State conservation council members didn’t show up for their public meeting
Not a single one of the ten members of Florida’s Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) showed up for their twice-yearly “Regional Public Meeting” this week. Over 70 citizens went to the meeting to speak to the council during this rare chance to discuss State conservation projects with this group. Instead, citizens found themselves speaking into a mike facing a dais of empty seats where the ARC members would have sat — if they had come.
These are the people who decide which lands the state will buy for conservation. Now that we voters have passed Amendment 1, we have increased their land-buying budget to $10 billion over the next 20 years. They are required to schedule public meetings twice a year outside of Tallahassee, but they are not required to attend those meetings. So they don’t.
They sent a DEP staff member to take public comment and “make it available to them” to review later. But since they’re not required to actually review any of it, who knows if they will?
Their published agenda was essentially abandoned. There was no presentation or anything other than citizen comment. The lone DEP staff member who took everyone’s comments emphasized that he could answer no questions and had no decision-making authority himself.
The state ARC members missed a great meeting.
The large crowd was a Who’s Who of notable environmentalists and representatives of several organizations. The citizens who spoke were articulate and knowledgeable, addressing various topics, and offering sensible suggestions and intelligent ideas. Speakers included:
- Joe McClash, former Manatee County Commissioner
- Mike Kelly, former Hillsborough County Director of Real Estate
(he submitted Hillsborough’s ELAPP priority list of 27,000 acres of environmental land targeted for conservation)
- Kent Bailey, Chair of Tampa Bay Sierra Club
- Pat Kemp, Legal Chair of Tampa Bay Sierra Club
- Michael Newett, Growth Management Chair, Tampa Bay Sierra Club
- Sandra Ripberger, Manatee County Conservation Chair, Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club
- Barbara Hines, Director, ManaSota-88
- Suzi Fox, Director, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring
- Christine Johnson, President, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast
- an officer of the Myakka Conservancy (I don’t have his name)
- Ralph Greenlee, Sundance Homeowners Association
- several representatives of River Ranch Homeowners Association
- and many more citizens who made the effort to go to a meeting to address a group of Florida decision-makers who did not show up.
Why do they even bother holding these meetings?
Why not simply publicize an email address and P.O. box where people can send comments instead of making citizens show up at a meeting they aren’t going to attend?
This article is the product of information from several attendees and DEP staff. I also listened to the recorded meeting, but did not attend myself.
Update: The Tampa Tribune reports on this: “Environmental groups stood up by Florida Forever panel”