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Brevard County: “We’re Professionals …..”

Professionals-ROH On December 10, 2015 the Brevard County Commission held a workshop on the proposed gas tax increase / infrastructure increase.

There are several good things to note and some bad things to note. First, Commissioner Barfield did a much better job as the chair than Commissioner Fisher had done in the previous meeting. There were still instances of inappropriate conduct by people on the dais as well as members in the audience, but for the most part Barfield did a decent job keeping the tone respectful and cordial. At the same time the decorum from Commissioners, staff and audience was better, but people still need to work on that.

We left the meeting no closer to being in supporting or opposing the gas tax than we were before we went into the meeting. There are a lot of facts and figures to work through and informed voters should try to understand those numbers rather than just a gut reaction. In addition, we got the impression that short of a money tree growing in the courtyard of the government center, the gas tax is a done deal.

We do want to point out a video that was produced by a group of citizens using County data and information. The video was presented by Pat Paisley (sp?) and shows what a group of concerned and involved citizens can do. The video is a little under 12 minutes long and is worth watching.

In response to the video, the County staff had prepared a mind numbing 2 hour presentation that tried to address the Paisley video. We are going to have to look at the fact and figures presented by the county, but we got the distinct impression that this was a case of “overwhelm with manure.” If you have to take 10 plus minutes for every minute of a video, something’s wrong.

While the deluge of information was slightly overwhelming, we kept noticing a constant theme or themes from the people on the dais.

The first theme was the constant use of the term “false narrative.” People who had used the county’s own data to come to different conclusions were told they were spreading a “false narrative.” We suppose that if you continue to call people liars, (even politely) someone may start to believe you. If you are going to label others as liars, you might as well prop yourself up.

“Propping up” and self promotion was the second theme that was constantly heard from Commissioners and staff members, especially the County Manager Stockton Whitten.

We decided that we would look at some of the things going on in the area that show the “professionalism” of the Commissioners and County Staff.

1) A while back Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker called for and arranged to have a meeting with the residents of Sandpiper Towers on A1A. The issue was a “mid block crosswalk” that was on the proposed renovation / resurfacing of A1A. Barker took with her to the meeting Satellite Beach’s head of the Building Department John Stone and the City’s consulting engineer. Barker also invited Commissioner Curt Smith and other people from the County offices.

The problem is that in this display of “professionalism,” neither Commissioner Smith nor the County officials realized that they were attending a meeting outside of the incorporated area of Satellite Beach. Barker took City Staff and a consultant to a meeting in an area that she had nothing to do with. Furthermore, the people in Sandpiper Towers are part of a resident association called the South Patrick Residents Association, or SPRA. No one from SPRA was contacted about the meeting.

Not only did Barker spend money outside the city in an area in which she had no legal jurisdiction, she spent the money to drag Satellite Beach employees with her. We we come from, we call that “malfeasance” as in a misappropriation of the use of city funds. While that is certainly on Barker, no one has yet to successfully explain how Smith, his staff and the County staff failed to note the boundaries of Incorporated Satellite Beach and to even wonder why the City Manager of Satellite Beach was so far outside her city.

We find that to be a lack of professionalism.

2) One of the more curious things County Manager Stockon Whitten said while trying to demonstrate how professional he and the staff were was the fact that the County had cut 500 jobs during the recent economic downturn / recession. He was proud of the fact that there had not been a decrease in services after those cuts. A citizen made the comment that if you are able to cut 500 positions without a loss of services, you didn’t need those positions in the first place and the “professional” thing to do was to have eliminated the jobs to begin with BEFORE the economic downturn.

Hard not to feel sorry for the mark that left on Whitten because the citizen was right. But the citizen also stopped short. Assume for a moment that the 500 employees made an average of $20,000 a year. That is probably on the low side and we are only talking salaries – not the added costs of benefits that the County taxpayers pay.

On salaries alone, 500 jobs X $20,000 salary per job is ten million a year. That’s $10,000,000.00 in real numbers. The odd thing is that the Blue Ribbon Committee that looked at funding sources estimates that the additional 6 cents per gallon gas tax will result in funding of $7.8 million dollars.

Was it “professional” for the County to keep all those arguably unneeded employees on the books while the roads deteriorated?

3) Whitten also said that the County had initiated a program using SurveyMonkey where they could submit money saving suggestions to the county. Sounds great except for the fact that if the suggestions are anonymous – a feature Whitten touted – what kind of working atmosphere has been created in the County offices? A truly “professional” work environment is one where information flows freely. A “professional” atmosphere is one were employees feel empowered to look and make suggestions and have those suggestions taken seriously. The idea that the County had to set up a site where employees could submit ideas anonymously shows the work environment is anything but “professional.”

