Short of astronomers actually locating the center of the universe, it seems most Manatee County Commissioners will continue to believe that it lies at the center of their dais. There may have been a time when citizens were willing to give commissioners the benefit of the doubt when it came to their duty of protecting the people and property of Manatee County, but many citizens now feel commissioners are ineffective and far too comfortable living in their delusion of adequacy.
Could it be that BOCC members just don't get it? They may believe they were elected to represent the public because of their points of view, which would explain all of the rhetorical anecdotes that are so much a part of their routine, but commissioners should take note; it's not about you.
Their favorite subject: themselves; so, personalizing every item that goes before them at the dais insures members will further broadcast their self-serving tributes.
I'm a nurse, I'm a planner, I'm a small business owner; how many times can we hear this and the stories that follow? What you won't hear from our elected officials are apologies for their miscalculations in costs, inaccuracies in their predictions, and the interminable mistakes that have become policy.
It is often difficult to tell when members of the BOCC are lying to themselves to convince everyone else, or lying to everyone else to convince themselves. But rest assured, they only want the public to see and hear what they want them to believe.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Commissioners only speak of what they think are their successes, insomuch as to continually parade them again and again. The trouble is, the successes they're parroting in reality ranges from common debacles to catastrophic disasters; not triumphal achievements.
The "half-cent indigent health care sales tax" is just one example.
Some commissioners have praised the governor and state legislatures' decision to turn down $51 billion in Medicaid expansion for Floridians. Unfortunately, the board then asked residents to cough up $23 million through a half-cent sales tax to pay for indigent health care locally. It seems commissioners are dragging their politics into their duty, and at a great cost to county tax payers. But those 1.2 million Florida residents who will remain without healthcare will be the ones who pay the real price: living with unnecessary pain and suffering.
For commissioners to allow citizens to suffer when the means and remedy for their illness are available is blundering and inept at best. It may be time for some of them to quit their day job.
Commissioners continue to coax the public with cries, claiming that if we don't fall for their half-cent tax scheme, doctors will be flying out the door to other destinations. Not so. The number one place in the country to be a doctor is in Manatee and Sarasota County, according to a recent analysis of government data.
General practitioners in both counties are the highest paid in the U.S. (averaging $228,190 annually); according to The Business Journals and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These physicians also have access to a higher number of golf courses, and reside in an area where the cost of living is less than any of the others on the Top Ten list of best places to be a doctor. Commission Chairman Bustle again echoed that foolish statement about 'doctors leaving town' as recent as last week. The data contradicts his logic ... or lack thereof.
County taxpayers spent upward of $300,000 on last year's half-cent sales tax referendum, and then commissioners asked to spend $200,000 more on a study to show that the 61 percent of the population that turned down the referendum was wrong. How embarrassing.
Will pumping toxins into our aquifer save us?
At another BOCC work session, commissioners tried to convince the public to go forward with the $25 million deep-well injection project proposed by Manatee County's Utility Department. The well would pump a billion gallons of toxic gypsum stack water into the proposed well at the abandoned Piney Point phosphate mine facility. The highly-contaminated water would be pumped into an aquifer layer 800 feet below the one where our drinking water comes from.
All but two commissioners repetitively warned of a doomsday event if something didn't happen soon (like building the well). Commissioners Gallen and DiSabatino were not at all convinced the injection wells were a remedy to the Piney Point situation, but saw the wells as possibly creating an even larger problem.
Many of the citizens who opposed the project had concerns the wells would be used to dispose of other toxic material. Commissioners supporting the aquifer injection spoke adamantly against that notion and stated that it wouldn't happen.
Yet, last year, when the project was first introduced, toxic material disposal from manufacturing in Manatee County and other regional facilities was the principal reason that then Utilities Director Dan Gray proposed the project. The talk back then was only about making dollars from the wells by providing a service of disposal. Commissioners didn't express any concerns to the nightmare they reverberated over and over at Tuesday's work session.
Could it be that commissioners put the known dangers at Piney Point aside because when the injection-well project was first introduced they were in the process of approving additional phosphate mining, which obviously means additional gypsum stack water?
