Council Watch 

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

Everything was coming up red at this week’s municipal spin of the color wheel, or at least all we saw was red. First, the city’s chief financial officer, Rebecca Sutton, alluded to the city finishing its fiscal year in the black by some $15 million, but even that changed to a bloody hue when she got into some extremely dense shoptalk about how the city had screwed up somewhere along the money-shuffle line with its arcane housing funding structure. The takeaway was that Orlando will have to lean in on its own general fund to make everything nice again, red be damned.

But the afternoon’s real crimson party piece came in the form of a gaggle of redshirts in attendance in support of the city’s new domestic-partner registry. For a good hour, supporters weighed in with their own personal stories – and tears – regarding the denial of basic rights and the difficulties of being gay. Naturally, two old, fat white men fired up the brimstone to cast curses on the queers: “immoral and absolute,” “a travesty,” “lies and deceit” and our favorite, “lifestyle-deathstyle” all adding up to a pathetic and cruel futility that smelled of man-diapers. God’s scorn awaits!

Item: The city approves a Planet Hollywood International Inc. qualified target-industry tax-refund resolution and Quick Action Closing Fund agreement.

Translation: In the (deep-fried) salad days of Orlando’s boy band-fed entertainment bubble, Planet Hollywood made some kind of metaphorical sense – if only the kind of sense that made gazing over Lou Pearlman’s shoulder as he clogged his last fraudulent artery appealing. These days, Planet Hollywood still exists, albeit quietly, as a monument to excess and plastic trash in glass casing. Fitting, then, that the city would be volleying to lure the company – which owns a Las Vegas casino resort, the Earl of Sandwich(!) and, most recently, Italian-themed family-style nightmare Buca di Beppo – away from its unincorporated Orange County headquarters and into city limits. In a fairly complicated deal, this item involves consolidating the company’s extensive operations (Buca di Beppo is currently headquartered in Minneapolis) into one 20,000-square-foot space on Vineland Avenue via a maze of economic development incentives. The state’s qualified target-industry tax-incentive program will throw in $360,000; another $288,000 will come from the governor’s highly unregulated Quick Action Closing Fund; the city will throw in $144,000. In exchange, Planet Hollywood is promising $1.1 million in build-out and relocation expenses along with 90 new jobs averaging $64,850 a year (plus benefits). In reality, many of those jobs have already been offered to current employees at the Minnesota office – also, the $1.1 million is nearly covered by the incentive package – but in Hollywood parlance often written in smoke atop mirrors, the city is getting a great deal here. Trust us. You’re golden.

Item: The city accepts the minutes of the Budget Review Committee meeting held on Nov. 15 for year-end adjustments necessary to close out fiscal year 2010-2011.

Translation: Uh-oh! It’s the end of the year and our dog-eared ledgers are in disarray! Actually, in fiscal terms, we’re already in next year, but who’s counting? The city is. In one fell swoop meant to go largely unnoticed, the city is shifting things like surpluses and contingencies from column to column in an effort to make everything look kosher. Among many other confusing sleights of hand, that means that $23,024 from the mayor’s grant-funding budget will be carried over into the current fiscal cycle. Hooray! On the fishier side, “budget-related” construction funds for the community venues project are being shifted to “unbudgeted interest activity,” with $852,635 for the Amway Center, a whopping $4 million for the performing arts center and $10,709 for the Citrus Bowl. Still, the city reaped (apparently) unforeseen profits from the Amway, resulting in $3.9 million to be thrown back into the venue-making machine, so everything’s fine. We think.

Item: The city approves Florida Department of Transportation Local Agency Program supplemental agreement No. 2 for the Semoran Boulevard sidewalk and streetscape improvement project.

Translation: This latest agreement to save Semoran Boulevard from ugliness funnels an additional $1 million (there has already been $2.4 million approved) from the U.S. Department of Transportation, down through the Florida Department of Transportation and into District 2 Commissioner Tony Ortiz’s urban planning mustache. The latest $1 million is to be used exclusively to replace the sidewalks between Curry Ford Road and Colonial Drive with an “8-foot-wide decorative pattern sidewalk,” because going nowhere should be aesthetically pleasing.

Item:The city approves an ordinance adding a new article to Chapter 57 of the city code to establish a domestic-partnership registry.

Translation: We’ll have to wait until next week’s second reading of this ordinance to know if it becomes the law of the land, but all signs point to go. Basically, the registry provides domestic partners – not just gay ones, and not just those residing in Orlando (though it’s only enforceable in the city) – with basic human rights for a small $30 fee. Participants will be granted hospital visitation, health care decision-making rights, funeral arrangement decisions and prison visitation, among other hetero-granted rights. A companion ordinance is slow in coming for the county, so the city’s going ahead and making the leap on its own. Hopefully. Check back next week, heathens!

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