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Lots of Peel but Little Banana in County's Annual Report


BRADENTON -- At Tuesday's BOCC meeting, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker delivered the county's 2013 Annual Report. But what was to be an assessment of what condition our condition is in, turned out to be a ballyhoo of accolades saluting fellow officials for a job well done. That praise often seemed to be a highly-controversial notion.

At a time when public trust is at an all-time low, with residents feeling marginalized by local, state and federal governments, Hunzeker might have taken a different approach. 

The county administrator's cuddling-up to his bosses via contorted descriptions of county business in the year past may please his conspirators, but certainly not the growing number of county residents who are feeling disenfranchised, left out and even used.

Hunzeker started the pampering by boasting that the county's "unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in December, down from 7.9 percent one year ago."

It's been well-established that unemployment rates throughout the country have been falling because of expiring benefits and frustrated job seekers falling out of the hunt. In Florida, which has been in a see-saw battle with Texas for the state with the stingiest and most difficult to access unemployment benefits, this is particularly true, especially given the shameful failure of our state's unemployment insurance benefit enrollment website. 

Like other places in Florida, thousands of workers in Manatee County have given up looking for a job that would replace the one they lost; and are not included in the 5.8 percent figure. Many have been forced to use their savings and now perform side jobs and/or something part-time for a fraction of the amount they used to be paid. Anyone who works with the homeless will also tell you that they have seen more and more people fall from the bottom of the economic rung to this even less fortunate station in recent years. Again, these are often nameless faces who escape the data we celebrate.

Certainly some discomfort must arise when Hunzeker or anyone else intently projects an assessment that ignores compromising factors, and I don't know if any of our elected officials could afford such narrow vision, considering the high number of low-wage earners who are minorities. Their unemployment numbers are disproportionately higher, though their plight too is rarely mentioned in these glowing assessments.

Instead, we hear of victory after victory -- even ones that have yet to happen. Hunzeker said, "It was you (speaking to the commission) who approved nearly $437,000 in economic development incentives last year to help create 337 new quality jobs in Manatee County over the next five years. Since launching in 2009, your economic development incentive package has helped 60 businesses expand or relocate here, and that will mean nearly 3,500 new or retained jobs proposed through 2021."

Seriously, 2021? That's a long way off and who's going to make sure that those promises are kept after the incentives have been doled out and the ribbons been cut? From now through 2015, the county is slated to approve another $2.5 million in incentives, and is currently looking for more to add to the list.

There is much to doubt surrounding many of the other assertions Hunzeker made in his report, like "recycling 40 percent of household waste in 2013."

County residents might take that statement to believe that nearly half of the waste that gets picked up, sooner or later becomes part of something else through recycling efforts. However, that 40 percent number comes from evaluations indexed to recycling credits that are connected to dozens of programs; a virtual web of convolution. Nobody better bet their paycheck on this one actually representing a reality that bares truth to the statement.

Hunzeker also cited "No Kill." We don't want to open that can of worms. The No Kill logo has been taken off of the buildings, the trucks and bumper stickers; removed, because of the lack of planning, sustainability and funding for the project. 

That defeat didn't stop Commissioner Whitmore from parading the effort as a success; a blue-ribbon done deal. When Whitmore and others routinely accepted the praise and proclamations delivered by other county representatives whose aspirations were to become No Kill, again, mention of the program's impending or realized failure was absent. 

Many citizens of Manatee County want their county roads and sewers fixed, rather than stressed by the praised news of residential building permits having increased 54 percent, another victory that Hunzeker lauded.  

I have yet to find one county official who can say just what amount of impact fees it would take to actually cover the true cost of a 600-unit development, though many acknowledged they didn't have a clue, and all agreed that it was not enough. Study after study, shows us that growth does not pay for itself, yet every time we squeeze more units into each acre of new development, we clap our hands for a job well done. 

What Hunzeker didn't say was anything about sustainability, a word quickly becoming synonymous with the future. He didn't mention any effects that might be driven by climate change, nor did he speak of the giant sleeping tax base of more than 10,000 business and residential properties which sit vacant. 

Hunzeker didn't mention the roughly 1,200 children attending county schools, while living with a parent in their family car, a shelter, a flop-house, a condemned trailer, someone's floor, or even on the street. To hear the county administrator's report, one would think that all is rosy in Manatee County -- a booming community where citizens flourish.

That's in line with what you'll hear at most commission meetings as they dole out incentives to businesses, grant amendments to developers and revel in all of the "economic impact" that's promised to follow. Such enthusiasm, however, remains suspiciously absent every time a worthy program comes before the board to tell them how much their shrinking budgets are impacting their work. Those are the only instances when we seem to hear about the battered budgets and falling revenues and other woes that are suddenly present "in these difficult economic times."

Politicians and bureaucratic officials are good at patting each other on the back because one hand often washes the other. Indeed, it was the very board Hunzeker was praising that had bestowed a lucrative, taxpayer-funded raise on him earlier this year, and it has been those like-minded members who have received the greatest support to remain in elected office. It's a tight and lucrative circle for the few who are in a position to jump on in.

There is a quote that the late President John F. Kennedy once repeated and often gets credit for, but it belongs to Galeazzo Ciano, the Count of Cortellazzo. He was Mussolini's Foreign Minister and also his son-in-law.

"Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.

That 75 year-old quote hasn't lost any of its wallop.


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