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Smith VS. Tobia. Round Two. Ding!

As if the fight between Commissioner Curt Smith and Commissioner John Tobia couldn’t get more interesting and in a sense, more foolish, the two went at it again over expenditures of CRA funding which Tobia feels are at the most illegal, and at the least inappropriate.

Tobia questioned the use of CRA money by the Downtown Melbourne CRA and Olde Eau Gallie CRA, alleging the CRAs “improperly used” about $684,500 of city and county money for festival expenses.

Tobia said he had opinions from the Florida Attorney General’s Office and Brevard County Attorney Scott Knox to back him up. And he wanted the County Commission to authorize “performance audits” of the two CRAs, partly to see if any other money was spent improperly.

“If this is what my office was able to find, I would like to see if anything else is out there,” Tobia said. “I’m sure Downtown Melbourne, as well as Olde Eau Gallie, has nothing to hide.”

Smith responded with:

But Smith said he was “kind of torn with this. I don’t know enough facts to feel comfortable voting for it. I reserve the right to investigate it further. And, if I change my mind, and say that there is something here that needs to be investigated, I’d be happy to bring it up again. But, right now, I’m not in favor of it.”

Tobia’s response was two fold – one of which was dead on and the second a bit of hyperbole. The first response was that the item was on the agenda for two weeks. In essences, Tobia was asking “what is the delay? How much time do you and your office need to investigate. Isn’t two weeks enough?”

We think that is a fair question.

While we agree that Smith has the “right to investigate” the expenditures, we would also say that the people have a right to a speedy investigation and not one that is open ended and left hanging in the wind. “When I get around to it” is not a good or acceptable answer from an elected official like Smith.

Tobia’s second response was over the top, political hyperbole:

“Short of Jesus Christ coming down here and telling us this is inconsistent, what is it that you’re looking for to find out that will get you across that hump — that probably we need to do our job, and make sure that the county funds that are being expended are being expended consistent with state statute?”

Yeah, Tobia brought Christ into the discussion. In a way, we take that as a bit of mocking of Smith’s beliefs (and ours) but we know that Christ is big enough to withstand that and not worry about it.

Smith could have and perhaps should have turned it around and said, “well gee John, at the very least you could have said that with a bit more of fire and brimstone.” Smith could have launched into a satire of an old Southern traveling preacher: “Short of JES-SUS CHRIST, coming DOWN HERE… It would have had more effect and perhaps changed the narrative a bit.

But that is not Curt Smith.

Smith shot back to Tobia that “I find it odd

that you invoke the name of Jesus Christ, since you don’t believe in him anyway.”

Oh goody. We went from discussing CRA expenditures to a person’s faith and beliefs.

Tobia also had two legal opinions from the State Attorney General and the County Attorney which supported his position that the expenditures were not up to snuff.

Instead of addressing the opinions, Smith got sidetracked again, telling Tobia:

“When [County Attorney Scott Knox] agrees with you, then you use him as your foil,” Smith said. “And when you don’t agree with him, you dismiss him. So, with that, I’m not going respond to your questions.”

The sad part of that response is that everyone does what Smith is accusing Tobia of doing. Everyone who agrees with a legal opinion holds it up as evidence they are correct. Everyone who disagrees with a legal opinion tries to attack it, dismiss it, shove it under the rug or simply say “they’re wrong” and then try to explain why they are wrong.

Smith has agreed with Knox in the past as well as used Knox’s opinions to bolster Smith’s position. Now with legal opinions contrary to Smith’s position, Smith won’t address the issue.

Pot, meet kettle.

Goose, meet gander.

After the motion for an audit was defeated, and following the meeting, the verbal jousting continued:

Tobia said it was “absolutely ridiculous” that “the best response” Smith could provide is that Tobia doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ.

Smith said Tobia is “a very angry person” whose “big thing is intimidation” and who “ignores facts from attorneys when they don’t suit his agenda.”

“For him, it’s all about … campaigning for Trudie from the dais,” Smith said.

We don’t know about you, but we are sure glad there are civility pledges and calls for more civility in politics these days. Those pledges are having such a broad effect.

(We have always claimed that “civility pledges” are not worth the time, paper an electrons they require. There is never any teeth to them. Furthermore, what is “civil” to you may not be “civil” to me. In short, “civility pledges” are there as part of the theater that is seen on governing bodies, but worthless in the long run.)

The dispute between Smith and Tobia is better than any television drama going on now. We would say that it is better than any comedy, but we don’t think what is happening is funny at all.


Smith also got into a spat with Representative Randy Fine.

Fine has proposed a bill that would allow tax dollars from the so called “bed tax” which funds the Tourism Development Commission to be used in the restoration of the Indian River Lagoon.

Smith doesn’t like the proposal:

In a story in Friday’s FLORIDA TODAY, Smith criticized Fine’s proposal to expand the use of local tourist development taxes in Florida to include such things as environmental-focused capital projects and to allow that money to help pay for projects on lagoons like the Indian River Lagoon.

Fine, R-Palm Bay, said his proposal, contained in House Bill 585, would “amend the Tourist Development Tax statute to allow bed taxes to be spent on a wide array of capital projects necessary to facilitate tourism, including transportation, wastewater, solid waste, groundwater drainage, drinking water and pedestrian facilities. The bill also makes clear that estuaries and lagoons are considered rivers and inland lakes for the purposes of existing authority.”

