“I welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11. To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness.”
Richard Clarke, the former counter-terrorism chief under President George W. Bush, delivered this remark to a congressional commission investigating the intelligence shortcomings that led to 9/11.
The statement resonated with many because of its sincerity both in the recognition of failure and in the pursuit of forgiveness. It didn’t blame nor did it deflect. It wasn’t disrespectful or disingenuous. It was apologetic, and maybe even more importantly, it was accountable.
People who work in government do act like leaders, but often our expectations or biases blind us to the ability to appreciate the moments when they happen.
Unfortunately there are rare times when the public behaves so badly that for the Commission to not adopt a stern response would feel almost inhuman, even if it is what is required. That was the result of Thursday’s meeting about adopting the new methodology for collecting stormwater runoff prevention. The whole meeting felt like it was waiting for the Captain from Cool Hand Luke to step in and announce, “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
The Board convened a special meeting to vote on changing a portion of the ad valorem property tax for stormwater runoff prevention to a municipal services benefit unit (MSBU) fee calculated based on the amount of impervious surface on the property. While the greatest increase is going to hit commercial properties with large parking lots, most residents will see their line item jump from a couple of dollars to roughly $58 annually.
This allows the Commission to collect over $4 million annually whereas previously the county only collected about a quarter of that and subsidized the rest with other parts of the budget.
Stick a thumb tack in that moment right there. That’s where the communication could have been better in two parts.
The first part is the mission of conservation.
As we are about to enter Save Our Waters week along with the still-to-be-fully-understood nightmare that Homosassa residents are facing with inadequate runoff measures protecting the Halls River, this vote should not have been a controversial one if it was explained properly.
The Commissioners did manage to get in a few lines about how if you drive on roads, shop in stores or eat in restaurants then stormwater runoff affects you even if your property personally isn’t near water.
This county takes pride in its efforts to protect our natural resources. That element of environmental conservation which this community believes in so heartily should have been amplified but instead became downplayed to individual freedoms in the meeting.
The second part where communication could have been better is with the financial side. The remaining question when a fee that had been previously subsidized around $3 million by other parts of the county budget naturally becomes, “now what is going to happen with the $3 million freed up that had previously been a subsidy?”
That part remained unclear though it sounded like it had been distributed within the budget to meet a final goal which modestly reduced the overall millage rate.
Clarifying these two messages may have helped, but the public set the tone of that meeting starting with the very first speaker. Runner-up candidate in the 2020 property appraiser primary election Tim Reynard approached the podium before all others using his two minutes to launch into a tirade of baseless claims made against the person who beat him in that election.
The accusatory tone only escalated from there. County Administrator Randy Oliver was jeered for looking asleep and doing nothing. The Commissioners were all told they would be reminded of this next election.
The commissioners’ responses varied. The matter-of-fact tone brilliantly illustrated in Clarke’s comments to the 9/11 commission, however, never fully shined through although reminding ourselves that elected officials are human helps explain how high this standard is to clear.
We can do better. The public can be more respectful. The Commission can try to communicate more effectively. We can prevent this from happening again.