Council watch 

Billy Manes pays attention to city government so you don't have to

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There was a deceptive tenor to this week's glibly executed city smile-a-thon, one that carried a weight that could bore a hole in everything we've come to know and love about glibly smiling. The real issue – beyond the talk of "stud boats" and "dud boats" – came in a presentation about the threat to local prosperity should Amendment 4 pass in the November election. The proposed cap on property-tax revenues the amendment would bring could send local governments into a tax-or-cut-services spiral that would ensure that nobody in power when it happened would ever be reelected again. Uh-oh.
"We built this state entirely on growth," Commissioner Robert Stuart surmised, "but when the growth stops … you can't even go back in the black again."
In other words: Who made who?

Item: The city adopts an ordinance amending and restating the Mills Park planned-development zoning regulations.
Translation: Like the proverbial Godot of Orlando development concerns, Mills Park has been an aspirational flight of fancy for longer than anyone can remember. Rising from the ashes of the old Depression-era Mills-Nebraska lumberyard, the dusty chasm of doubt has been hemmed and hawed over since its first brush with development in 1993, finally reaching its blueprinted apex of "luxury" condo life amid a $350 million sea of retail and medical hotspots in 2005 (and then, even bigger, in 2007). Not if 2008 had anything to do with it! The crash of the condo boom sucked the life out of the property, sending choruses of naysayers and tumbleweeds into perpetually rotating tizzies. "It's never going to happen!" said everyone. Earlier this year, the announcement that a Fresh Market would open in the space signaled a new era of prosperity for the maligned parcel, and a fresh batch of developers (abetted by the old batch) came to the rescue, even managing to kick lone holdout Lust Cash Transactor to the curb for a pittance of $400,000. Super-development rises again! "Not so fast," said someone who owns an adjoining property; though said owner had initially agreed to live in the shadow of the New Miniature Baldwin Park (the new developers have a controlling interest in that success story), he quickly filed a motion to block the city from approving the plans. Legal nonsense followed over the summer (apparently an attorney didn't show up), and eventually a settlement was drafted forcing the developers to install a black-painted wrought-iron fence between the new and the old, because that makes all the difference in the world. Let's see if we're still talking about this Godot in 20 years.

Item: The city approves a third amendment to its agreement with HNTB Corporation to provide architectural and engineering services for the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium renovation.
Translation: Talk about a holding pattern. The recently resuscitated locker-room fantasy of a shiny new Citrus Bowl for nobody to attend continues along its speculative path this week with this three-month stopgap measure – a third amendment, even – intended to buy time for architectural-design firm HNTB to come up with the eventual (very expensive) plans that will comprise the initial agreement's fourth amendment. What that means is that HNTB will spend 45 days doing a market study to determine just how badly the public desires glamorous club, endzone and sideline seating as well as spectacular facade design. Then, for the following 45 days, there will be more meetings, some pens pressing to paper and probably a PowerPoint or two. The city will give HNTB $385,000 over this three-month party, with an additional $15,000 "allowance" allotted for, well, snacks. You can probably guess who's winning at this game.

Item: The city approves an award for the Fiscal Year 2012 JAG countywide grant to purchase in-car camera systems.
Translation: Because Orlando is the City Beautiful where nothing ever goes wrong and everybody behaves accordingly, the Orlando Police Department received 107 citizen-generated complaints in the first six months of 2012 alleging charming improprieties like racial profiling and excessive force. Very little of that can be proven erroneous, though, as only 16 of the city's 400-strong police fleet are currently equipped with video technology worthy of Cops exploitation. This week the city accepts a federal, Justice Assistance Grant in the amount of $75,471 that will be utilized to wire up 13 more cars (with backseat cameras and collision detectors) and tune them in to a remote server of unquestionable evidence. You just won't know which cars they are until it's too late.

Item: The city approves an advisory committee recommendation for RFP12-0284 to provide emergency ambulance service in Orlando.
Translation: It appears that the city's county-inspired fundraising experiment with bringing ambulance service in-house via the Orlando Fire Department might not be all that it's cracked up to be. Though the city has dabbled with outsourcing some of its excess emergency calls to Rural/Metro Corporation of Florida since the February 2011 changeover, it's now ready to get solidly in bed (or gurney) with the company, which happens to be the only company that issued a bid. For this honor, Rural/Metro will pay a monthly fee of $3,500 to offset the city's administrative costs. Think of it as a subscription to disaster.

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