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Missy Layfield - Editor

All About The Money

Our Town has been awash in the elevated pool controversy for well over a year now. There have been letters and opinion pieces in this newspaper, phone calls, emails and letters to Town officials. Town Council meetings have given hours of public comment time to residents to voice their opinions and concerns. The Local Planning Agency has weighed in and produced an elevated pool policy. False rumors of bribery led to our Town spending taxpayer money to investigate the rumored accusation. The Town lost several professional staff members, including a Town Manager, Director of Community Development and a Zoning Coordinator during this year of controversy.

All over a pool built too close to a seawall with a valid permit approved by staff after consultation with the Town’s attorney determined that there was nothing in the Land Development Code that prohibited it. Our LDC was too murky to prohibit it outright. Council actions since have set a precedent on how they interpret the LDC. And they’ve taken initial steps to begin to clear up the murkiness that haunts our LDC. But what is clear now, was not when permits were issued. I know not everyone agrees on that issue and that’s fine.

What’s not so fine is how a small group of residents have essentially taken up residence in Town Hall, repetitively demanding answers and private meetings, taking untold hours of staff time and making threats of legal action if they don’t get their way. That way being the tearing down of the elevated pool.

But when that was agreed upon in a settlement agreement with the developer, that wasn’t enough. The barrage of demands continued. It seemed as though nothing would satisfy the neighbors, not even the tearing down of the pool.

And then came the first whiff of what at least one resident wanted. Cash. Instead of paying the plaintiffs the $250,000, he would like the Town to pay him and a few neighbors. Wow.

So their loss of view, their concern about LDC variances and setbacks, the angst of the battle to preserve their quality of life -- all of it could be washed away with a little cash.

And if the Town and developer won’t agree to hand over the cash, then the neighbors will sue.

Whether the disputed open balcony is 3 or 5 feet too close to the seawall for the neighbors liking, it’s hard to imagine that miniscule loss of view for neighbors across a canal is worth much. But it seems some residents may be willing to invest in legal fees to try to prove it is and use up even more of our tax money.

A line from an old Eagles song seems appropriate in this situation.

"…you might feel better if I gave you some cash”

And the title even more so, "Get Over It”

Fair Districts

The news of last week’s Leon County verdict striking down Florida’s Congressional maps came as news to just about nobody except those in the Legislature.

Prior to the Fair District Amendment, the majority in the Legislature could draw district boundaries just about any way they wanted. And they did. Incumbents rarely lost an election. District boundaries looked more like Rorschach ink blots than a logical district map. Voters grew tired of it all and the Fair Districts Amendments were born.

Amendments 5 & 6-the Fair Districts Amendments require lawmakers to draw legislative and congressional districts that are contiguous, compact, respect city and county boundaries and don't favor an incumbent or political party. They passed with 63% approval in November 2010.

But the voice of voters was not enough for the leaders of the Florida Legislature and Governor. It’s been a fight from the start to have the letter of amendment’s provisions respected, much less the spirit.

Multiple legal challenges resulted in two of the three redistricting maps winding up before the Florida Supreme Court. Both of them were found lacking in compliance with the Florida Constitution, specifically the Fair District Amendments. But not before they argued that legislators and their staff could not be compelled to testify. We also learned that a redistricting consultant, a good friend of Senate President Don Gaetz, was paid $10,000 per month by the Republican Party of Florida, while Gaetz was overseeing the redistricting process. Lawmakers deleted records relating to the redrawing of the maps and held secret meetings.

The cost to taxpayers for the Legislature to fight the will of the people? Over $2.5 million and counting.

The judge ruled that the congressional district map, specifically districts 5 and 10, were unconstitutional and must be redrawn. Thankfully Legislative leaders have said they will not appeal, taking a no-harm, no-foul approach hinting that they were just trying to follow the Voting Rights Act-that’s why those districts are drawn as they are.

All in all, Florida voters have learned much from the aftermath of the Fair Districts Amendments passage. Most of it ugly and not complementary to our Legislature that has fought it every step of the way, spending taxpayers money to defend their efforts to work around the public’s demand for Fair Districts.

While Florida Legislative leaders seem pleased that eight other district lines were not found to be unconstitutional, they should be ashamed for their persistent efforts to thwart the will of Florida voters. And for using millions of taxpayer funds to fuel their ill advised fight.

Missy Layfield