Tuesday’s commission meeting was an otherwise uneventful affair, especially after three weeks off. The most contentious agenda item, the public notices, was rendered moot after a report indicated the Chronicle is the cheapest option.
The next administrator’s contract was approved unanimously as expected. One portion of the open to the public, however, did levy serious accusations against the county’s impending deal with LifeStream - something I have discussed at length though never with the intensity seen Tuesday.
We need the facility badly and so I have accepted that taking a bad deal is the price of doing business with government even though I wish it wasn't. Even with this reluctant acceptance, the situation is looking worse after Tuesday’s meeting.
Sabrina Watson, a frequent flier at commission meetings who also runs the Facebook page 286 Sunshine, used nearly all of 5 minutes to present troubling information against LifeStream during the open to the public portion of the meeting. Watson's 286 Sunshine website is covered in QAnon on conspiracy theory rhetoric and her grudges against other entities like Sheriff Mike Prendergast are riddled with exaggerations, inconsistencies and truth distortions. Her casual relationship with facts is only outmatched by her utter lack of diplomacy or decorum toward almost anyone, but particularly against the commission. Needless to say, her rant should be taken with skepticism as it was by the board, who almost unanimously ignored it in their comments on each speaker.
However, the information in this case appears through some of my personal corroboration to be accurate although taken out of context.
She claimed that the deal was constructed largely using backroom, closed door tactics. This is true to an extent but she also accused these deals of including Hernando County Assistant administrator Tobey Phillips, relating this to some unknown connection with her application to become Citrus’ next administrator.
Another point of contention was that LifeStream is a nonprofit of roughly $61 million in revenue with a terrible rating on the nonprofit website GuideStar. The large amount of revenue was something discussed on the Concurrent podcast a while back too, but in a much different context.
Big time revenue is a necessary condition in order to put up the $7.5 million LifeStream is offering on their end, but my concern was with the questionable executive compensation which is probably in part of what earned it such a poor GuideStar rating. Paying your top staff too much is not a criminal offense, although that is where she was headed next.
She cited sexual abuse allegations against LifeStream employees which is just bound to happen with an organization as large as it is with the type of work it does.
The best point she made was asking the commission if they had received the contractually required progress reports from the organization, something that I’m guessing based on the commission’s unwillingness to answer her question that they still haven’t received them three weeks after LifeStream promised it would get them right over to the county.
Only one commissioner addressed Ms. Watson at all. To paraphrase Commissioner Holly Davis, she told Sabrina that the LifeStream deal is all but done and that she prefers people who come to the board with possible solutions rather than a litany of problems. This wonderful suggestion didn’t deter Sabrina who later spoke on a clean water issue with an additional list of criticisms.
Commissioner Davis’ point, albeit ignored by its intended audience, is one that I heeded. Having heard similar suggestions from commissioners in the past, I offered some suggestions in a podcast three weeks ago.
My solution was that LifeStream provides five scholarships for behavioral sciences to local College of Central Florida students in perpetuity, which is not contingent on whether they keep the county contract as our mental health provider or still own the building. The scholarships last as long as LifeStream is in business anywhere.
We as the taxpayers will say that we will help you pay for this building which you may then own and charge us additional services on top of what we are already paying to staff it, but in return we get to send some of our next generation to learn in your halls at no cost to that up and coming Citrus student. The deal feels lopsided right now with the county losing out.
Let education be the great equalizer to get instant help we need now with the facility and hope for the future by training a new line of professionals.