Council Watch 

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

You could almost taste theslushie-flavored giddiness of Glee’s imminent return as the campy histrionics of your slightly precious/annoying city government circus of the stars kicked into overdrive this week. First, the presentation of a Giant Check™ by Florida Theatrical Association President and CEO Ron Legler meant that the city would have $207,000 extra to make it to finals!

Then something unspeakably awful happened. Commissioner Robert Stuart took to the overhead teevee screen to warn us of the coming zombie attack that just so happens to be tied directly to his district’s annual Zombietoberfest. If you happen to find a zombie, warned Stuart, you should “sever the head and destroy the brain.” This is a public health crisis! Look out!

“Billy Manes,” Mayor Buddy Dyer turned the entire room’s brains in our direction. “Do not write about this.” OK.

Item: The city authorizes the mayor to execute a consortium participation agreement with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, thereby allowing participation in the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council’s HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grant program.

Translation: Whenever the city hacks up the word “consortium,” you can be almost certain that a seemingly indecipherable tangle of attached strings and millions of diverting dollars will be involved. This particular agreement tosses the city into a league of municipalities (DeBary, Seminole County, Sanford, Longwood, Orange County) and ancillary concerns (Creative Village LLC, University of Florida) in an attempt to get the region’s share of $70 million expected to be offered by the federal Housing and Urban Development program. Not so loosely tied to the first phase of SunRail, the $2.8 million grant sought by the consortium is intended to “revitalize” the poor areas surrounding six of the 12 forthcoming SunRail stations – including a hub at the main LYNX station downtown – so that new jobs are located near existing rundown housing. Additionally, the esteemed Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida will be enlisted for the obligatory “housing study” for areas surrounding all 12 stops in the commuter train’s first phase. In the fine print, though, are hints that this is yet another step in moving the city’s electric dreams of a Creative Village forward, with Orlando co-requesting the lion’s share of the grant, $825,000, with the folks behind the Creative Village; the hope is that improved infrastructure on Amelia and Livingston streets could have the odd side effect of revitalizing Parramore, because that’s always just about to happen. The fact that Creative Village LLC is fronting the required $165,000 match (not the city, unlike the other represented consortium municipalities) might lead a cynical reader to think that piggybacking on the city’s reputation is just a cheaper way for a developer to get his project started. Sneaky!

Item: The city approves a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Florida Department of Transportation regarding the assignment of property for SunRail.

Translation: Following a survey by FDOT of the CSX tracks that the train to nowhere will require, it became apparent that a little parcel of city land on Hughey Avenue near an existing Amtrak station needs to fall under FDOT control, at least partially. The city still retains the right to maintain the parcel it’s giving up, meaning FDOT’s not about to start paving or cleaning city roads for free.

Item: The city approves the placement of recycling bins at Lake Eola Park and Amway Center and the donation of 12 recycling bins made by Waste Management Inc. and City Beverages Inc. to Keep Orlando Beautiful Inc.

Translation:The city is hoping that by placing recycling bins in what are effectively the only two places it has pedestrian traffic – Lake Eola and the Amway Center – the mayor’s “green” ambitions will be better realized. Twelve new custom bins were donated by City Beverages and Waste Management as a sort of sponsorship – so they’ll be appropriately covered in advertisements for booze and trash – and will be divided evenly between the two locales. The bins will also have “educational facts” on them about recycling, and they will be kept up by the mysterious Downtown Clean Team, which gives “community service workers” a way to volunteer out of the kindness of their own hearts … or court judgments.

Item: The city approves Amendment 1 to the traffic control cabinet artwork agreement between the city and Mills Fifty Mainstreet Co.

Translation: Speaking of unsightly bin-shaped necessities, you know all of those traffic control boxes in the Mills 50 area that now feature commissioned mini-murals that are certainly not graffiti? Part of their purpose, according to the city, is to discourage graffiti and “bill posting” by increasing pride in the community. The initial nine-cabinet program was such a resounding success earlier this year that Mills 50 Mainstreet, the nonprofit that promotes the area, is proposing to repurpose five more of them into crazy painted vignettes of the so-called Orlando lifestyle. (“They can do an art cabinet calendar,” enthused Commissioner Patty Sheehan). What’s more, Mills 50 Mainstreet has agreed to take on any vandalism of the boxes, freeing the city’s traffic engineers to concentrate on the faulty wires within them.

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