Council Watch 

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

It wasn’t the best meeting of the civic check-writing club ever, but by most appearances – we had to leave early, see, to get this giant newsprint sandwich to the printer on time – it had the potential to be one of the most contentious in recent months. A smattering of scrubby new faces, most of the Food Not Bombs variety, showed up to read prepared statements about feeding the needy in public spaces – because, you know, Bastille Day is right around the corner.

Mayor Buddy Dyer, apparently unfazed (and appropriately preoccupied with the recent death of former Mayor Carl Langford), chose to kick things off with a bit of out-of-nowhere whimsy. City staff would be allowed to wear “business casual” throughout the summer! Amazing.

“Has anybody noticed that it’s pretty hot outside?” the mayor asked, by way of explanation. It would probably get a little hotter inside later.

Item: The city approves a resolution setting the 2012 city of Orlando elections.

Translation: Because the city is a mystical fairyland dotted with trees that actually grow cash and is ruled by the sort of political insincerity that requires tabs of Scotch tape to hold its disingenuous smiles in place, it is no longer perceived as necessary for local government to make any fiscal sense – especially come election time. Two weeks ago, Mayor Dyer and his minions made it clear that next year’s municipal races – three commission seats and the mayor’s gold-lined vibrating sofa – would not be held hostage by the whims of the ruling state Republican party. One day after that blithely orchestrated production, it came to light that state Republicans were leaning toward an early March presidential preference primary date, putting it right in line with the city’s own current laws that call for city elections to be held either on the second Tuesday in March or, for the sake of saving money, whenever primaries would be held in presidential election years. Now, because nobody cares and because the city started its redistricting process three months late, Orlando will go ahead and move its municipal elections to April 3 with a run-off (if necessary) on May 1. This way the mayor won’t be subjected to any of that pesky electoral input from Republicans who may not have appreciated his decade of blank checks to overweight development concerns with boy bands in their eyes. Naturally, the only real objection to the mayor’s grand scheme has been Commissioner Phil Diamond, the mayor’s only viable challenger for the 2012 stakes. Diamond argued two weeks ago that the move was “reckless,” pointing out that, in addition to costing the city an unnecessary $125,000 (it would be only a couple thousand to piggyback on the primary ballot), the April election will effectively be a pantomime of political hubris ensuring minimal voter turnout. On Friday, July 8, Diamond took matters further, issuing a memo calling for a policy forbidding city legal staff who are directly involved with the election process from making contributions to city candidates (as both city attorney Mayanne Downs and assistant city attorney Kyle Shephard notably have). That won’t happen here in fantasyland. In other words, the whole thing is already rigged.

Item: The city approves general authorization for execution of Florida Department of Transportation E-Verify forms in conjunction with FDOT contracts.

Translation: As the immigration wars have taken a backseat to more pressing concerns about ceilings of debt and baby-mama drama, Orlando still must continue to choreograph its lockstep with Gov. Rick Scott’s E-Verify mandate issued in January. This item requires that all contractors and subcontractors wrapped up in the city’s multitude of collaborations with FDOT run checks on employees through the federal system. While on the surface E-Verify is free – there is no cost listed here for the city, because it’s really just approving a form – critics of the system have argued that it is at best inefficient and at worst costly to businesses. A recent government study showed that E-Verify can cost an employer with 10 employees $1,254 in the first year (a company with 500 employees faces a $24,422 surcharge) plus the cost of finding replacement employees if needed. Regardless, we’ll all be white Republicans sooner or later.

Item: The city approves a permission request from McGraw-Hill School Education Group for use of the city of Orlando mission statement in a textbook.

Translation: Back to those money trees and taped smiles, the city has been propositioned by middle-school textbook factory McGraw-Hill for permission to reprint what it is that makes this sociological diorama such a thriving success. The city’s oblique mission statement – “Enhance the quality of life in the City by delivering public services in a knowledgeable, responsive and financially responsible manner” – is due to be featured in the must-read textbook My Reflections on Civics (formerly titled Civics, Economics and Geography, tellingly), which was recently marked down from $67 per copy to just $29.32. The best part: The city gets two free copies of the book! You’ll find it in the mayor’s “self-help” section next to How to Steal an Election and Build It and They Will Come.

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