Open Minds

Have you watched the latest Brooksville City Council meeting online? The most amazing and rare thing happened: an elected official gathered information and changed his mind after listening to the people of the community! It was so wonderful and refreshing to see City Council Member David Bailey explain how he filled out the annual review for City Manager Mark Kutney based on his personal experience, which had personally been good. However, after filing out the review, he talked to local businesses and residents around town and got a very different picture of how the City is being run. And he heard enough negatives all around that he went so far as to recommend termination of the City Manager’s contract during the meeting. Mr. Bailey is truly someone who understands what his role is as a city council member and takes it seriously. We find it quite refreshing to have a council member with a conscience and the willingness to back up his constituents.

Likewise, after seconding the motion to not renew the City Manager’s contract, Council Member Blake Bell talked about how many negative stories he heard regarding the management of the City, including from someone who wanted to open a business in Brooksville, but refused to open it within the City limits due to hearing how difficult the City is to work with. He also said he had spoken to people with businesses in multiple towns, and all expressed their frustration with Brooksville’s lack of support and help compared to other communities. As he talked, Council Member Bell demonstrated that he put the work into making his conclusions and not just went through the motions and made decisions from his own personal bubble. We definitely need more proactive council members in Brooksville, but it looks like we are on our way to a better future with Council Members Bailey and Bell. 

In a more perfect world, this would be a teaching moment for some of our other city council members who appeared to have made their decisions not based on community input, since they are so rarely seen at local events and meeting local business people, but on their own decades of serving on Council. (Yes, we have been recycling many of the same council members for decades, during a time Brooksville failed to thrive, so it’s no surprise that there are so few new ideas, nor even support for new ideas.) Council Member Battista went so far as to chastise Council Members Bailey and Bell as newbies who didn’t understand that there could, and have been, worse, and even corrupt, City Managers, which is apparently how he sets his standards for the job. And he claimed that the naysayers were just upset that they didn’t have “side door” access to the City Manager as they had in the past. Had he talked to local residents and business people, he might find that the actual complaint is that many don’t even have front door access, requiring multiple attempts to even get an appointment or phone call with the City Manager. Heck, even getting an acknowledgement response to an email is next to impossible from the City Manager for those who are not council members. And if they finally do get to speak to Mr. Kutney, they often leave feeling unheard and unsatisfied.

We urge the three other city council members to try to think back to when they were first elected and eager to support the community they live in. Get out, talk to residents and business owners and get an outside of City Hall perspective on how the City is responding to its citizen’s needs. Perhaps we are wrong and they will only hear happy stories of people content with the state of the community. Or perhaps they will hear the tales of frustration that both Council Members Bailey and Bell heard and remember to have an open mind about what is needed. Either way, they will have a better feel for the pulse of the city that they claim to care about. 

The Meeting can be seen at: Feb 01, 2021 City Council Regular Meeting - Brooksville, FL (swagit.com) and the discussion about renewing the City Manager’s contract starts around 3:17

Citizen Driven Main Street

After speaking to some residents today I realized that many people don’t understand how truly citizen-driven the Brooksville Main Street program is and how they can get involved. It seems an obvious thing to those of us intimately involved in the various components of the program, so I hadn’t realized that this needs to be stressed. We need to be clear that this is not a top-down driven organization, and it is not designed to be - and it will not work well if it is run that way. Apparently we haven’t been clear enough that everyone’s input is welcome and even desired, and that every part of BMS is eager for more volunteers - and that we are not just looking for one-time workers, but committee members who will generate ideas and follow up on them for the long term. I think it’s time to change that perception.

While the Executive Director of BMS, Natalie Kahler is the face you will see representing BMS the most at meetings, and Marketing Coordinator, Tina Marie is ubiquitous on social media, both have been hired to facilitate the goals of the four all-volunteer committees, which are fundamental to the Main Street program. These committees each focus on a specific part of redevelopment strategies and they are the ones who decide what projects to focus on, what events to put together, evaluate downtown’s needs, make short and long term goals, and determine how best to reach their goals. BMS is proud that they have committee members representing varied professions, ages, and skills and that come from both long time Brooksville families and new residents. Hopefully BMS will continue to add more and varied voices in the next year as well.

We plan to tell a bit about the individuals that coordinate these committees in future Voice posts, but here I will give a short run down of how Main Street and the committees are set up. As mentioned before, Brooksville Vision Foundation did not invent the Main Street program; rather, they joined an already established program that is both tried and tested in communities throughout the US. The National Main Street program began back in 1980 solely to help historic downtowns who were suffering from competition from malls and suburban development. Its success has been so great that in Florida, the Florida Main Street program is part of a state government funded program run by the Florida Department of State. Florida Main Street certifies applicants to the program, provides training and start-up grants, and has full time staff on board that is available for consultation and training, as well as reviewing quarterly reports in order to remain informed about how BMS is doing. To be certified, the Brooksville Vision Foundation had to submit an application meeting certain criteria, along with a commitment of support from local government. 

