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.
(See the full release HERE)
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.