4) After the last meeting on the gas tax, one of the staff here sent emails to Commissioner Smith and Anderson saying that we were less than thrilled at the tone of the meeting and how the banter between certain Commissioners and citizens left much to be desired. He made sure to say that people on the dais as well as some citizens had gotten way out of hand. He reminded them that as Commissioners, they had a duty to help maintain the decorum in the meeting. Smith’s office never acknowledged the email, but Anderson’s office did saying his office had received the email and would respond.

He’s still waiting for any response from either of the Commissioners.

Not exactly what we would call “professionalism.”

5) If we are going to talk about professionalism and streets, we might as well give an example.

Down the street from us is a road that had a pot hole. The pot hole was reported. A city employee came out and looked at it, took measurements, etc. After a few months, two trucks with four guys and a truck with a supervisor came to fix this roughly 18 inch round pot hole. Apparently, it is the “professional” thing to have 5 guys on a small job, but we digress.

Here’s how the job looks now:

Patch

Okay, we lied. If the patch looked that good we would be rejoicing and very happy. We would be praising the professionalism of the repair crew and the supervisor.

However the patch doesn’t look like the image above. The patch actually looks like this:

Road-Patch

The cracks and breaking of the tarmac seen on the right were there when the crew came out to repair the pothole.

Instead of cutting out the collapsed section and filling that in as well, the crew – including the supervisor who we assume is a “professional,” – left it alone.

The result was predicable. The unrepaired section next to the patched pothole allows water in under the patch which has already begun to sink and fail. Not exactly a “professional” repair job.


What Whitten and other Commissioners fail to realize that it is not the citizens that generally raising the issue of “professionalism.” It is the Commissioners and the Whitten that are bringing “professionalism” into the discussion.

There are two problems with that. First is the County Commission is trying to “big dog” the citizens.

“We’re professionals and we know better than you,” they say in a all too dismissive tone.

It is almost as if they think that there aren’t people in the length and breadth of the county that are as smart and as professional as they claim to be. As another person noted to us, if you are touting how professional you are, you aren’t. “Professionalism” is determined by actions and not words of self-promotion.

Secondly, how are the Brevard County roads in the shape they are in now?

If you say “because of the decisions the ‘professionals’ made,” ring a bell and grab a Kewpie doll.

You win the prize.

No, the real issue with the push back on the gas tax is trust – or the lack thereof.

While the Commission and Staff talk about one thing, they are not addressing the core and central issue of this whole mess:

PEOPLE DON’T TRUST GOVERNMENT WHEN IT COMES TO TAXES AND REVENUE SCHEMES.

For example, we look back at the Florida Lottery which was advertised and sold to the citizens of Florida as a way to supplement educational spending. As years have passed, we have seen the educational base funding diminished making the Florida Lottery not a supplement to adequate educational funding, but a key component of educational funding.

Last year under the cry of “it’s for the kids,” the County passed a sales tax increase to supplement repairs and improvements in the County schools. Now that there is funding for that, there are cries and pleas to use the underlying funding for other things in the school systems. What was sold as a “funding supplement” seems to be about to suffer the same fate as the Lottery money and become the primary funding of repairs and improvements.

We’ve been down this road before. We have seen legislatures, Commissions and elected officials all say “we need to tax this more and the money will go here” only to see the money go elsewhere.

What we see is a populace that is tired of being lied to.

Until that Commission addresses the lack of trust in constituents, they are spitting into the wind.

This long post can be best summed up with the following advice to the County Commissioners and Staff.
1) Stop touting your “professionalism.” If you aren’t professional, get out. If you are, your actions will demonstrated that. Stop trying to “big dog” the citizens by telling us how great you are. (Supplemental note to Commissioners: you were elected because we thought you were great and professional.)
2) Stop calling everyone who disagrees with you a liar – even using the polite terms of “spreading false narratives.”
3) Earn back our trust because in many cases as an elected body, you don’t have it.

We can fix the road issue if we work together.



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3 Responses to “Brevard County: “We’re Professionals …..””

  1. scott ellis says:

    Great article. True professionals, like the genuine article in anything else, need not tout themselves – their actions speak for themselves. The County term ‘false narrative’ will be coming back any times – from those accused of such deception – and directed to the County Commission. I found it incredible three Commissioners, County Staff, and the County Attorney said the alleged video full of narratives could not be shown because the County Staff had not vetted it for ‘facts’. Beyond the WTH of having County Staff evaluate your free speech comments, just how in the world was two hours of presentation, rebuttal, and accusation already prepared by a County Staff and County Commission which allegedly had never been through the video? Yet these people have the gall to accuse other of promoting ‘false narratives’?

  2. Clear View says:

    The blog offers up examples and information that paint a striking portrait of government that is painfully accurate.

  3. Dean Paterakis says:

    Thank you taking the time and explaining what is really going on. For those who went to this meeting it was apparent that the commissioners didn’t want to hear the citizens opinion or facts. It didn’t have any resemblance of a “workshop” at all.

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