Brevard County: Of Signs, Ethics, Carrots And Sticks.

This past week the Brevard County Board of Commissioners voted to approve “legislative intent” for drafting an ordinance that would require businesses selling fertilizer to have signs placed at the display and at eye level The ordinance (which was presented in draft form) would:

…….require retailers of fertilizer to display signs that aid the consumer with ordinance compliance when purchasing fertilizer. The sign will describe: 1) what fertilizers comply with local ordinances adopted to reduce the harmful effects of inappropriate fertilizer use, and 2) when fertilizer application is allowed.

Retailers countywide would be required to install the signs where fertilizer is sold.

There is little or no doubt that fertilizer run-off hurts the Indian River lagoon. That’s a science based fact.

We have no issues with the Brevard County Commission trying to work with citizens and retailers in order to lessen and minimize run off. Generally speaking, we believe that people, store owners and retailers (big box) don’t want to harm the lagoon either. In other words, there is a strong desire for everyone to work on this together.

With such a strong desire from everyone, it is odd to us that the County is looking at taking a stick to businesses rather than leading with a “carrot” in that they want to mandate businesses put up signs concerning fertilizers:

Any business that sells fertilizer shall post a notice to consumers provided by the county stating that the use of lawn and landscape fertilizers everywhere in Brevard County is restricted by city or county fertilizer ordinances. Signs shall be posted at eye level attached to the shelving that holds lawn and landscape fertilizer. This notification requirement shall be applicable countywide throughout all of Brevard County, except in municipalities which have adopted an ordinance that directly conflicts with this notification subsection.

The proposal is as clear as mud for anyone who has ever worked in a retail business. For example, what is “eye level?” What is the height exactly? Does the ordinance require one sign per product? Or is one sign for an entire row of product compliant? And of course, what do you do with stores that don’t have shelves for fertilizer?

Does the store have to go out and purchase or make something to hold the mandated sign?

The vote or proposed ordinance doesn’t deal with sign wording or a design which would be left up to the County staff.

After all, the County has people with degrees in design, advertising, etc. /sarcasm

Failure to post the signs would be a $500 fine.

Brevard County Natural Resources Management Department Director Virginia Barker said retailers who violate the sign measure would face a maximum fine of $500, but she emphasized that first-time violators likely would receive a warning.

“This isn’t about penalties,” Barker said. “This is about getting information posted for the consumer.”

“Excess fertilizer use continues to contribute to water quality problems and harmful algal blooms in the Indian River Lagoon,” Barker wrote in her agenda report to county commissioners. “Other cities and counties have found that compliance with local fertilizer ordinances increases if consumers are notified of local requirements at the point of sale.”

Several things to note: There is no way of telling whether compliance goes up or down with notification at the point of sale. There are so many other factors which contribute to compliance that a sign may not be the singular determining factor.

Secondly, while we appreciate Barker’s points, the fact is that the “point of sale” is not at the shelving or storage of inventory. “Point of sale” is where the goods are paid for and ownership transfers to the consumer. In other words, the cash register and not the shelf or storage area.

People in retail know these things. The fact that we have people who are making policies for stores and consumers don’t know the basics is troubling at best.

Third, if as Barker states “this isn’t about penalties. This is about getting information posted for the consumer,” then why have penalties at all?

If this information is the right course of action, then why not convince retailers of that?

We always get a kick out of government officials who often say, “we try and work with people….” when in essence they are saying “do this or else.”

Commissioner John Tobia noted the problem:

Commissioner John Tobia voted against the proposal mandating that retailers post the informational signs.

Tobia offered an alternative plan, under which the county would produce the signs and offer them to retailers, but compliance by retailers to display the signs would be voluntary.

Tobia said that, while he appreciates the need to prevent harmful nutrients from fertilizer and other sources from going into the lagoon, “I’m against mandates on private businesses. Trying to do this through cooperation and education is far preferable to government mandates. Mandates do not allow for flexibility and unique circumstances, and these directives are simply cop-outs. This would force private businesses to do our job.”

