The gang that couldn’t shoot straight tries to ambush Amendment 4

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By George Niemann

Daily Loaf contributor and R-LAND, UCAN, FSP, Amendment 4 activist

The views expressed are my own and may not be the same as the orgs to which I belong

 

Subtitle: The Tampa Bay Regional (Development) Planning Council tries to ambush Amendment 4 speaker.

Wouldn’t you think the TBRPC would be professional, courteous and business-like while carrying out their mission to serve the region’s local governments? Well, think again.

In an attempt that made them look so unprofessional they tried to ambush a speaker from Amendment 4 at their April 12, 2010 meeting held at the Pinellas Park headquarters.

A little background

The TBRPC, being acting-like a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tampa Bay Builders Assn, were desperate to pass a resolution against Amendment 4-Florida Hometown Democracy. FYI – Amendment 4 will give citizens veto power over bad growth decisions now being made on a regular basis by local governments throughout the state of Florida. As people sit in traffic and have watched their home values plummet they are inclined to like the idea of a veto and can’t wait until November to say YES to that ballot question.

The development industry, on the other hand, is scared shitless of losing their set of loaded dice in the game of growth decision making. When an entire industry (one of the biggest and most lucrative in Florida) begins to think that the gravy train is about to be derailed, watch out. They are going to pull out all the stops and use every tentacle of control that they have to keep any positive change from occuring.

Here’s the (suspected) theory on their game plan

TBRPC wanted to quickly issue a resolution condemning Amendment 4. After all, if a big multi-county organization like that trashes Amendment 4, maybe it would overpower the public’s gut instincts and they’d vote against it.

The (suspected) game strategy gets botched and here’s how they handle it

Why should they be in such a hurry to get this anti-Amendment 4 resolution passed? Well because the development lobby was expecting one to come forth. Perhaps its a case of - no resolution, no more campaign contributions to council members?

Oh I almost forgot to mention, they had to make it look like they gave it careful consideration and looked at both sides before voting, otherwise you might think that the TBRPC was a puppet organization doing the bidding of developers. Now wouldn’t that be a crazy notion???

So to make it look like they gave each side a fair chance at presenting their respective cases, they tried to set up a debate. They scheduled it for their March 8, 2010 regular meeting. The schedule didn’t work out for the pro-side so on March 8th the opposing side made their presentation to the council. At that time, developer lobbyist Ron Weaver and Ward Frisolowski represented the opposition. I wasn’t there but considering the audience, I’m sure they must have gotten a standing ovation.

During that same March meeting, however, one of the planning council members, City of Tampa Council Woman Mary Mulhern raised concerns about violating the state statute (SB216) which prohibits local governments from using taxpayer dollars to campaign for/against ballot items (shown below).

Florida Senate - 2009 SB 216

…local government may not expend or authorize the expenditure of, and a person or group may not accept, public funds for a political advertisement or electioneering communication concerning an issue, referendum, or amendment that is subject to a vote of the electors.

So they must have been pissed! They failed to get the pro side to present which gets in the way of passing the anti-4 resolution, and now someone has legal concerns about campaigning against a ballot item?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, however. They ask their paid attorney if it’s legal to campaign pass a resolution against a ballot item. As suspended (with pay) county attorney Renee Lee used to say to the Hillsborough County Commission, you tell me what you want to accomplish and I’ll tell you how to get there.

Lo and behold, attorney Don Conn comes back with precisely the right answer – of course you can, boss. Ahhh, just what the doctor ordered.

I would disagree with Mr Conn’s legal opinion on this issue because they are expending money in staff time, as well as, using their facilities (which are at least in part funded by taxpayers) to do something that is not part of their function and not something that taxpayers need or are asking them to do. And when they publish this resolution and make it available on their website and hand it out to the press and media outlets for distribution, doesn’t that sound like “campaigning” on a ballot item??? Voters can do their own research and decide without this council’s help or participation. It’s hard to come up with a single justification for this council to render a resolution on this topic, other than to influence voters to one side.

And BTW, this council is expensive to keep running. Here is what one county, Hillsborough County, has and will contribute to their budget (below).

FY2008 - $364,095, FY2009 - $359,858, FY2010 - $362,162, FY2011 - $364,162

Keep in mind that they are supported by 4 counties and 19 municipalities. As a taxpayer I don’t want my tax dollars being spent this way. Even if Mr Conn found a way around the law, its still violates the spirit of the law.

