Council watch

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

This week's rolling civic brainstorm felt like a glib style-over-substance affair, more reminiscent of a boardroom branding exercise than just another sad parade of spending to make yourself feel better. Sometimes, we suppose, it's best to keep everything at the surface level of catchphrases and blanket initiatives – see "Best Foot Forward" (pedestrian safety), "It Takes Courage" (domestic abuse), "All Hands on Deck" (crime!) – than it is to talk specifics. But not always! Did you know that the Orlando Police Department brought in 166 pounds of prescription drugs on National Prescription Take Back Day? That's like a whole drug person, which is awesome. Not so awesome were the very real things happening beneath the smiling surface. To wit:

Item: The city approves Amendment No. 5 to Orlando Performing Arts Center Agreement
Translation: It's been a solid three weeks since we lapsed into slackjawed amazement at the city's craftiness in calling a multimillion-dollar handout a whimsical puff of air that has "no fiscal impact." You'll recall that we were going on (and on, and on) about carnival midway hijinks amounting to a (band) shell game designed to make the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts a fiscally viable reality. Turns out the trick was on us that time; the item was removed from the agenda at the last minute like nothing nefarious ever happened. "For now!" we cackled. And we were right. This week, the city is moving forward with its fifth amendment to the beleaguered arts center project, this time agreeing to its own scripted notion of making good on "assurances and commitments to be memorialized" in the name of something it probably likes to refer to as fairness. To recap: There is certainly a fiscal impact when you consider that the city is going to toss $3.5 million into "streetscaping" for the elusive second phase of the project, increase DPAC's credit line from $3 million to $4.5 million to offset delays, peel off another $2.5 million for additional oversight and effectively hold the flawed premise together with ropes braided out of whatever other cash it can find hidden in the old money cellar. Perhaps hilariously, there would be no real mention of the apparent coup for the boosters of DPAC from anyone sitting on the dais Monday, save a breezy mumble from the lectern by Community Redevelopment Agency executive director Thomas Chatmon, who reiterated with a whimper that there was "no fiscal impact." Send in the clowns. Wait, they're already here.

Item: The city approves a license agreement with Verizon Wireless for a wireless communication system at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Translation: First they came for our gaudy streetside crucifixes, now they're coming for our scoreboards? In what can only be described as an act of invisible futility ripped from science fiction, Verizon has tempted the city into allowing the wireless carrier to penetrate the sacred scoreboard speaker enclosure of the Citrus Bowl with its filthy antennae in the interest of improving cell reception for all of those large events we've come to expect from the stadium that nobody goes to. Worse still, the city is allowing this intrusion to happen for free! Verizon will poke its holes, pull up its trucks and drain the city's electricity to communicate with the aliens, then, and we'll get nothing out of it. The city isn't charging rent because it's about to renovate the Citrus Bowl anyway, and it may need to move those scoreboards around a time or two in order to remove the stench of urine and failure from the beloved bowl.

Item: The city approves an extension for the feasibility study and purchase option agreement between the city of Orlando and SED Development LLC.
Translation: Sticking with the holy trinity of venues-deal casualties in fermentation, the Orlando Magic – otherwise known as SED Development LLC when it's nasty – had this grand scheme last year to redevelop that garage-cum-retail space across from the Amway Center into a $100 million space-age entertainment complex. The city, as it does, bowed at the opportunity to even allow the Magic a full year to complete feasibility studies on the parcel, because, what the hell, we already dropped half-a-billion on an arena for the team. Actually, it charged the Magic a $100,000 deposit for the yearlong hold, which is only half-refundable. No word on whether this extension through January (the original one-year agreement expired last week) will see the Magic spending a dime for being lazy with its luxuries, but if the past is anything to go on, all signs point to "no."

Item: The city approves the 2012-2013 Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce, d/b/a Orlando Inc., Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce funding agreement.
Translation: Last year, the city caught some deserved guff from fiscal hounds when it agreed to hand over $62,600 from city coffers to the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce to help fund its new shoulder-rubbing Entrepreneurs Academy. Running on that familiar chamber meme – pay us, and you'll know people – Jacob Stuart and Co. approached the city again this year, only this time they only want $50,000 to fund their "Entrepreneurial Ecosystem." It's a ballsy move, considering the hell the chamber is getting for its role in all things county these days (also, the chamber only pays the city $1 per year in rent for its office space), but it's one the city is gleefully open to. After all, city businesspeople will only have to pay $250 for the two-day glad-hand circle jerk, while outsiders will be out $425. "It's a steal!" said absolutely no one.

Correction: Half a billion dollars – not half a million – was spent on the Amway Center. This story has been revised to reflect the correction.