Friday, May 25, 2018
News Roundup

Swiftmud hunting decision is politics by the people, this time

Democracy — flawed, repetitious democracy — worked pretty well at the Southwest Florida Water Management District board meeting Tuesday.

People wanting more hunting on Swiftmud land, and those who wanted to keep things just the way they are, got three hours to speak their minds.

Some of them showed zero understanding of the opposing point of view. Some of them talked only about their literal and figurative back yards. Nearly all of them made a point that had been made or would be made by somebody else.

In the end, the board voted to continue to forbid hunting on two pieces of property and to allow slightly more on two others — the Weekiwachee Preserve in Hernando County and land around Lake Panasoffkee in Sumter County.

I don't care for the idea of bow hunters stalking deer in the preserve's best bear habitat during denning season. I'd feel more comfortable if Swiftmud or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which will run the hunts, had demonstrated they have the staff and the will to make sure hunters don't endanger the handful of surviving bears in the coastal population.

But, overall, it seemed like a reasonable compromise, and maybe even a triumph for accountability to the public.

This issue came up because one group of residents, the hunters, wanted more access to land bought with their taxes.

The Swiftmud staff and board considered it, but only after taking many emails, phone calls and, on Tuesday, public comments from birders, hikers and horseback riders.

We've all seen this same basic process — pro, con, compromise — repeated many times at city council and county commission meetings.

So, what's the big deal?

Well, this board previously hadn't seemed especially worried about either environmental protection or — considering that it disbanded its basin boards, the People's Court of resource management — accessibility to the public.

Maybe some board members saw this vote as a chance to change that impression. Maybe it was calculated.

No matter.

It still showed they were listening — that people in the district know how to get a hold of them, and do.

"I got a lot of phone calls on this," said longtime board member Judy Whitehead, who has run a real estate appraisal office in Brooksville for decades. "We're not insulated."

That's the strange thing here.

Board members, who aren't elected, acted as though they are, at least in this case. Most lawmakers, who obviously are elected, don't, at least when they cast their votes. They're too busy being told what to do by party leaders and donors.

Which brings us to SB 1986, which easily passed the state Senate last week. It has changed a good deal since I wrote about it previously. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed some further amendments, and the House declined to support it.

But it's still alive and still increases the Legislature's power over water management districts' budgets and policy, which given what has been going on this year is not an appealing thought.

Maybe this hasn't been the worst legislative session ever. Maybe there hasn't been more arrogance and bullying. But there sure has been a bunch of it. And not much of what I'd call democracy.

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