Local News

It was commissioners versus the tea party

SEBRING - Tea party conservatives pushed twice, and Commissioner Jim Brooks pushed back twice. Among the consent agenda items, which ordinarily are passed without discussion, was a memo between the county commissioners and the Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District. The memo stated that the county agreed to provide office space, janitorial services, local and long-distance telephone service, and furniture. The HSWCD agreed to provide leadership and guidance on agricultural and natural resource issues.
Commissioner Don Elwell said he asked a dozen questions of the county administrator, which were answered, but HSWCD Executive Director Susie Bishop came to the microphone to answer more. "Who hired you?" Brooks asked. "Because we're getting some questions." The HSWCD hired her and pays her salary," Bishop said. And, she explained, back in 1973, the county agreed to provide similar benefits. "It's all taxpayer's money," Dick Noel rose from the audience to complain. "This is just another layer of bureaucracy, I don't know how many people we need to watch the water." Gary Ritter, Okeechobee service center director for South Florida Water Management District, also rose from the audience. "We're not experts in agriculture," he explained. Whenever the water district gets funding for soil projects, it asks the soil and water district to manage that funding. "My hat is off to the soil and water district. They are a very valuable entity, and we support them very much." "I wish Mr. Noel could have heard that," Commissioner Greg Harris said. Noel had left the auditorium and came back after the commissioners moved on to a different issue. Noel rose again to complain that Archbold Biological Station and the Central Florida Regional Planning Council last month had helped the U.S. Air Force obtain land around the Avon Park Bombing Range. "I find hard to believe or the Air Force needs another person to go out and collect money for them. "And," Noel added, "the name Central Florida Regional Planning Council gives me a stomach ache." "After that meeting," Brooks referred to the county commission meeting last month, "there was misinformation about conservation easements. "It's not a government taking of the land," Brooks said. "The landowner voluntarily enters into the agreement. The statement was also made that the landowner can't give it to his heirs. That the government is going to fence it off. That's not true either. "And," Brooks added, the sale of a conservation easement was about encroaching development around military installations, not Agenda 21, which tea partiers see as a United Nations conspiracy to take over the private ownership of land in the United States. "I wasn't expecting a long history," Noel retorted. "But it's your job to spend my money, and it's my job to see that you don't spend my money." He didn't bring up Agenda 21, Noel said, "But it's real. I'm past my five minutes. Thank you." gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828