City Council passed a Resolution offering a comprehensive response to SWFWMD’s proposed action to move the district’s headquarters from Hernando County where it had been located for over 50 years to Tampa. 
The next day in an extraordinary show of community collaboration, the same resolution was joined by the Hernando County Commission.  With a detailed refutation of the district’s attempts to keep its actions secret and countering the district’s questionable justification for its intentions, the resolution was unanimously supported by all members of the City Council and County Commission.
(See the full Resolution HERE)
The only way the county and city learned of the district’s secret move was by an “internal” email by the district executive director, Robert Beltran, to his staff on Friday afternoon (May 15).  In the memo, Beltran announced that a resolution was going to be on the board’s agenda the following Tuesday (May 19) which if approved would move the district’s HQ to Tampa effective immediately.  The email was ultimately forwarded to blog writer, Sonny Vergara, former SWFWMD Executive Director, who writes under the name of “Sandspur” and authors the blog SWFWMDmatters.  Vergara sent copies of the email, with commentary, to a state-wide list of email recipients as well as publishing it on his blog.
By the time of the governing board meeting on Tuesday May 19, the Hernando County Commission, the Brooksville City Council and Hernando’s legislative delegation were expressing strong opposition to the now obvious attempt to surreptitiously shift an important component of Hernando’s economy to Hillsborough County.  Hernando County delegation members, Senator Wilton Simpson and Representative Blaise Ingoglia, issued a joint news release saying:
 Simpson and Ingoglia Oppose SWFWMD Proposal
 "Rep. Ingoglia and I have been in contact with SWFWMD's leadership during the last few days and have made our position very clear," said Senator Simpson.    

"The Hernando Legislative Delegation is prepared to explore all available options if our constituents are being adversely affected by changes that will not serve the public interest," stated Rep. Ingoglia. 

Senator Simpson made a point to attend the meeting taking time out from the recent legislative Special Session underway in Tallahassee 200 miles away.  He spoke in opposition to the District’s proposed move.  Also making comments at the meeting were Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden, Brooksville City Council member Natalie Kahler and businessman James H. Kimbrough who rushed to the meeting to let board members know their concerns and opposition to the move.
(To see the Governing Board discussion about moving SWFWMD HQ now on YouTube, TAP HERE.  The discussion starts at 10 min. 15 sec. from the beginning.  Use the slider at the bottom of the video to fast forward).
The resolution directs copies be provided to all members of the Southwest Florida water Management District Governing Board, the Governor of the State of Florida, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, all members of the District’s Legislative Delegation and other delegations that may have interest in this matter, the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners, Lake County Board of County Commissioners, Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Sumter County Board of County Commissioners, Citrus County Board of County Commissioners and Levy County Board of County Commissioners, as well as Councils and Commissions of each of the Municipal City Governments located in those counties.
The district staff completed a study costing over $100,000 with the help of an outside consultant that they claim provides the bases for their recommendation to relocate the HQ to Tampa.  But many are suggesting such a move is so politically sensitive that it is unlikely the idea originated with Robert Beltran, the executive director, and more likely is coming from a board member, perhaps Chairman Michael Babb or high political campaign contributor, Carlos Beruff, with the blessing of Tallahassee, i.e., either DEP Secretary Jon Steverson or even the Governor’s office itself.  At this point, though, it appears all we are left to believe is that it’s by the hand of Robert Beltran alone, an engineer, and Chief of staff David Rathke, a former Tallahassee legislative operative.  Rathke is all too aware that Florida waters can be treacherous and many an ill-advised plan has sunk the boat of its helmsman.
The impact of the move, if it happens, could have far reaching ramifications.  Most of the districts’ headquarters are located in rural communities and have historically had ample agricultural representation on their governing boards.  The move to Tampa is being seen by many as a shift of SWFWMD’s focus away from regional water resource management to more urban-centric issues.  In a state where competition for the last drops of cheap water is high between growing urban centers and agriculture, any shift in focus one way or the other could have long term permanent implications.  Moving the district HQ’s to the big cities and counties would make it easier to effectuate a shift in that direction.  Sensitivities are on edge.  The stakes are huge.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"Florida lawmakers ignoring the clear message sent by voters" - Mark Woods

This letter is published with the permission of the author, Mark Woods, Metro columnist for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida, and winner of the Eugene C. Pullman Fellowship for Editorial Writing.  Woods expertly captures the growing frustration of voters who sent a clear message to Tallahassee last November with the overwhelming approval of Amendment 1, only to see that message being summarily, if not cynically, ignored.