The National Main Street program has evolved over its 40 year existence as they’ve learned from both successes and failures. It provides a framework for revitalization that is not a set formula, but a way for a community to determine what makes it unique and how best to preserve that uniqueness while allowing it to realize its full potential. The program is a long term process that is entirely community driven and benefits from a network of other communities' experiences. The goal of a Main Street program is not to copy another community, but rather to use their experiences to generate ideas and adapt them in ways that keep Brooksville authentic. Many of the most interesting and thriving small towns in Florida have local Main Street programs that have been in place for years. Our thought is that if it can happen there, it can happen in Brooksville, too. But we also recognize that it is a long term commitment that won’t transform things overnight. 

The concept for Main Street programs uses what they call Transformation Strategies that are implemented through comprehensive work in four broad areas, known as the Four Points, which then form the basis of the four working committees. They are:

Each of these four committees has a coordinating chair and volunteers that meet regularly to generate ideas and move them forward. As the committee members are all volunteers, many with full time work obligations, the committees rely on the Executive Director to coordinate the ideas between committees, promote them locally and act as taskmaster (and way too often as a task doer). As anyone that has served in a volunteer organization knows, ideas are plentiful, but implementation can be difficult and often burns out the few “doer” volunteers. Having the right Executive Director to act as a facilitator and cheerleader is essential to the success of a volunteer run non-profit. Some committees, such as the Promotions Committee, which creates downtown events, require a tremendous amount of support both in terms of volunteer hours and staff time. Others, such as Economic Vitality, plan more behind the scenes type projects that need focus to stay on track with lots of research hours. In each case, the committees decide on the work to be done.

With that said, BMS always needs more people to add a diverse perspective and to help implement the large volume of work to be done. There is work for introverts, and for extroverts, for creatives and for researchers, for old and young, and anyone in between. The only thing we ask is that you believe that Brooksville has a vast amount of unrealized potential just waiting to emerge with the right urging. And I guess we would ask a second thing as well: don’t plan to throw out ideas for others to do - you have to be willing to follow through as part of your commitment. Saying “someone should do something about X,Y, Z” without follow through is not enough. You have to commit to being part of a team that will try to actively implement the ideas, knowing that not every problem has a simple solution and some may require some serious persistence. 

So back to the main point: BMS is truly a group run by citizens and wants to grow and expand its input. And it is a program that welcomes new volunteers who can bring new ideas and new energy to any of the four committees. For anyone that says, “Brooksville Main Street should do X,Y, Z”, we offer a platform and the support to help get it done!

Council Member Erhard: “Boycott every establishment that has anything to do with Brooksville Main Street”

City of Brooksville City Council member, Betty Erhard, in a now-removed Facebook message, has called to her Facebook “friends” for a boycott of Brooksville businesses that have shown support for revitalizing and growing their city. She is targeting some 109 or so businesses that have expressed support for Brooksville Main Street, the only existing organized effort to revitalize the city’s economic vitality and protect its historical charm. 

Here’s the full text of her note:

“Boycott every establishment that has anything to do with BMS. Only way is to deprive them of money. Greedy, selfish, self centered people.”

There’s only one way to interpret this action. She has stepped out of her role and responsibility to publicly support the wellbeing of her constituents by taking a personal action, clearly stated, with the intention of destroying their livelihoods.

This act is beyond disconcerting. There is concern for those who could be impacted by this clearly irrational attempt to affect the ability of those who support their families through these businesses, but also for her personally.

What could cause a sitting City Council member, a person elected to represent the interests of the businesses and residents of her city, to take such a reckless position against them?

What an awful message it sends to our many businesses which are already suffering from the devastation caused by Covid-19. Businesses which are struggling to stay alive and doing everything they can to keep patrons coming into their shops and restaurants.

And what a terrible message it sends to anyone thinking about relocating a business or family here to learn that a city council member is trying to derail her own community’s attempts to bring about sustainable economic success and growth. Whether you are a potential new business or new resident considering an investment here, how would hearing that make you think about continuing to be so? 

Clearly this is not good. But assuming she’s not going to stop these careless statements and frontal assaults on the community’s attempts to come together in its quest for an economically successful and sustainable future, what can we do?

