Neanderthals prevail and Commissioners will spend another fortune on Cone Ranch and lobbyists

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Next up on the agenda (scrawled on the wall of the cave) was the discussion on Cone Ranch. Finally they would have to make a decision on the land buying scheme put forth by Commissioner Ken Hagan when a private group asked if they could sell and subdivide 12,800 acres of the publicly owned land known as Cone Ranch. The Commission cooked up a panel to evaluate this and the results were in. The panel recommended that the land be sold to ELAPP instead, the county's own land buying program which was recently overwhelmingly approved by voters. Hagan started out by saying he was delighted with the panel's recommendations and said he fully supported ELAPP acquiring the land. He then quoted one of my heroes, Mariella Smith, in this article. Higginbotham said the jury was still out for him regarding ELAPP (meanwhile Hagan, Sharpe, Ferlita and Beckner had already gone on record as saying they want the land to go to ELAPP) that is four votes for ELAPP already so why did we have to listen to him at this point? I checked out.

County staff, Mike Merrill, admitted that the title of the land is already in Hillsborough County's name but is an asset of the utility system which he said is subject to the bond covenants and said that the property had to be considered at it's highest and best use which is a big point of contention among informed members of the public.

Merrill, with his mumbled briefings to Commissioners, told them what he thought about wetland mitigation and other options for the land besides selling it to ELAPP. I didn't hear anybody ask him what he thought should be done with the land but he offered up his opinion on this in as much detail as he did the financial aspect which was supposed to be his job. I did, however, ask what it cost taxpayers to have him mumble at the panel meetings in a public records request and I am still waiting.

He convinced the board that they needed a $200,000 - $250,000 appraisal on the land. When Beckner pushed for an independent opinion before spending that kind of money the usually flat Merrill looked and sounded fearful as he quickly talked Commissioners right out of an independent set of eyes. Something about Merrill's body language during this discussion sent a few red flags up for me (even watching the meeting on the tube). Hmmmm.

The Vice Chair of the Cone Ranch Advisory Panel a.k.a. C.R.A.P.  also spoke and thought it was appropriate to give her own opinion that the land could be kept by the water department which, by the way, was not the opinion of the panel on the whole (they recommended that the land be transferred to ELAPP).

This discussion was almost as painful to watch as the panel meetings themselves and when it came to tough decisions during this board meeting, the Commission as a whole gets a tits on a bull rating. It was sad that they couldn't do this cleanly and swiftly but instead want to spend a quarter of a million bucks for an appraisal to sell the land to ourselves.

There were some highlights though, Beckner seemed to want to try and do the ELAPP transfer without the expensive appraisal and Commissioner Jim Norman said just transferring the land was a pipe dream, Beckner quickly replied 'pipe dreams, Championship Park'. While Sharpe got points for trying to fire Bean earlier in the meeting, Beckner walked away with the day for dragging the Neanderthals out of their cave for a minute while trying to explain what discrimination is and for that Championship Park comment. The losers of the day? As usual, the taxpayers.

In case they didn't spend enough money there was also a discussion on an item pulled from the Consent Agenda that was giving a fortune to a private lobbying firm (even though we already spend a fortune on a county employee as a lobbyist) Just look at the great results we got with our lobbyists last year as we were saddled with SB 360. According to the agenda item the firm got a juicy raise adding $63,750 to make the total $155,000 (isn't the session in Tallahassee only two months long?)

Photo credit: erix!

If the Wednesday morning BOCC meeting was a let down with Commissioners quietly supporting developer welfare and keeping embattled County Administrator Pat Bean, then let me assure you the afternoon proved to be a bit more interesting.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the voter's answer to Brian Blair, once again tried to drag the County out of the Stone Age regarding their discrimination practices because they did not include sexual orientation or gender identification in their board policies regarding employees. He put County Attorney Renee Lee and newly saved County Administrator Pat Bean on the spot and asked them if they knew any employees falling in this category? They seemed reluctant but they both admitted that they indeed did know employees that fall within this category. Beckner passionately made the case not to discriminate and showed that corporate America has already done this with inclusive policies that prohibit discrimination.

Evidently as the guidelines are now, sounds like they can fire someone just for being gay. Recall earlier that morning Commissioners chose to keep on a County Administrator in part because she wasn't a criminal. You would think being gay wouldn't be a crime either but we are in Hillsborough where some of these same  Commissioners voted to ban gay pride so who knows what they might think of a gay employee?

Before the discussion even started Commissioner Jim Norman moved the item (without the sexual orientation protection in it) and Commissioner Mark Sharpe seconded it so Beckner was starting with two votes against him already. Beckner went on undeterred. Keep forcing diversity on the neanderthals Commissioner Beckner, even if they never vote for it just watching them squirm is kinda fun.

When Beckner questioned Norman's motion calling this a discriminatory policy, Norman got a little testy. Beckner made a substitute motion which would not discriminate and got a second for purposes of discussion by Commissioner Kevin White (I think the reason they were even having the discussion was because of the recent lawsuit regarding the Pimpin Commish and his aide.) Commissioner Rose Ferlita relayed how she supported this before as a City Council member because it was right and then proceeded to make the case to support it now because it was fair. In spite of the support from White and Ferlita, Beckner's motion failed 3-4 (Norman, Hagan, Sharpe, and Higgibotham voted No) The discriminatory policy was then adopted 4-3 (same breakdown) Neanderthals win! On the upside? Watching Beckner get a second from the Commissioner whose actions caused the very discussion to come up in the first place was priceless and Norman's face appeared purple during this discussion on my TV screen so bonus points to Beckner for that. So while Beckner lost the actual vote he should get some credit for pissing off the homophobes.

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