Piney Point has cost the county almost $200 million to date. $25 million more won't fix what could cost taxpayers another $100 million before the property -- which is the responsibility of DEP, not Manatee County -- is rid of contamination.
Another example of how the commission exploits their position whilst gaming the public's trust.
The commission votes to approve two or more developments a week, knowing the wherewithal it takes to live up to the county's obligation to bring roads and utilities to those projects are slowly bankrupting us. Impact fees are in fact a joke; commissioners and their staff admit they don't have a clue as to what the checks and balances are, nor can any of them explain just how they calculate the cost, or measure whether it's sufficient.
Consequently, in Manatee County, somewhere around 10,000 residential and commercial properties now sit vacant; not generating operational revenue, which leads to maintenance, neglect and blight. Within five square blocks of the administration building lie over a dozen vacated buildings. To listen to commissioners' every report, one would think we are all but the party away from a thriving economic status celebration.
They cut a lot of ribbons and approve a lot of incentive deals, which always come complete with some large number of promised jobs and pie-in-the-sky future "economic impact." To hear all of the surefire successes that are always to follow, one can only stand in utter disbelief when year after year, worthy programs are told, there's no room in the budget, followed by hemming and hawing about the way the economy is.
I have counted dozens upon dozens of broken sidewalks and mile after mile of pot-hole-dotted roads in just a small portion of the county, yet commissioners approve millions of dollars to buy right-a-ways for what will exceed the proposed $80 million 44th Avenue project that goes east to developments not yet built. Developers have commissioners paving the highways to their next fortune, knowing the board will have to neglect infrastructure maintenance and public safety.
At I-75 and University Parkway, commissioners propose a double-diamond intersection that is expected to cost another $100 million. For what? Could it be so that traffic doesn't stifle the 2017 International Rowing Championships at Benderson Park? That may benefit the surrounding businesses in Lakewood Ranch, but other taxpayers will have to pick up the bills.
Similar to the design of a Ponzi scheme, the commissioners seem to think that if they keep building (raising the numbers of property-taxed houses), the negatives (neglect to other responsibilities) will go away. And again, like a Ponzi scheme, by the time the costs from the ignored negatives dominate the purse, those who orchestrated the scheme are gone, cash in hand.
Ask commissioners where all of the dollars are coming from for these bigger-than-life projects. Commissioner Whitmore is always quick to point out when the board is not using "taxpayer money" because state and federal dollars are involved. How can federal and state grants be anything but taxpayer dollars?
The "No Kill" animal services program that Commissioner Whitmore took so much pride in was deficient from the start. Last year, emails were sent to both the board and County Administrator Ed Hunzeker alleging that the treatment animals were receiving at animal service extensions like the Napier Horse and Animal Sanctuary was criminally deficient.
Whitmore, who was the board's advocate for the program, met once with those reporting the cruelty, but Hunzeker rejected the invitation for a sit-down. The "No Kill" motorcycle runs and other fundraisers continued, as did the praise for the program (in Hunzeker's Annual Report, no less). The big downtown mural went up, and there were even efforts led by Commisioner Whitmore to host a "No Kill museum" on county property.
Nothing was done about the squalid conditions the animals were being kept in until law enforcement responded to calls and investigated. What was found was nothing short of shameful. With good reason, the county attorney officially lawyered-up the entire board right after the Sheriff's office announced possible charges.
Commissioner Benac is so quick to announce what the commission, and therefore the county, is obligated to perform as a duty for those who pay their salary. During the health care discussion workshop, Benac said, "We are not obligated to take care of the poor, pay their medical bills. Nowhere does the law state we have to do this."
Fitting to many of the swipe comments Benac makes, a reminder is again in order.
Over the last 10, 20 and 30 years, people moved to Manatee County, precisely because of the charm and the willingness to take care of our problems, our people and environment. Many moved here decades ago to raise their kids, invest in a home and walk streets that are safe. Sometimes a commissioner can get the letter of the law correct, while always missing the spirit of it. That's not leadership.
Sometimes, in the chambers, it feels like a one-trick-pony rodeo with each pushing their game. It 's time for some game-changers, commissioners. If you can't, then pull over and hand somebody else the keys.
I know you think you are saving us from ourselves, but who is going to save us from you?
Remember: It is not about you.