One thing is this: Start questioning the baseless allegations of dishonesty that a handful of people seem obsessed with and who suggest the BMS program has not been effective. It has been, is, and will continue to be with the community’s involvement and support. Have the same folks who suggest those involved with BMS are less than honest and have nefarious intentions, be specific. Any suggestions of inappropriate or illegal activities should be supported by proof, not unsubstantiated inuendo that could be considered slanderous. There have never been any valid indications of impropriety or dishonesty among the members of Brooksville Main Street or the Brooksville Vision Foundation. With the exception of two professional employees, those involved with these organizations are unpaid and have only the best interests of the City in their hearts, as do the dozens of volunteers who spend hundreds of unpaid hours on behalf of their city. 

Yes, the naysayers must have their say. It is their constitutional right. But they have, through their repetitive baseless attacks, taken control of the City Council’s agenda and thus its ability to carry out an efficient meeting and accomplish the city’s business in an efficient and cost-effective manner. 

(Update: Kudos for Mayor Bernardini! At last night’s City Council meeting, he let it be known at the outset that baseless personal attacks against Council members or other individuals would not be tolerated. That’s good leadership and a good start at returning civility and respect to City Council meetings.)

Another thing that can be done is this: Let’s not forget that Betty Erhard is not the majority. The City Council is comprised of five people each with the same responsibility to do what’s best for the city. For the most part, there have been the beginnings of stability and positive support for the business community from at least three members: Mayor Joe Bernardini, Vice Mayor Pat Brayton and Former Mayor, Bill Kemerer. To a lesser degree, but still with hope, we should include Council Member Robert Battista who, I believe, appreciates the city’s need for economic sustainability and growth but just has different thoughts about what that means and how to get there.

It would be a very good thing at this particular time, therefore, for this majority to ask City Manager Mark Kutney and City Attorney Becky Vos to draft a resolution that expresses the City’s continuing commitment to support all efforts, both public and private, to bring economic growth and sustainability to the city by any means the City Council finds appropriate, meaningful, and cost-effective. It is critically important that the City Council as a body not be colored by the thoughtless action of one of its members. And it would be a simple but extremely significant message that would let anyone concerned know clearly where the Council stands regarding the City’s future.

Stay tuned …

The Voice of Main Street

If the city doesn’t support its community the community will not survive

Try as we might, it’s taking some effort to get used to “attending” City Council’s virtual “Zoom” meetings, right? While I was uncomfortable at first, I’m beginning to discover some advantages. For one, you can really see facial expressions. From disdain, disagreement, and discomfort to occasional relaxed smiles, which unfortunately are few, Council meetings have become a study in human expression. Much is communicated when they’re so up close.

It seems the topic most uncomfortable for them is Brooksville Main Street, mostly when Ms. Erhard brings it up, which manages to happen even when BMS is not on the City Council agenda. Whether it’s about dollars, certain individuals, events, economic development, banners, tip jars, bank accounts, road closures, insurance, etc., etc., she brings up Brooksville Main Street.

Meanwhile, the other members, in varying degrees, seem to appreciate that BMS is becoming a force for positive change in the city. They might be having pertinent and appropriate discussions about city concerns including about BMS, but always, no matter how appropriate and reasoned the discussion may be, it invariably gets muddled when Ms. Erhard’s predictably sarcastic voice breaks in to say something completely out of context about BMS.

Again, we ask, why is she so completely focused on destroying the best thing that’s come along for the city’s business and residential communities in years? At a recent Council meeting, dozens of letters supporting BMS were read into the record. Ms. Erhard’s reaction was to “blame” it on BMS rather than recognize that the Community wants to be heard. You’ll see BMS smiling every time it happens. (Thanks, by the way, to those who voiced their thoughts so strongly and clearly. Hopefully, Council Members are listening.)

One thought she keeps harping on which may be incorrectly resonating a bit among the other members is this: to her, funding grants to BMS are some sort of charitable largesse which should end at some point when BMS becomes “self-sustaining.” Let’s be clear about this, Brooksville Main Street is not a business looking for a profit to sustain itself. It is a NON-PROFIT organization run by Executive Director Natalie Kahler, Marketing and Events Coordinator Tina Marie Polson, and a large group of volunteers who receive neither pay nor profit from their involvement. Their clearly defined program is to do all they can to help the Brooksville downtown become a viable and thriving economic center while preserving and enhancing its unique natural and historical charm. To do this, they follow a national blueprint successfully implemented by hundreds of cities nationwide.

