It was a tale of two council meetings at this week's civic square dance. The first half, or nice-people-consent-agenda-with-a-prayer-and-a-pledge, played out cheerfully enough, with such barely interesting effluvia as commissioner Patty Sheehan's paranoid fake Facebook page scandal and commissioner Daisy Lynum's pronouncement that she was the Queen of Wal-Mart.
But there was always a big issue looming, a financial thunderstorm gathering on the horizon, and when it finally got its airing everybody (OK, several) on the dais popped a forehead vein. Commissioner Tony Ortiz put the media (gulp!) on the spot for not explaining just what Community Redevelopment Agency financing was, while Lynum only confused his point by making the CRA everything Parramore and nothing else. There were millions of dollars up in the air on this performing arts center issue, so there were choreographed pronouncements to be made into cameras. One enthusiastic public commenter saved the day by calling Mayor Buddy Dyer the best mayor ever. Also, there would be no need to worry about money for these venues projects, he said; God would take care of it all. Hooray!
Item: The city adopts a resolution approving bond resolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency for the issuance by the CRA of its tax increment revenue bonds, series 2010A, taxable tax increment revenue bonds, series 2010B, and taxable tax increment revenue bonds, series 2010C.
Translation: As expected, the city is moving forward with its grand design to build something resembling "the arts" as outside window dressing for the mayor's third-floor penthouse at city hall. In order to make that particular $425 million architectural erection come to life – even if the dream has been pared down to just a Broadway oval, a black-box hole and some shrubbery totaling $250 million – the term "creative financing" has manifested itself into a second run of bond issuances in the amount of $69 million (or "not to exceed $89 million" in aggregate), following last year's initial layout of $60 million. Those bonds will be backed by invisible tax revenues off the top of the downtown core's boom in empty condo real estate tax collections, monies typically referred to as the CRA because they're supposed to be used to redevelop communities in need of gentrified facelifts. Naturally, there's a lot of scuttlebutt rattling over the decision to utilize that money to make nice things for white people while Parramore continues its descent into blight (also, there's still a $31 million hole in the plan), but civic momentum of this scale is not to be questioned. We will have nice things.
Item: The city adopts a resolution designating the entire geographic area of Orlando as a recovery zone for the purposes of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Translation: Speaking of bonds, in order for the city to get its grubby paws on the $6.8 million in economic development bonds and $10.2 million in facility creation bonds allotted them by last year's stimulus program, the city must pour mud all over itself and call itself a total disaster. Basically, we have to make it look like we're really poor in order to get low-rate loans meant to stem unemployment and foreclosures, along with "general economic distress." Please, nobody tell the feds about that $1.8 billion venues situation we're currently struggling with in our quest for status. They might think we're lying.
Item: The city approves a contract with the Florida Department of Corrections to provide two eight-person inmate work squads along with two certified corrections officers for mowing, landscape maintenance and litter removal duties.
Translation: Either somebody at the city's been watching a lot of Cool Hand Luke, or The Pretenders' "Back on the Chain Gang" got stuck on the mayor's iPod during one his leisurely jogs, because we're about to get some cheap prison labor up in here. It's not news, really; the state's department of corrections has been pimping out "semi-skilled" pokey laborers with good disciplinary records for more than 10 years, assigning 95 squads to litter and landscaping duties all around Florida. As one might expect, there has been some resistance to this agreement, especially because it looks a whole lot like slavery when prisoners are forced into manual labor under the punitive gaze of rifle crosshairs. Still, if the city was paying retail for the labor, it would cost $600,000. This little bit of cruelty will only set them back $195,000.
Item: The city accepts an award from the Wal-Mart Foundation.
Translation: In case you haven't heard, the new Wal-Mart opening this month in College Park is going to save the city. There have been city-sponsored workshops to get regular people into hirable, working order, there have been discussions about economic development, there have been angry neighbors – all for the love of St. Sam Walton. Well, the police want their piece of the frozen-and-shipped-from-China pie, too, so they put in a grant application to the philanthropic Wal-Mart Foundation hoping to net nearly $4,000 to put towards some crazy infrared digital cameras. Wal-Mart in turn cut a check for, uh, $1,000. Hello markdown!; firstname.lastname@example.org