Fine’s bill is similar to Senate Bill 658, which was filed on Oct. 26 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

Reacting to the proposal, Smith told FLORIDA TODAY that Fine “is shortsighted and long-winded. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

Smith said he believes, by trying to direct money away from tourism-related capital projects that were vetted by the Brevard County Tourist Development Council, Fine would be discouraging tourists from coming to the Space Coast.

We have several thoughts on Fine’s proposal.

First, if (and this is a huge if) the tax was established by a Constitutional Amendment or something else that voters voted upon and paying for the lagoon or other bodies was not included, we would be against this bill. We are tired of citizens being sold a bill of goods on taxes and then having the legislature change what the people voted upon.

That is not to say that we don’t applaud Fine’s (and others) goal of restoring the lagoon. That is clearly a notable and worthy cause. Our problem is the path that takes us to that goal. We would rather have money go to the lagoon than to a tourist center on I-95. We hate it when taxes and programs such as the lottery that was sold to voters as being slated for one purpose and then the monies are chipped away for other purposes, no matter how good and well intentioned those other purposes may be.

If the tax was established by a vote of the people and the purposes were given and limited, we would be in favor of returning the expanded purpose to the people. The people voted for the tax and its provisions and they should have a say in expanding those provisions.

Secondly, and this appears to be the case, if the tax was instituted by the Florida Legislature and not a ballot initiative, the Legislature should be able to change the parameters of what can be funded with the tax dollars. Legislators proposed the tax, took the hits from constituents and argued it out, so if they want to face the same heat, let ’em. Have at it.

As we said, we would rather money go to the lagoon rather than other capital projects as the lagoon is important if not vital to the economy of the area, the quality of life in the area, as well as the lagoon itself is a tourist destination.

Frankly, we are having problems understanding why Fine’s bill needs to be proposed at all.

The Tourism Tax is codified in Florida Statute 125.0104.

The statute is comprehensive, allowing counties to set up the tax, procedures for controls on local oversight as well as oversight at the State level to make sure the taxes are properly collected and accounted for.

The statute covers what the monies can be spent on.

Section 5 deals with “Authorized Uses of Revenues.”

Subsection 5 reads:

5. To finance beach park facilities or beach improvement, maintenance, renourishment, restoration, and erosion control, including shoreline protection, enhancement, cleanup, or restoration of inland lakes and rivers to which there is public access as those uses relate to the physical preservation of the beach, shoreline, or inland lake or river. However, any funds identified by a county as the local matching source for beach renourishment, restoration, or erosion control projects included in the long-range budget plan of the state’s Beach Management Plan, pursuant to s. 161.091, or funds contractually obligated by a county in the financial plan for a federally authorized shore protection project may not be used or loaned for any other purpose. In counties of fewer than 100,000 population, up to 10 percent of the revenues from the tourist development tax may be used for beach park facilities. (emphasis ours)

Now it may be we are misreading this, but it seems to us that the lagoon fits into the approved spending projects. As Fine and others have a bill saying the spending purposes need to be expanded, we aren’t sure what we are missing, but we must be missing something.

After Smith’s comment that Fine “is shortsighted and long-winded. He doesn’t know what he is talking about,” representative Fine pulled out this screen shot from the Facebook page of Commissioner Smith.

(Image courtesy FloridaToday.)

“More good news for Brevard County,” the post said, in referring to and linking to House Bill 585. “Thank you, District 53 FL House member Fine for joining Senator Brandes in trying to give local governments more needed flexibility on Lagoon-related infrastructure.”

While Smith was ranting against Fine and his proposed bill, either Smith or his staff was putting out a post thanking Fine for the very thing Smith was arguing against.

It’s not a good look for Smith on several fronts. First, the post and his rant against Fine seem to be at odds with each other. It’s a flip flop of epic proportions given the time frame in which it occurred.

If Smith did not make or authorize the post, the question is then “who did and why are they so out of touch with Smith’s statements on the bill and sponsor?”

A secondary question would be “does Smith know what his staff doing? Are they on the same page?”

A third level question would be “what would happen with the staff?”

Easy.

Smith backed up the bus and ran over them.

Asked about the post Friday afternoon, Smith said he did not post it and it was not authorized by him. He said he would check with his staff on how it got on the Facebook page.

Ouch.

That’s gonna leave a mark.

And frankly, we don’t even understand this from Smith:

“Too many politicians see a dollar, and claim it as their own,” Smith said, referring to Fine’s proposal for expanding the possible uses for tourist development taxes.

Isn’t Smith fighting for the dollars in saying that the money can’t be spent elsewhere on a project that most everyone in Brevard County believes is a priority?

The sad thing is that Smith seems more consumed or interested in his political battles with Tobia and now Fine than doing the job for which he was elected.

Yes, Tobia is politically poking at him, but many politicians and most people rise above that sort of banter. The same thing is true with Fine. Smith doesn’t have to respond to what he sees as insults. He can respond with facts and figures and why he believes in what he believes and the positions he holds. He doesn’t have to fire back with words that if they were directed at him, he would consider insults.

We don’t expect this to get better and in many ways we wish we had the popcorn concession for these meetings.



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One Response to “Smith VS. Tobia. Round Two. Ding!”

  1. Truthful says:

    We are getting tired of the lack of civility and rudeness of elected officials. The chairperson of anything, including the BOCC, should set a proper example of how to conduct the county’s business from the dais.

    We are not amused.

  2. […] Oddly, this round goes back to Representative Randy Fine’s proposal and introduction of a bill that would allow money from the Tourism Tax to be used to help clean up the lagoon. […]

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