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.
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
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
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
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
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.