Sincere and Special Thanks to the Council Members Who Supported Us … but geeze

May 22, 2020

Here’s a rundown on the “virtual” meeting held by the Brooksville City Council Monday evening (5/18). I told you we wouldn’t sugar coat it.

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Well, Monday night (5/18) the Brooksville City Council graciously approved funding for the second quarter (Jan - Mar) of its grant to the Brooksville Main Street program. The amount was $11,250, less $678.82 to cover other costs incurred by the city on behalf of the program. For that, all those associated with Brooksville’s Main Street program and the growing number of folks who are stepping up to support it are absolutely and sincerely grateful. We operate on a shoestring. Every penny counts. And every penny is spent to make the City of Brooksville a long-term vibrant and economically strong place to live work and recreate. 

Gracious thanks go to the four Council members who, after more than three hours of discussing the program and whether they should issue the check, finally voted for it. For the record those voting favorably were Bill Kemerer, Mayor Joe Bernardini, Vice-Mayor Pat Brayton, and, grudgingly, Robert Battista.

Yes, I said three hours. Did it need to take so long? No. So, why did it? Here’s a quick look from the “virtual” balcony seats. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Thirty minutes for getting the “virtual meeting” technology working and the Council members to find the button that mutes their mikes off and on. Thirty minutes of reading about two dozen letters into the record from folks who support Brooksville Main Street, and one email and three texted messages from those who didn’t. Fifteen minutes for Brooksville Main Street to make its required report detailing to whom and how the city’s funds had been spent over the last month (which they cut short because it was running over the 15 minutes allotted - the irony of which can’t be missed given the hours of conversation and hand-wringing about lack of transparency that followed). Then, several more hours of what can only be called an inquisition of the Main Street program.

Though eventually approved 4 to 1, the atmosphere, even if they were together only digitally, was not comfortable for anyone. Certainly not for Main Street and, rather obviously, not for the Council members.  

The level of angst in the checkerboard of faces on the computer screen was palpable, presumably in anticipation of the anticipated and well-known positions of Ms. Erhard. She never misses an opportunity to suggest, without substantiation, that none of the people associated with the Brooksville Main Street program or those who oversee it, the Board of Directors of the Brooksville Vision Foundation, can be trusted. And while she seems overly eager to denigrate the character of the Executive Director and the integrity of all involved as a means to destroy the only functioning, organized effort to bring new businesses and economic stability to the city, she has no better alternative to offer.

Because it was mentioned, if the city is in fact contemplating adding an economic development arm to its staff which would be at least on a par with Main Street, it’ll be faced with having to pay for much of what Main Street is already accomplishing through the help of hundreds of hours of unpaid volunteers and two paid professional staff that spend 100% of their time working toward Brooksville’s much needed revitalization. This is not to say I’m against the city doing it, so it shouldn’t be taken as such. Just sayin’…

In addition, much of the “discussion” was Mr. Battista’s somewhat rambling diatribe about what he clearly believes is the city’s future which (for lack of a better way to put it) consists of only stagnancy and doom, and money spent trying to do anything about it is just wasting it as well as any effort put into it.

I’m not exaggerating here. 

Fortunately, a clearer-minded majority prevailed on a series of motions initiated by Ms. Erhard that would: 1) withdraw the city from the original agreement and abandon Brooksville Main Street program altogether; 2) add additional “transparency” requirements, which brought comments from other Council members saying would be impossible for Main Street to meet, and that they were satisfied with the transparency of the current requirements, and; 3) reject granting the quarterly funds the city had formerly contracted to grant. This prompted comments that Brooksville Main Street had clearly met the contract’s requirements and denial of payment might not be found justifiable.

One point that all fairly acknowledged is that, with the disruption wrought by Covid-19 upon everyone’s lives and incomes in both the public and private sectors, programs and projects are going to be impacted. This is a reality no one can deny and tough decisions lie ahead.

Nevertheless, it needs to be said why I believe Mr. Battista’s thinking about the future of Brooksville is dead wrong. Anyone interested in this conversation should read the article listed at this link: After the Lockdown, New Opportunities for Downtown Shopping Districts

The article suggests,

  • “As Millennials and Empty Nesters seek to live, work, and shop in urban centers, medium-sized cities (100,000 to 200,000 population) are especially likely to benefit from this trend.”
  • “Small towns (10,000 to 20,000 people) located near large urban centers are also appealing to start-up retailers and restaurants that want to take advantage of their proximity to large, well-heeled populations and small towns’ affordable commercial storefronts.”
  • “New walkable town centers — planned with authentic urbanism and a variety of hospitality, employment and residential land use — can also ride the wave of Millennials, young families, and Empty Nesters who seek an exciting place to hang out.”

These are just some of the ideas why I must believe Mr. Battista is wrong. There are many more.

And further, to hear an elected city official suggest his city has no future beyond the failed businesses and economic malaise of the past, that there is “no commercial frontage,” “not enough inventory”, “there is no draw,” “people see the town but they don’t comeback,” it has “hills,” it’s “too dispersed,” residents are “intermixed,” etc., is , frankly, not the kind of thinking any current business or restaurant wants to hear. Not to mention the awful message it could be sending to potential businesses, e.g., “Forget it! Brooksville’s done. No opportunities here.”

Elected leaders are supposed to fight for and support belief and action that will benefit their constituents, not say and act against those interests. I hope Mr. Battista’s dismal view of Brooksville’s future will change, and with the help of Brooksville Main Street and the many businesses and citizens who love Brooksville and hear about it, I believe it will.

Despite Ms. Erhard’s determination to kill Main Street’s current determined efforts to revitalize our City’s economy, to protect and cherish its historic architectural heritage, and make Brooksville a destination community where people will visit and return again and again to its stores and restaurants, please know this: Brooksville Main Street has hope and a determination that will never be extinguished. 

We believe in Brooksville.

Stay tuned …

The Voice of Brooksville Main Street

For anyone interested in watching the meeting for yourself, you can see it at http://hernandocountyfl.iqm2.com/Citizens/VideoScreen.aspx?MediaID=7698&Frame=None

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