Based on the concept that buy-in breeds success, that blueprint urges local programs to seek funding from local governments, the private sector, and from the organization’s own efforts at fundraising events and activities, each contributing about a third of the cost of the program. It is not designed to be self-sustaining. The city’s contributions to Main Street are to help the community. If the city doesn’t support its community, the community will not survive economically. And it’s not all about financial backing. What Brooksville Main Street is trying so hard to do is to PARTNER with the City. The financial aspect, while important for reasons discussed in past posts, is only one part of what Main Street is asking for from the City. What It really wants is to move forward with projects in cooperation with the City to everyone’s benefit, whether it be events, supporting redevelopment efforts, or downtown improvements, small and large. What Brooksville Main Street really needs from the City is a “we like your ideas and enthusiasm and want to help” attitude rather than the antagonistic relationship that Ms. Erhard seems intent on fostering.

And this needs to be said: The things that Main Street does are done for the community, not city government. But since many of its activities are those the city perhaps would like to be doing but aren’t able to for various reasons, when BMS does them, it’s a favor to the City as much as it is to the community. Things like promoting the city’s businesses and building a sense of community among the businesses and residents lifts everyone up and should be welcomed by the city rather than questioned at every turn. Buy-in gives everyone ownership in the hard work of success, livability, economic viability, and just plain joy of being a part of it all.

And here’s a very pertinent point: when BMS is out there getting it done, it’s doing it for a lot less money than what it would cost the city. The success of Main Street is measured by the hard work of two paid employees and 189 unpaid volunteers who contribute thousands of hours of personal time freely given. These are volunteers who offer an amazing variety of professional skills including architects, engineers, accountants, attorneys, artists, musicians, marketing personnel and more. This is what the city gets for the $45,000 of support funding BMS has requested. Compare this amount to the cost they’re estimating to get their own economic development program up and running now at a minimum of $131,000 and the questions regarding the value of funding for BMS becomes even more confusing.  Imagine how much further a city economic development arm could go with BMS by its side rather than starting from scratch. And you can't tell me that those volunteers who so regularly support BMS would be eager to volunteer for a city run economic development program. It’s just not how government programs work. But it is how public/ private partnerships work and how it should work between the City and BMS.

But wait, last week City Council voted to cut the amount it will budget for Main Street next year to half the amount requested to $22,500. What does that mean? It means, Brooksville Main Street will have to decide what it can still afford to do, and not do, on behalf of the community.

But you know what? The money’s important, of course. Critical, in fact. The really unfortunate thing, however, is that it seems to keep the city and BMS from forming an alliance that will truly benefit the community. It appears that some just cannot grasp what BMS is all about and the important role it can play for the city as a whole. It isn’t a pipedream. It’s a proven program. But maybe that tunnel has a light. All the candidates running in the coming election for City Council have indicated their support for Brooksville Main Street. So, will the city’s reluctance to join BMS in its work for the community be changing in a few months?  Let’s keep our hopes up.

In any scenario that may be coming forward, be assured, BMS looks forward to partnering with the City to help keep its costs as low as possible. As willing and supportive partners, so much more that needs to be done, can be done, and will be done for the great community of Brooksville.

Stay tuned …

The Voice of Brooksville Main Street

What Your Friends and Neighbors Say About Brooksville Main Street

We have been so pleased with the outpouring of support shown by residents and business owners for the Brooksville Main Street program. They've said everything we'd like to say, ever so eloquently! Enjoy this video slideshow by Brooksville Main Street:

City Council Dumps Funding Support for Brooksville Main Street

The members of the Brooksville City Council are not all that different from most other small towns the size of Brooksville, one would think. But after watching how some council members continue to disparage what Brooksville Main Street has done for the city and what the city itself has not is … the word escapes me … “baffling” will have to do. It is clear, as a body they are out to destroy the only good thing the city has had going for it in terms of Economic Development in decades. City Council has now voted to remove all funding for Main Street Brooksville from the city’s 2021 proposed budget.

But as individual members, this position, thank goodness, was not unanimous. Members positions were as follows:

The Forced Vote

When city staff accidentally left Brooksville Main Street’s Executive Director’s report they'd requested off the agenda and a motion with a second was on the table, the discussion that took place was on the motion and not about the agenda item. Erhard had made the motion before any discussion had begun then

Later, before the discussion was complete, Battista “called the question.” This forced a vote before further in formation Main Street might have offered as well as any Florida Main Street’s State Coordinator, Katherine Beck, who was available by telephone from Tallahassee, may have offered. Even the Mayor was prevented from sharing his opinion before the vote. Thus, despite anything the Mayor might have done, the discussion was then limited to the motion and not the overall information about operating the Main Street program that could and should have been available to the Council members before the vote. Had there been further debate, the information that would have been forthcoming might have resulted in a different outcome. Hopefully, what happened can be changed as discussed below.