However, none of the other four commissioners would support Tobia’s proposal, so it died for lack of a second without a formal vote.

Of course Tobia’s motion failed. The other commissioners don’t want people and businesses to be thinking. They want businesses to follow what they want without question.

We support the idea of more information on fertilizers and the effect on the lagoon getting to consumers. What we object to is the County Commissioners telling businesses how to run their companies under the assumption that the businesses don’t care about the lagoon.

We we also took note of a issue where people are complaining that the Tourist Development Council has a conflict of interest.

The Brevard County attorney’s office has begun a full-scale review of potential conflicts of interest among members of the Tourist Development Council and its five subcommittees, according to Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis.

Cranis said the review is being undertaken with the assistance of his office.

It comes at a time when there have been changes in the administration at the Office of Tourism; there are many relatively new members on the Tourist Development Council and its five subcommittees; and there is a new assistant county attorney assigned to work with the TDC, Christine Schverak, who briefed TDC members on ethics issues at their meeting on Wednesday.

The Tourist Development Council is the advisory board to the Brevard County Commission on tourism issues, including the spending of the county’s 5 percent Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.

An initial result of that review is a proposal by County Commission Vice Chair Bryan Lober for the commission to waive the potential conflict of interest of Anna Palermo, who is Lober’s appointee to the Tourist Development Council.

Palmero is an account executive with the media company Spectrum Reach.

Cranis said the Office of Tourism has spent a total of $134,687.45 with Spectrum during the last three budget years, predominantly involving cable television advertising promoting the Space Coast.

The proposed waiver would be dependent on Palermo not voting on matters that could benefit her financially.

The problem is that the law requires some members of the TDC to be involved with the tourism industry.

You therefore have an entire board getting tax money that can be used for events, promotions, etc., that benefit the very industry the board members are from.

Whoever wrote and passed that law should have recognized not only the conflict of interest, but the appearance of the conflict of interest between board members and the tax dollars.

Although Baugher voted with the rest of the TDC in favor of Lober’s proposal to waive the potential conflicts of interest involving Palermo, Baugher said earlier in the debate: “I’m just afraid we’re going to start handing out waivers like candy. I’m just against a lot of waivers. I think we shouldn’t issue any waivers.”

In a memo Lober provided Wednesday to Tourist Development Council members, Lober indicated that waivers might be unavoidable.

“The Tourist Development Tax statute requires representation on the council by individuals involved in various tourism-related industries,” Lober said. “Due to that requirement, conflicts are likely to occur in a county of this size.”

Lober noted that others on the TDC have potential conflicts of interest, but said he is focusing only on Palermo because she was his appointee to the TDC.

“I anticipate there ought to be other waivers,” Lober said. “I would be very surprised if there aren’t other waivers brought to (the TDC and the County Commission) in the future.”

Lober said other county commissioners should be the ones to address issues with their appointees, which he expects will happen once they see his proposal on the County Commission agenda.

We are confused with this stance of Lobers. It makes no sense for him to be looking to protect one person simply because he appointed them to the board, instead of looking at all the potential conflicts and saying to the other Commissioners “you are on your own!”

Either the stance that people should be given wavers concerning wavers for conflicts of interest is something that the TDC needs to examine as a whole, and not just have Lober (who is on the TDC) looking out for his appointee. In other words, Lober should be concerned with all potential conflicts, not just those of people he appointed to the board.

The TDC needs to have one policy across the board and not have members be worried or buoyed by who is supporting them.

8 Responses to “Brevard County: Of Signs, Ethics, Carrots And Sticks.”

  1. Beachside Resident says:

    The fertilizer law seems silly and difficult to monitor/enforce. I’m all for anything that can help save our dying lagoon but this just seems to be lip service without really adding anything beneficial. In my area of the county it is the ubiquitous commercial fertilizer trucks that apply all the fertilizers and pesticides. While these folks are supposedly professionals and highly trained I’ve seen them applying their products during rainstorms, along canals, and along street gutters with impunity. If the county was really serious about reducing lagoon pollutants they would address these issues first, not the individual homeowners. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a homeowner applying fertilizer themselves but can drive down the street on any given day and see several commercial trucks applying more products to a yard than I’ve applied to mine in the last ten years.

