Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

A divided stake faces Brookvsille planners

It was welcome. It needed to be said, all the stuff in a mass email Sonny Vergara sent out this week.

I was glad to see all of it except for one part, which unfortunately was the main part — the part where Vergara announced he was stepping down.

That's right.

Vergara, the most visible member of the Brooksville Vision Foundation in recent months, is done. He's over it. And at certain points in the email and in a followup interview, he sounded just short of fed up.

This is a setback, no doubt, but hopefully not a fatal one, because of all the various efforts to revitalize downtown Brooksville over the years, the Vision Foundation is the most promising.

Yes, is — present tense.

It has harnessed more community horsepower than any of its predecessors, brought in more people with the money and connections to actually get things done.

But it has seemed a bit scrambled from the outside, and, Vergara wrote, from the inside, too.

First, we are often told not to confuse Florida Blueberry Festival Inc., which organized the event with the same name back in the spring, with the vision foundation.

But, really, how can we not?

The person who keeps saying how separate they are, Michael Heard, is the president of both. Representatives from the corporate sponsors of the festival also tend to be active members of the foundation. And many meetings of the foundation's stakeholder council were devoted almost exclusively to plans for the blueberry festival.

Yes, it's understandable, Vergara wrote, that such a big event would "consume everybody's energy."

But it's time to get back to the foundation's main job: coming up with a long-term city improvement plan.

A good start would be more transparency, Vergara wrote.

Heard has told us that sponsors donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on the festival. She has said that neither she nor anyone else has been paid a salary. She informed me this week that 90 percent of the money raised went to "promoting the city and the festival."

And soon, she said, she will present documentation of all of this to the Brooksville City Council.

But she hasn't shown this yet, and it's overdue.

Of course, the subject at hand is the vision foundation, which has raised very little money, she said this week, and is a "separate entity."

Right. How could I get that mixed up?

Anyway, I'm not the only one who hasn't seen the books for the foundation. Neither has Vergara, who is on the foundation board and is a founder of the stakeholder group.

Nor has he seen any bylaws, though Heard assured me they exist.

As a matter of fact, Vergara said, at most of the meetings of the stakeholders, he only saw one or two foundation board members.

That might be all right if the recommendations of the stakeholders — mostly city business and property owners — were promptly discussed and put into action by the board.

But if this board ever meets, Vergara said, he hasn't been invited. And, sure enough, that's another thing that's missing — minutes of recent board meetings, presumably because they haven't taken place.

This can all be fixed, Vergara said.

Put more members on the board — active, committed ones who aren't involved with organizing the festival. Start creating a plan for the city, improving transportation, encouraging the city to take ownership of Hernando Park as a staging ground for events.

Make sure the board works more closely with the city and the county's Tourist Development Council and, of course, the residents and business and property owners who are in the best position to know what needs to be done, yet have recently seemed to be working in a vacuum.

Even with Vergara gone, there are a lot of stakeholders and a lot at stake.

Follow Dan DeWitt on Twitter at @ddewitttimes.

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