Council Watch 

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

Outside City Hall, five scrappy protesters continued their occupation ritual as this week’s careless commission whisper grew slowly into a scream. Mostly, it was business as usual, though: The mayor has joined other mayors with basketball teams and spacious stadiums in calling for an end to the lockout madness that’s making them look bad; he smoothed over poor old Commissioner Sam Ings’ broken starfucking ambition by letting him know that he presented a visiting Barack Obama with a Barack Obama Parkway sign; he let us know that the Amway Center spire was about to be lit up again. Everybody and everything could be happy again, right?

That is, until a heated (OK, slightly warm) discussion about finalizing the redistricting process led one audience member to accuse the city at large of being in the pockets of big business. She was, apparently, the 99 percent.

Item: The city approves the 2011-2012 Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce (doing business as Orlando Inc. Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce) funding agreement.

Translation: Given the recent occupation of the park adjacent to its downtown offices (for which it pays nearly nothing to the city, allegedly), you might think that the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce would be hiding beneath its starched white collar to protect its overtly political premise from the rising drumbeat of populist anger. It isn’t. Instead, Mayor Dyer’s personal campaign trust fund is asking for – and getting – a $62,600 kickback from the mayor and his minions. It’s all being couched as an effort to support the chamber’s dubious Entrepreneurs Academy, which the city describes as “a program that will be offered to growth-oriented entrepreneurs with established businesses who are seeking tools and resources to innovate and grow.” So, if we’re going to dance with the current parlance, what this effectively means is that the city is willing to throw money at the “1 percent” that is already throwing substantial money right back at it. In related news, class warfare is alive and well. So is corporate welfare.

Item: The city approves “City Beautiful” consent to use and register agreement with the city of Coral Gables.

Translation: Those who’ve always considered the benign-yet-ridiculous codification of Orlando as “The City Beautiful” to be the result of a simple conversational grumble loaded in early-20th-century cracker ambition should know: The branding exercise is actually more contentious than that. Sure, the city filed for a federal patent on the useless term in 1908 – long before Coral Gables got the same bad idea in 1933 – but the result has been a sort of mythic legal dust-up in the years since. Coral Gables was forced to stop being “Beautiful” in February 2007, leading the Southern city to file a notice of opposition with the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in August of that year. Coral Gables is way serious about its beauty. A few other filings have followed, mostly in an attempt to get the appeal board to allow concurrent use of the phrase. Now Orlando wants to just be friends with Coral Gables and avoid potential court costs associated with further public negotiation over absolutely nothing. Coral Gables has agreed to jointly request that the appeal be abandoned so both cities can move forward with the registration of the term. Should one or the other be denied their application, they’ll go ahead with the court order and continue to pursue concurrent use. Neither city, it should be noted, is that beautiful.

Item: The city approves the Orlando Pro Hockey Operations L.P. contract.

Translation: Because the Amway Center is about to become a $480 million art installation of failed urban planning on ice (at least as long as the NBA lockout continues to laugh in Orlando’s face), the city is shifting its public relations distraction machine to the cruel, cold violence of minor league hockey. The city is quick to point out that the ECHL – which is not your fat uncle’s NHL, but rather an “affiliation partner” – has existed for nearly 25 years and drew nearly 3 million fans to its games last season. Also, it’s about to get cold! The team will play 36 home games a season for three years beginning next October, with an option to renew two additional years thereafter. The city estimates that the $22,000-per-game rental fee could bring in $17 million over five years, with the city’s cost for the endeavor at around $10.9 million – meaning it could bank $6.1 million.

Item: The city approves the renewal of a city-requested and citizens-assistance towing services agreement with Johnson’s Wrecker Service Inc.

Translation: Regular readers of this column might remember that the city coughed up more than $1 million to Johnson’s at the last council meeting in order to settle a dispute over some parcels the city needed to complete its Narcoossee Road project. Fast forward two weeks and it turns out that the city is already in bed with Johnson’s, utilizing them since 2008 for city-owned disabled vehicle towing and other services. Johnson’s pays the city permitting costs of about $52,000 annually for the honor of providing “citizens assistance” in the city’s east and west zones. The city, meanwhile, pays Johnson’s about $19,000 for “routine police operations” and movement of the city’s nondisabled fleet. All in all, this saves the city $250,000 a year, says the city. Punch with one hand while you stroke with the other. This is love, people.

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