    As for the TDC it should be abolished and the revenues generated rolled into the county general funds. As it stands now the TDC boards are stacked with hoteliers and business folks to benefit their own organizations. I Believe a large portion of the revenues are spent on advertising, must be nice for a business to get free marketing and advertising services. This money should be spent for the benefit of all our residents, not just the hotel/motel industry. As expected whenever millions of dollars are at stake, the TDC has grown an empire that needs to be abolished.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Beachside Resident,

      Thanks for the comment.

      From what we have seen, lawn care companies are given greater scrutiny that average homeowners. The reason for this is simple: code enforcement officers do not work on the weekend when most homeowners are working on their lawns. A commercial business is more likely to be caught than a homeowner. Still, this is a case where we believe the problem can be attacked from both ends. The lawn care industry is well informed of fertilizer requirements and if they do something contrary to those requirements, they should be fined or whatever. At the same time, we can educate the public on the issue without telling businesses what they must display, taking up signage space that the County doesn’t own. There is a phenomenon called “signage overload” and with companies trying to get the attention of shoppers for actual sales, adding tens of signs in a retail environment may not do anything. Furthermore, the art of getting people’s attention in a retail setting is a science, one that we doubt the county has any experience.

      We are against the signs because it takes money away from the lagoon (the signs are being printed and distributed by the county,) are a burden on businesses, and frankly, is a violation of the idea that “if it is such a great idea, you don’t need to threaten people with fines.”

      As to the TDC, unfortunately the composition of the board is mandated by state statute. It does not make sense to have people who will benefit financially from more tourism to be the only voices on that Committee. However, without a change in the law, there is not much locally that anyone can do other than to try and minimize the damage and the conflicts of interests as much as possible.

      A. Afterwit.

  2. Dub Drinnon says:

    Whatever it takes to get government more involved in citizens’ privacy and private property rights. If it’s unenforceable, so much the better, the big-government emotional, maternal statement is made. This is just an extension of the Commission’s recent “puppies and kitties” insult. This fertilizer ordinance will be challenged as predatory against legitimate businesses (same as the “puppies & kitties” one. If it’s declared unConstitutional, who’ll pay the damages? Not the Commission, but the citizens. What’s next?

    • AAfterwit says:

      Dub Drinnon,

      Thanks for the comment.

      If it’s unenforceable, so much the better, the big-government emotional, maternal statement is made.

      We disagree with this statement. The sign ordinance (if passed) will be enforceable as will the fertilizer ordinances as well. However, what will happen is that they will be selectively enforced. That’s going to be the problem.

      As we stated, lawn care companies are more likely to get caught by the fertilizer ordinance as they work all week and on Saturdays. The average homeowner works on their lawn on the weekends when Code Enforcement isn’t working and at night (after 5:00 PM) when code enforcement has gone home. There are more people who take care of their own lawns that have lawn services, so but who is more likely to get caught? It is a case of ordinances that may look good and politicians proclaiming how they will catch scofflaws but in actuality, enforcement of these ordinances won’t do the same thing a intense education of the public and businesses.

      A. Afterwit.

  3. Beachside Resident says:

    Okay, okay, you caught me, I have no hard data to support my opinion regarding mis-use of fertilizers by the commercial folks, just a gut opinion. As a homeowner I am advised to apply fertilizer twice per year and spot treat any bug or weed issues very selectively, yet I believe the commercial guys come out and treat lawns fairly regularly once per month with “something” (exact chemical makeup unknown). Just seems like they are the largest applicators of lawn chemicals in the county. It would be nice to see a study showing who uses all these chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and even reclaimed water with high nutrient content) and where it all goes. I see the commercial guys and even city workers spraying herbicides in street side gutters (which drain directly into the lagoon) to control weeds coming up between concrete seams. I realize this is not high nutrient fertilizer, but I can’t believe it’s helping the lagoon either. Not sure what the answer is but I guess the experts are off trying to understand the problem better so they can come up with solutions. Just frustrated that it’s going so slow with no apparent victory’s for the good guys.