Dear Florida lawmakers,

Florida voters made their wishes quite clear last November. Or so it seemed.

We have listened to quite a few of you talk about the importance of our drinking water, springs, beaches, wetlands and rivers. But we've come to realize that you often don't put your money — which is actually our money — where your mouth is.

Mark Woods
So after repeated cutting and gutting of funding for the protection and preservation of our water and land, Floridians took things into their own hands. Enough signatures were gathered to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment wouldn't raise taxes. For 20 years, it would take one third of revenue from generated from house and land sales — a small fraction of the overall state budget — and devote it to some of what kept getting cut.

Amendment 1 didn't just pass by the necessary 60 percent.

In an election when Floridians weren't exactly thrilled with a lot of what they saw on the ballot — starting with Rick Scott vs. Charlie Crist for governor — Amendment 1 passed in a rout. It was supported in red counties and blue counties, receiving 75 percent of the vote and winning by a larger margin than any statewide politician.

So what happened when all of you returned to Tallahassee for the next session?

With humility and respect for the people who sent you to Tallahassee, you started to build a budget by first taking the estimated $730 million in Amendment 1 money that will be collected in the next fiscal year and devoting it to Amendment 1 issues.

I am, of course, joking.

You and the governor have basically ignored the will of the voters and, by doing so, your oath to uphold the state Constitution.

Some of you walked out with three days left in the session. You are still haggling over the budget in a special session. And while much of the attention has been on health care and federal money, there still is the matter of what Floridians instructed you to do with some state money.

So far you have devoted only a small fraction of Amendment 1 money to its intended use. Yes, to a certain degree that use is open to some debate. But when you've gotten around to having this debate, it often has led to what Clay Henderson called "the Lottery two-step."

Henderson, an Orlando lawyer and former president of the Florida Audubon Society, helped write the amendment. He was referring to what your predecessors did with the Florida Lottery money. It was supposed to enhance education funding. Instead lawmakers diverted education money to other parts of the budget and replaced it with Lottery money. Now you're doing the same dance with Amendment 1.

This issue isn't a liberal or conservative one. When I went back and read some of what was written before the vote, one of the strongest pieces was an op-ed by Allison DeFoor.

DeFoor is a seventh-generation Floridian. He served in the administration of Jeb Bush as "Everglades Czar." He was a sheriff and circuit court judge in Monroe County. He was a Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 1990. In his op-ed that ran in newspapers around the state, he argued why conservatives should support Amendment 1.

"I am not a liberal, just a Florida cracker," he began. "That is why I am voting for Amendment 1."

He told people to think about the algae blooms on the St. Johns River, the choking of springs, the state of Indian River Lagoon, the restoration of Everglades. He talked about the economic value in our natural assets. And he talked about Floridians taking control of the future.

"We cannot count on others — including lawmakers — to do it for us," he wrote. "Funding in this area has fallen off the cliff in recent years. Over the 20 years of the life of this amendment, Florida’s population will grow to 30 million. We act now, or we act never."

We acted then. Now it's up to you, our elected leaders.

DeFoor recently moved to Northeast Florida. He has become one of the citizen members of the paper's editorial board. He's overseas now. But when I sent him an email, he responded quickly. He remains optimistic.

"Any 20-year venture will take a little bit to settle in, this one included," he wrote. "The voters spoke so strongly that I believe that it will correct any drift over time."

To illustrate just how strongly the voters spoke, he asked Florida's Water and Land Legacy to send me a breakdown of statewide voting. Included was a map. The areas where the amendment had 60 percent support were colored in shades of green. Nearly the entire map was green.

"The map says a lot," DeFoor wrote.

Yes, it does. Now the question is whether you, the politicians currently clustered in a dot representing our state capital, will actually listen to what it says.


(904) 359-4212


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Former Governor Bob Graham: If we fail the Everglades, we fail Florida's future