• Citizens4DistrictPower

"Nobody told us" say Sarasota's elected leaders

Published with permission from the Citizens for Sarasota County blog of Aug. 26, 2019

"Hear no evil" was the refrain at Sarasota County's budget workshop the other day.

Top to bottom: Sarasota Commissioners Al Maio, Mike Moran, Christian Ziegler, Charles Hines, Nancy Detert. Bottom right: 20 years of county data indicating rising nitrates in Sarasota waterways.

When the issue of the degraded condition of Sarasota's wastewater facilities came up, Sarasota's elected officials bravely faced the fact that their public duty requires them to invest $150 million in the facility in order to meet state DEP standards. They then concluded the workshop by covering their posteriors (around 2 hr 31 min):

“Were we asleep at the wheel?” Commissioner Christian Ziegler asked, referencing Detert’s earlier remarks.. . . He remembered asking [County Administrator Jonathan] Lewis, Ziegler continued, about comments he had heard in the community about wastewater spills. Lewis’ response, Ziegler said, was that the county generally had no problems except during hurricanes and other heavy rain periods.

Then just a few days later, Ziegler added, he heard about the federal lawsuit.

“I talked to previous commissioners,” asking if they were aware of the problems, Ziegler pointed out. “Nobody had any idea, I think.” Sarasota News Leader

If Sarasota's elected officials now believe that crucial, economically significant information was systematically withheld from them, why not get to the bottom  of this mystery?

“I can’t remember anybody ever coming to me, privately or publicly,” [Commissioner Charles Hines] added, to suggest the need for the upgrade of the Bee Ridge facility.
The reason the commissioners were told nothing about the water treatment plant problems, [Commissioner Mike] Moran indicated — based on what he had heard — was that previous staff members felt the commissioners never would consider paying a high price to resolve the issues. (SNL)

Mike Mylett, left, was only appointed head of wastewater in April,

Commissioner Nancy Detert tried to blame him for not telling the Board last year about problems at the facility. Administrator Jonathan Lewis on the right.

Well now. Instead of indiscriminately throwing staff under the bus, our commissioners might have taken another tack: ordering an independent investigation to find out what persons, what assumptions, what mechanisms, what puppeteers are concealing significant information from public view. When he ran for reelection in 2018, Commissioner Al Maio claimed he'd kept Sarasota property taxes low for 20 years, but, somehow, this came at no cost to the environment or infrastructural conditions, to parks and other services, or to long range planning and development. Maio was reelected by voters who apparently are drawn to magical thinking. It may be past time for citizens of Sarasota to buy a clue for our elected officials -- to say something like: If you don't know how come you're not apprised of key data relating to our economy, environment, and infrastructure, don't you think it might be a good idea to find out how and why that is? How does critically important information for the people of Sarasota get suppressed? At whose bidding? How long has this been going on? Are Commissioners Moran and Detert going to run on a platform of "nobody told me" in the 2020 election?

Perhaps it's all too clear, Commissioners. You know the trail would lead right back to you and your friends, whose ambitious large-scale activities have long contributed to the rise in nitrates feeding Red Tide in our waters. (At your morning session on Affordable Housing, developer Pat Neal thanked you for lower impact fees here than in Manatee County.) If you choose not to investigate, what does this say about the value you place upon "hard truths"?

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