Council Watch 

Billy Manes paying attention to local government so you don't have to

It was a humility hoedown
as the boots and spurs that make up your City Council scraped the dusty surface of this week's economically challenged episode of The Sad Parade. Overhead, a slideshow of old apothecaries and department stores flashed in sepia tones while the resigned dais chose to entertain itself with various philanthropies involving the poor (community development grants, an expanding Second Harvest Food Bank, volunteers), smiling through the tears like an old film starlet. A distraction - beyond Mayor Buddy Dyer's quizzical calico beard - was desperately in order. It came.

"Isn't he cute?" Commissioner Patty Sheehan directed the audience's eyes to a photo of a new baby swan born at Lake Eola. He (or she) was.

Item: The city approves a policy authorizing the planning official to grant temporary-use permits for up to one month (with three one-month extensions) for media staging areas on property near the Orange County Courthouse during court cases of national or regional interest.

Translation: In an expected nod to the ramshackle circus surrounding the tattooed, crumple-faced girl whom you may or may not have made out with while topless at Tabu during some blurry point in your Goldschläger days of the mid-2000s, the city is taking a much-needed lap from the Casey Anthony gravy train and codifying the imminent media gawk of her coming May trial. It's a sideshow! Rather than just having every Nancy Grace-alike fogging the windows of downtown's litigious buzzard sanctuary, the city is taking pains to make this pile of spectator hubris into an orderly event, assigning parcels within a 1,000-foot radius around the courthouse erection as potential gathering spaces for hairspray-and-lipstick vans equipped to boom the dead-baby schadenfreude to global markets so transfixed by this single 2008 incident of wretched parenting that they'd rather hear about stray hairs and decomposition stains than the holes in the nation's debt ceiling. Entrepreneurial land owners within the dilapidated north-downtown core are encouraged to get their parcels in order - "temporary paved aprons" (!), Dumpsters, restrooms, power poles - for the trial of the century: a party girl, duct tape, a heart sticker and easy chloroform recipes even your kids will enjoy. Beneath the veneer of respectful order, you can almost hear the one guy in the economic development department whispering words like "synergy" while clapping his hands wildly. No special signage is allowed, but rest assured that somebody will be selling T-shirts. Sad.

Item: The city approves an amendment to an existing contract with Tindale-Oliver & Associates Inc. for engineering services related to research and preparation of a transportation impact fee study.

Translation: Back in late 2009, seething from the soap stains left on its lapel by the pop of Orlando's real estate bubble, the city reached out to Tindale-Oliver with $187,763 in hopes of making sense of just where transportation impact fees factor into the failure of Orlando's skyline makeover. Now, seeing as Orange County appears to be on its way to reducing impact fees on phantom new construction, and the state legislature seems hell-bent on removing all obstacles from glorious new sprawl, the city is amending its agreement with the firm, adding "mobility strategies" and possible exception loopholes to the mix. For a mere $82,000, the engineering company will re-evaluate its findings and probably come to the realization that there's already enough empty commercial and residential inventory existing downtown to render this study useless. We're on a road to nowhere.

Item: The city approves a contract for Housing Finance Agencies Hardest Hit Fund Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program (UMAP) and the Mortgage Loan Rein-statement Program (MLRP) with the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Translation: The city has been dipping its wagging fingers in the munificence tray for a while now, focusing on housing assistance and foreclosure consultation whenever it can. Now comes the news that the federal government has allotted Florida more than $1 billion to assuage the needs of those hardest hit in the real estate crisis: the unemployed. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation will assist the city (via the county) in making good use of the county's $24 million allotment, giving the city $250 per general applicant, $100 per applicant for closings, $75 a month for monthly management and $2,400 in reimbursement each time a contract is executed. In turn, UMAP will provide up to 18 months of mortgage payments for first-time homeowners; MLRP will offer a one-time catch-up payment for delinquent homeowners who have just gotten their jobs back. Things are looking up?

Item: The city authorizes the release of a mortgage to allow a deed in lieu of foreclosure for the property located at 4224-D Lake Underhill Road.

Translation: Not really. A woman with the last name of Parker received downpayment assistance from the city to buy a Lake Underhill condo in 2006. Since then, she's (or rather the city is) on a third $20,000 mortgage. She can't afford it anymore and her lender, US Bank, has offered to take the property back in lieu of foreclosure. The city requires those who receive downpayment assistance to stay in the property for 10 years or pay it all back plus interest, but in this case will shore up the messy proceedings by just signing the deed over to the bank. That whole homeownership thing that you deserved back in 2006? It was a lie.

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