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Swiftmud matters; just ask its former boss, Sonny Vergara

You'd think Sonny Vergara — former executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and current blogger — would run out of things to write about.

His only subject is the district, after all. And his main focus and inspiration is the recent demise of Swiftmud's basin boards — groups so far out on the governmental fringe they were ignored for decades by even the most desperate news reporters.

Yet Vergara, posting from his home in Spring Lake, is prolific enough that I worry my bosses might notice how much copy he cranks out in his spare time. And he has shown that the humble basin board can be a gateway — who'd have thought it? — to major statewide political issues: the ash-canning of environmental regulation in the name of job creation; the increasing, overwhelming influence of money in the Legislature; the hypocrisy of Gov. Rick Scott's repeated assertions that he believes in local control of local issues.

"Place these statements in context with the disbanding of eight basin boards and the dismissal of over 40 board members executed a week ago with the precision of an MK-9 Reaper drone," Vergara wrote on June 9.

Yes, the district's governing board pulled the trigger on the boards in May, Vergara wrote elsewhere. But this board has been "reduced to just a group of mannequins talking a lot but not really doing anything because it's the governor behind the curtain pulling the strings."

Maybe this isn't a new observation, but it carries more weight coming from somebody with a long history of working for water management districts.

And who better than a former Swiftmud executive director (1997-2003) to say whether it's possible to do that job well and advance the governor's political agenda?

The answer, of course, is "no," though if you really want the job, Vergara wrote on June 22, you'd better make it clear the second goal is the priority: "Qualifications: Know the governor and how to spell 'Tea Party' very loudly."

Vergara also makes it clear his views are not those of a tree-hugging liberal. He is a registered Republican. So are writers of some of the columns he has posted, including former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano. In several posts, he and other contributors note that Swiftmud is part of a system of environmental protection that was created over several decades by members of both parties, and that it is now in danger.

The danger to the district is especially grave, considering that in recent months it has lost not only its basin boards, but roughly 40 percent of its budget, most of its traditional power to buy land for the protection of water resources and its executive director, David Moore, who Vergara says was likely forced out by the governor. It's all there on his blog (swfwmdmatters.blogspot.com). So is this general impression of the district.

Maybe, in the past, you've thought of it as bloated and overly bureaucratic. It can be timid and slow to act when it comes to protecting our lakes and rivers. It has been a training ground for folks like lawyer Jake Varn and former spokeswoman Honey Rand, who learned its inner workings to help clients navigate them more efficiently.

But when you read about it being gutted and under the control of state leaders who don't seem to respect its central mission, you realize the truth in the title of Vergara's blog. Yes, "Swiftmud Matters."

Swiftmud matters; just ask its former boss, Sonny Vergara 07/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 7, 2011 7:27pm]

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