The ambush plan moves forward

Now that they’ve got their legal advice ordered in order, they still have to get someone to present the pro side before they can actually pass their resolution. This way they can feign due diligence.

In steps their fixer, Manny Pumariega, Executive Director. He calls Robert Weintraub, an Amendment 4 campaign coordinator/speaker with an impressive bio. He asks him, as a favor, to please present the pro side to the undecided council. Undecided??? What a joke. He tells him that the other side already presented so he will be the sole presenter and will have 10 minutes. Not realizing the trap these desperate characters were setting for him, Weintraub graciously accepted the invitation. The agenda confirms what Weintraub was told – a single presenter on Amendment 4. Weintraub travels all the way from the east coast of Florida to accommodate the TBRPC request.

What wasn’t clear until after the meeting was that TBRPC staff had arranged an ambush against the Amendment 4 speaker.

Even though developer lobbyist Weaver had already presented last month they sat him in the audience close to the podium. Normally the public is not permitted to speak at regular council meetings.

Mr Weintraub no sooner completes his presentation, when real estate developer Chairman Ronnie Duncan says that Ron Weaver wants to say a few words. WTF???

Weaver jumps up from the audience and nudges Weintraub away from the podium and proceeds to ramble (incoherently at times) for approximately 6 minutes.

Weaver’s speech brought me back to clips I had seen of the old Oral Roberts TV show where he used to heal the lame that hobbled their way up to the microphone. His rambling gave the impression that Satan had reemerged in the form of a ballot amendment. The most ironic thing is that while Weaver is acting like a preacher claiming that Amendment 4 is satanic, most of what spewed from his mouth were lies (including misstatements about supreme count rulings regarding the amendment).

In a flash, the motion for the anti-4 resolution was quickly brought forward and it was passed. It was all secretly choreographed by Duncan and Pumariega and ran like a precision German cuckoo clock.

So this is what the TBRPC thinks is a fair study of the ballot amendment:

? Have lobbyists for the opposition speak for 20 minutes

? Then invite the pro side to speak under false pretenses for only 10 minutes

? When you introduce the pro speaker, don’t show him any respect…just give his name with no other introduction, as is customary when you introduce a speaker (in most civilized countries around the world)

? Then have a surprise rebuttal speaker pop out of the audience and speak for 6 minutes so hopefully they’ll not remember what the previous speaker said

After being treated so poorly, Mr Weintraub sent this letter to Manny Pumariega:

From: Robert Weintraub

Sent: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 4:16 PM

To: 'Manny Pumariega'

Subject: Amendment 4 Presentation at TBRPCouncil meeting

Mr. Pumareiga,

It is pointless to object to the rude manner in which I was treated at the April 12 TBRPC meeting, but I want you to know I was deeply disappointed in you as I was doing you “a favor” by attending the meeting to present the argument for Amendment 4.

First, any visiting speaker before any organization is accorded the courtesy of a proper introduction. I had responded to your request for personal biographical information, but no more than my name was mentioned in introduction, as if I was some creature pulled in off the street.

Second, you had told me the opponents of Amendment 4 had spoken last month and my presentation was needed to give the Council a balanced account. There was no mention that the leading lobbyist for Tampa Bay region’s developers would be following me. Had I known, my presentation would have been quite different. To allow Mr. Weaver to follow me with the most absurd lies without giving me the opportunity to respond demonstrated a great disrespect for me.

Your rudeness reflects poorly on you personally and the organization which you represent.

-Robert Weintraub-

Pumariega never responded to Weintraub's letter. Ambushers tend to like the hit and run approach because it doesn't require much backbone. After they launch their surprise attack they slither back under a rock. This kind of childish behavior shouldn't bother us so much, except for the fact that our tax dollars are paying for this kind of nonsense. And, as such, it is money poorly spent.

Two things will remain constant until November: desperate people will do desperate things, and people still expect to see a fair race without the use of deception and trickery. What I'm glad the TBRPC apparently doesn't realize is that they are going to drive many voters to the other side as a result of their devious actions. Hell, maybe I should be thanking them.

In spite of their efforts to deceive and create the most hostile environment they could for the pro side, the pro side emerges with one distinct advantage – Amendment 4 offers a solution that serves the people. The TBRPC’s "change nothing" solution serves developers.

Image Credits: Warner Bros; Dreamstime.com

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