Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Florida's Water Management Districts a-d by Sonny Vergara


Dear Friend,

There’s a continuing swirl of rumors about the number of layoffs looming at SWFWMD.  The rumor mill has had the number for some time now at 60 to 70 employees, mostly from the area known as administrative services.  Despite claims by administrator, Blake Guillory, that the real number will be closer to “only” 30, the angst and worry by the staff continues and there’s good reason why. They simply aren’t being told anything.

Apparently, the protocol is to let individual managers know who’s going to get the boot in their area only and not what’s happening in the department next door.  Staff members talk about how the only way they know what’s happening is by the grapevine, or by calling someone’s extension only to learn they’ve been “disappeared.”

(Sorry. I should have referred to department as “bureau” which is what all water management districts now are required to label certain sections of their respective staffs.  This is all part of Tallahassee’s reformation of water management districts to insure they walk, talk and look like Tallahassee state agencies.  Our ersatz governor has embarked upon this quest for no apparent reason except perhaps because someone told him at a briefing one time that all government in Florida needs to walk, talk and look like they do in Tallahassee because it’ll somehow create new jobs and make government more efficient.  Don’t know this for a fact but it was likely the chair of his transition team regulatory reform subcommittee.)

Of course there’s also Guillory’s Standard Format Tentative Budget (August 16, 2012, P.10 – Sandspur obtained a PDF copy, apparently a briefing document for the legislative staff, but no link at SWFWMD could be found.) for the district’s 2012-13 fiscal year which indicates clearly that his intention is to reduce the staff from the current targeted 2011-12 level of 764 “FTEs” to 617.  That’s a reduction of 147 employees, not 30 as Guillory claims, and it’s a lot more than the 60-70 swirling around in the district’s breakroom among the staff every day.

I don’t know the reasons for these discrepancies.  I just know they exist, that they shouldn’t, and that the management staff of the district has handled a perhaps justifiably appropriate reduction of staff in a terribly unprofessional, insensitive, and irrational manner.  But it’s not management incompetence at just the district’s executive level. 

This inexcusable situation should be laid directly at the feet of a totally insensitive, uninformed and completely ill-equipped board of governors.  Why in the world don’t the executive director and the board chair hold face to face staff briefings district-wide? Simply lay out the plan, offer up why they are doing what they’re doing, and make a good faith effort to be straight up with their staff without platitudes like “getting the water right” and “returning to core mission” that demean their professionalism and their intelligence.  That’s all. 

The real human beings that work at SWFWMD, and at all of the water management districts, are not ill-behaved immature work animals who must be herded and treated as unfeeling dumb beasts. They’re due respect and consideration for the position in which they find themselves.  In many instances, they have dedicated their careers and lives to providing the public of Florida a tremendously important service.  To deny them this respect violates every management principle in the book and reflects a level of cold insensitivity that cannot be justified or rationalized, politically, economically, or otherwise.

Sadly, SWFWMD has not been the only perpetrator of these absurdities. Each of the other four districts has similar stories, as well as DEP.   Fear and intimidation through control of information is the new protocol for Florida government.

Is it because the plan is being dictated by the governor’s Tallahassee minions who are deeply embroiled in remaking state government into a service for special interests? Is it because these farcical leaders of the current rid-us-of-all-things-governmental mantra can’t even articulate a rational defense for issuing a mitigation bank permit that is fraught with special interest focus, like the Highlands Ranch Mitigation permit?  Is it because they are brazenly attempting to cleanse Florida’s environment regulatory agencies of anything smacking of technical talent and science-based resource management capability.  Are they doing this because the new natural resource management protocol is to manage by intimidation, fear and political influence?

Sure looks like it.

Use of the term, “justifiably” is not to say that what this governor is doing to decimate the capabilities of the most strategically needed government agencies of this state is in any way appropriate.  It is simply to recognize that the impact of a global recession upon this country has had a significant effect upon the need for governmental services and a reasonable response is to reduce the presence of government at every point where that need has declined.

The problem is that the appropriate level to which water management district staffs and services should have been reduced has been drastically exceeded, despite the claims by Herschel Vinyard and the nodding heads of the water management district governing boards that all is well.  The party line they spew incessantly is that they are, for the first time in Florida’s history, “getting the water right.”  What a load of propagandistic crap.  The State of Florida is going to be paying the price for such irresponsible nonsense for a very long time in a lot of different ways.

The result of this delirium will hang like the darkest of clouds over the morale and technical capabilities of the state’s five water management districts for years, if not permanently.  The state’s much-needed construct for water resource management, where the objective was always wherever possible to insure decisions were science-based and in the public interest, is already suffering. The game has clearly become a strategy of management by intimidation, fear and political influence.

JD Alexander, the not-so-behind-the-scenes real leader of the senate for the last few years, was the poster child for how to achieve this.  Alexander, along with cowboy-boot-wearing CEO Scott and DEP’s Herschel Vinyard of similar pointy-toed footwear, have already made the incredibly dumb decision over the last two legislative sessions to cut SWFWMD’s budget well into the bone. Tea baggers surely rejoiced, but the reality is that Scott and Alexander shot Alexander’s home county squarely in the gluteus maximusby doing so.

The cuts and revenue limitations they levied upon SWFWMD were so harsh, even Polk County commissioners were begging Alexander not to do it because the county is literally banking upon the property-tax payers of the district’s 16 counties to pay for its much-needed new county-wide water supply system.

Nevertheless, SWFWMD’s ambassadors-of-all-things-hunky-dory are smiling sweetly and saying not to worry because the legislature in 2012 gave the district the option of levying more property taxes should more dollars be needed for the project.

Fat chance, right?

Truth is, it was a tea bagger pandering frenzy led by Scott, Alexander and an army of lobbyists owned by special interests to cut the districts not only in staff and funding but in every other way they can find.  They are not stopping at what’s prudent.  It is a frenzy of destruction and punishment for one of the Florida’s most important functions.  Florida, a state of such tremendous natural diversity and ecological sensitivity, stands to lose the very characteristics that makes it one of the most unique and desirable places in the world to work, live and play.  We are witnessing the release of forces that could affect the future of this state in all respects for a very long time, and it isn’t good.

See this BLOG Post and others by Sandspur at:  http://swfwmdmatters.blogspot.com/
(Over 72,400 pageviews as of 10.18.12)

Sonny Vergara
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