Council watch

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

Well, hello again, everyone. Jeffrey Billman, your substitute Council Watcher (and former senior writer at this very esteemed publication), here. Billy Manes is in Atlanta this week on another Duran Duran/vodka bender (shocking!), so his duties have fallen to me – and in the mid-August doldrums, no less, when City Council phones it in and slinks away to melt in the unforgiving humidity. Thanks, Billy!

Anyway, let's see what we've got on the agenda today. Maybe we could get ourselves hot and bothered about another east Orlando strip mall? How about a contract for public works data collection? Maybe Buddy Dyer receiving the "Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award" – which apparently exists, and comes with a plaque – for having "advanced the cause of good design and planning and/or contributed to the dignity and value of the architectural profession" by doing … stuff? Hizzoner leading the assembly in a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" for Commissioner Tony "The 'Stache" Ortiz? That tingle your naughty bits?

Didn't think so. Long story short: Apologies, dear readers, if this column isn't up to its usual standards. We work with what we've got.

Item: The city approves a funding agreement with Florida Classic Consortium to operate the 33rd Annual Blue Florida Classic.
Translation: The city is providing $121,000 in fee credits to Florida Classic Consortium, the official corporate sponsor of the annual football game between Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman College. In other words, the city isn't going to charge the consortium for using the Florida Citrus Bowl and other city properties that weekend. There's also an option to renew the contract for the 2013 and 2014 games, though the planned Citrus Bowl overhaul – because the city can't think of any better way to spend $200 million – might get in the way.
Which … OK, fine. This game is a pretty big deal, good for the local economy, etc. But you'd think the horrific events that followed last November's game – when members of the FAMU marching band, the Marching 100, literally beat one of their own to death as part of some stupid hazing ritual – might give the City Council pause, or at the very least warrant some discussion. You'd be wrong, of course, and you shouldn't be surprised: We've already hopped into bed with the likes of Lou Pearlman and the DeVos family in the name of economic development, so it's not like our standards are all that high.

In fairness, FAMU has suspended its marching band program through the 2013 season, not an insignificant punishment for institutional cowardice that resulted in a young man's brutal death, though not as punitive as some of us may have liked. (The NCAA, after all, basically eviscerated Penn State's football program over its institutional cowardice, which allowed a coach to diddle little boys in the locker room.)

Former FAMU president James Ammons, who has since resigned, pledged in June to use "this unfortunate situation as a teaching moment." The consortium says this year's Classic will spread an anti-bullying message. Good for them, though you have to wonder if, given that the FAMU-BCC marching band rivalry is roughly 99.8 percent of the reason people go to this thing in the first place, anyone will be around to catch the new, gentler vibe.

And now for a more minor kvetch: For the first time in this storied event's 33-year history, it won't be known as the Florida Classic. Instead, it's the Blue Florida Classic, because Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida bought the goddamn naming rights, because we can't have anything anymore without an obnoxious corporate logo affixed to it.

Item: The city exercises an option to purchase property near Lake Eola from the Trust for Public Land.
Translation: A few years ago, back when all real estate was gold, a developer wanted to build a 15-story condo/retail thing on the east side of Lake Eola. The neighboring condo dwellers objected – won't somebody please think of their views? – and protested mightily. And so, right around the time of the real estate bust, the developer lost his appetite and agreed to sell the property to the California-based Trust for Public Land; the city paid $3 million of the $8.5 million purchase price in 2009. The Trust sat on the land until the city decided what to do with it, and after three years, the city had to vote on whether to buy it back (with the Trust's "absolutely not a threat" caveat that if the city declined, it would probably sell the 1.36-acre property to another developer who would build another mid-rise that would piss off the condo crowd). The Council voted 6-0 to shell out the cash, with newbie Commissioner Jim Gray, who looks like your high school principal and used to work for original developer Eola Capital, declaring a conflict of interest. Contrary to rumors, Dyer explained, the city has no desire to redevelop this property. Instead, it will eventually become an extension of Lake Eola Park. But if you have tens of thousands of dollars to spare, you can move one of the houses to your own lot. Yep, that's how we live now.

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