The Nonsense of it All

Those who want to get rid of Brooksville Main Street seem to have no idea that abandoning the program is clearly not in the city’s best interests. I believe they know all the good things people are saying about what Main Street has accomplished. Yet some council members cannot stop their personal knowledge deficits and biases from blinding them to what the city needs and the opportunity that stands in front of them. They either cannot see or consciously choose to deny that Main Street is building real community belief in the city, hope for its future and, most importantly, that it’s achievable. What they seemingly pay attention to instead are continuous, unfounded, sometimes unrelated, rumors and incorrect or insignificant negative things about the program. This information is apparently provided to them by only a handful of individuals whose legacy has been negativity and destruction of plans to help Brooksville and who have never presented an alternate plan but simply been against anyone else’s.

The Message it Sends

The question you likely have is, why does it have to be this way? And so do I. But that’s perhaps for a future post. Just know that, as a body, they have bugled to all current and even prospective city businesses, property owners and residents, that they do not give a flip about what Brooksville Main Street is trying to do for the city and will not support it in the city’s 2021 budget in any form, period.

So, what’s going to happen to Brooksville Main Street? What’s the city going to do about Economic Development if Main Street can’t survive without the requested $45,000? Will the momentum Main Street has built - vis a vis the hard work and growing support from city businesses, property owners, and residents, and the increasing number of visitors to the city - be lost? As a start, know this: We’re not going away. I refer you to an insightful and thoughtfully written letter by Brooksville Main Street’s Executive Director, Natalie Kahler, the morning after the city washed its hands of the program. Read it at this link: http://www.voiceofbrooksville.org/blog/2020/07/30/response-to-monday-nights-city-council-vote/

The City’s Short Term (?) Plan

Earlier in the meeting, City Manager, Mark Kutney had presented the Council a “strategic plan” for an Economic Development Office for the city which included the potential for two new staff positions and a sweeping set of new responsibilities for them and the rest of the city’s existing staff. A careful read indicates it’s simply an attempt to duplicate much of what Main Street is already doing. The Council told him to consider only one of the positions and charged him with adding further details including a better handle on what it all would cost.

Incredibly, Council Member Erhard said she supports the plan and is ready to implement it even before knowing the estimated final costs or how long it would take. Based on what was presented, even a very conservative guess might put the cost well over $150,000 and well over what the Main Street is already doing it for. As for how long it would take, my guess is several years just to get it semi-functional, assuming they can get in place all the complex coordination with the many other players involved and the volunteer support that will be required for it to work. City Manager Kutney also stated, but I don’t think it registered, that his plan, as presented, was only about one third (!) of what it would actually take to accomplish its stated goals. So, if the estimate for the effort described is roughly $150,000, is the total cost going to be three times that amount? It’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with.

So, is all lost?

Hopefully not. The city’s budget isn't finalized until September and even if it is, City Council can amend it later, but if it’s after September 30 the process becomes more complicated. Once Manager Kutney puts the cost together for his new Economic Development Office, working with Brooksville Main Street instead should become a more acceptable option. If there’s a chance to change at least one vote before then, we need to try, and there may be such a chance this coming Monday, August 3. See “Alert” Below.

Alert

If you’re one of Brooksville’s growing number of concerned businesses, residents, or property owners who believe and love our city and want your voice to be heard and have an impact, now is the time to let City Council know your feelings. You can do so by writing to each of the City Council members at the email addresses shown below, but you need to do it today (7/31). Natalie Kahler, Brooksville Main Street’s Executive Director, will be making its quarterly report to the Council this Monday, Aug 3. You can request your email to the Council to be verbally read into the record. Having your email read into the record by the City Clerk would be a great way have your voice heard, guaranteed! Just make sure it can be read in less than three minutes. Those of you who are in other parts of the county but love the city and many of the Main Street events it has held hopefully will write in as well.

Finally

Let there be no mistake. For the City of Brooksville to truly become the best city it can be and achieve what is clearly possible, there needs to be a strong interaction of sincere belief, appreciation, and support for the mutual roles that city government and the city’s community each must successfully carry out in unison. The Brooksville Vision Foundation and Brooksville Main Street believes it will happen and looks forward to having a strong and effective partnership with the city one day soon.

Council member email addresses:

jbernardini@cityofbrooksville.us

pbrayton@cityofbrooksville.us

rbattista@cityofbrooksville.us

wkemerer@cityofbrooksville.us

berhard@cityofbrooksville.us

mkutney@cityofbrooksville.us

jbattista@cityofbrooksville.us

Stay tuned …

The Voice of Brooksville Main Street