Council Watch 

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

It was the one holiday party this year you would never want an invitation to – the dry and boring beige office fare, the smattering of children (or “kidz”) bearing ornaments for the commissioners, the droll pronouncements of innocuous yuletide generosity – but it was also the last council meeting of the decade. It would have to be momentous! It wasn’t.

Mayor Buddy Dyer effused (with a slight gobble) for a minute or two about the happenstance that is going to turn Orlando into a busy railroad crossing, Commissioner Tony Ortiz struggled with the word “ornament” and Commissioner Daisy Lynum made up words that struggle for meaning. Then, postscripted by a promise from the mayor that Commissioner Sam Ings would keep his comments short, the whole room sang “Happy Birthday” to Ings. Ings, for the record, did not keep his comments short. Christmas, ruined.

Item: The city adopts a schedule of rates, charges and fees for emergency ground medical transport and related services.

Translation: This year, the city decided it was going to follow Orange County’s siren-screaming lead and absorb the majority of the city’s ambulance needs into its award-winning (and grant-receiving) fire department. Previous emergency medical transporters Rural/Metro would stay on for the less-serious sprained ankles and stapler tussles, while the city would nab those in more dire circumstances. Now that the city has already coughed up $1.3 million for 10 ambulances, it’s time to set the fee structure that will make the two-year trial program bankable. What does that mean to you? New limo-like rates for your darkest hours, of course. As before, minor injuries will set you back $700 just for the attention and $12 per mile to the hospital. But the new citified services will incrementally increase depending on your injury – $900 for medium-sized catastrophes, $1,000 for, well, dying probably – plus that pesky $12 per mile. Basically, the city needs to turn a profit on its end, and given that the majority of those who need ambulance services probably can’t pay for them, this should make up the difference. To seal the deal, the city will also apply to receive Medicaid and Medicare payouts for those patients with benefits cards in their lifeless pockets. Maybe the mayor can turn the old Amway Arena into a Superdome-style hospital and call it even? That worked out pretty well.

Item: The city approves extending its engagement with the law firm of Mateer & Harbert for special legal services relating to the 2010 District 5 election.

Translation: When the city commission elections squeaked by without much public notice back in March, District 5 Commissioner Daisy Lynum batted nary an eyelash. She, the queen of Parramore, boasts a certain immunity among her constituents or at the very least has every reasonable challenger tied up in her dungeon. Not so for once-hopeful Vibert White, a Republican-ish spanner who intended to disassemble her works. White sustained some political bruising during the campaign – most embarrassingly due to a domestic dispute last Christmas involving an occasional girlfriend and a dismountable bathroom door – but was ultimately removed from the race based on residency requirements. White did not shut up, though; instead, he sued the city and demanded a new election. That suit has not just gone away like Lynum at any given airport, so the city is retaining attorneys Mateer & Harbert (they fought and won a similar District 5 battle in 2008) to settle the mess. White may not have won the war, but he’s putting a fancy $20,000 dent in the city’s battle.

Item: The city approves a second amendment to its agreement with HNTB Corporation to provide architectural/engineering services for the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium renovation.

Translation: Like so many holiday wishes doomed to the crumpled pile underneath the mayor’s desk, that whole “new stadium” component of the 2006 venues deal has been relegated to the procrastination burner of “phasing.” It was in the not-terribly-heady days of October 2008 that the city hopped in bed with HNTB and asked the designers to figure out the best plan of action for renovations to the Citrus Bowl. Three months later in February 2009, the whole project was put on hold because it could not be afforded. Then, in May 2010, embarrassed by a sod-flinging bowl game disaster, the city went ahead and promised the company $758,000 for its services (not quite the $175 million originally proposed for the whole renovation project) to go ahead with Phase I. This week the city increases that amount by an additional $75,000 for “expanded field support” – or new turf – because, uh, there are sports coming up, right?

Item: The city approves an application for funding from the 2011 NRA Foundation grant.

Translation: Just like any other Southern city, Orlando drives a big truck with a gun rack and a Confederate flag visible through the back window. If you listen close to the city saying grace at supper, you’ll hear Uncle Buddy burping “Second Amendment” into his prayer roll. Because of that devotion, the city is calling on the NRA Foundation to tithe some $26,500 so that the city can get those two special purpose rifle systems and five tactical shotguns it so needs to keep its SWAT team happy. It ain’t civilization without buckshot, ya hear?

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