    As for the Tourist development council, you are correct in stating that the makeup of the council is state mandated by Florida Statute so not much we can do about that. However, I did notice that the FS only requires the makeup of the 9 member TDC board, not the makeup of the additional 5 TDC subcommittees consiting of 9 members each for a total of 45 members appointed by the TDC onto subcommittees. Anytime you get an organization that pulls in this much money (est. $16 million for this year) everyone wants a piece of the pie. I’d recommend shrinking the organization considerably, get rid of the subcommittees and have the 9 TDC members listen to inputs on proposed projects, and decide which ones meet the criteria (based on state guidelines) to forward onto the county commission for a go/no go decision. This would allow for easier public input (from both residents and businesses) that doesn’t get watered down or squashed before it sees the light of day because some sub-committe stacked by special interests didn’t like the idea. Also, it would allow the public to see all the ideas being discussed more readily and where this money is going.

    I think what really bugged me was a recent article in FLA Today which stated that 47% of the TDC revenues are spent for advertising of tourism – that’s almost $8 million bucks per year in free advertising for a very select group of hoteliers and businesses. When i voted for the TDC tax I was led to believe that the TDC revenues would greatly benefit me as a resident – apparently I should have done a lot more homework and seen through this smoke screen. How about using some of this money to improve infrastucture like waste water treatment, shoreline improvement, cleanup and beautification of our county, which is allowed by Florida Statute and doesn’t just benefit the special interest groups running this program, but benefits tourism along with the local residents who live here year round and have to put up with increased traffic and wear/tear on our local infrastructures.

    Sorry for the rant – slow day 🙂

    • AAfterwit says:

      Beachside Resident,

      Thanks for the comment.

      For commercial operators to be able to spray fertilizers, they must be licensed and that includes training by the state on the issue. You would hope that training takes hold and if not, we have no issue with the consequences.

      Our problem is that the county is going to make requirements on businesses instead of first working with people. There will be a stick but no carrot. And for that they proclaim “we want to work with people.” Yeah. Sure.

      You are correct about the TDC and the sub committees. No argument here. The person that Lober appointed to the TDC is a marketing specialist and is part of the marketing subcommittee. He says that she will not vote on issues that will affect her personally and that is a good start. However, that doesn’t preclude her in taking part in the discussions at the Committee levels.

      In Florida, if you are an elected official and there is a vote where you have a conflict of interest, you are required to fill out a form stating the conflict, not participate in any discussion and leave the room. Hopefully that will happen at the TDC level.

      As for where the money is spent, we agree. We aren’t sure that money can be spent of roads, but there is a concerted movement to include such things as the lagoon in the distribution of funds as the lagoon is a huge tourist destination here.

      The whole thing is a mess.

      A. Afterwit.

  4. Beachside Resident says:

    One other thing to consider on fertilizer enforcement for homeowners and the commercial fertilizer guys. I believe Cocoa Beach only has ONE code enforcement officer who keeps pretty busy with all the local construction projects going on in the city. The odds of him driving down my street while I’m misusing lawn products are slim to none. Not sure, but I’d suspect other small city’s throughout the county would have similar issues trying to catch offenders.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Beachside Resident,

      Thanks for the comment.

      In the past, we spoke with the head of Code Enforcement in Satellite Beach. He said that each day he takes a different route into work, going up and down the streets. While that doesn’t mean they will catch everyone, it does mean that they do see more than people realize.

      We agree with you that the chances of getting caught are slim which we think adds to the point of education rather than a stick beating people is the way to go.

      A. Afterwit.