BMS ED Response to Monday Night's City Council Vote
WHAT LAST NIGHT'S CITY COUNCIL VOTE MEANS TO US:
Obviously we're disappointed. To say less would be disingenuous as well as demeaning to those of you who've joined our movement and spent your time, talent, and treasure alongside us.
We believed our successes brought about by so many brilliant members of our community would mean our city would believe with us and continue their partnership. It didn't happen.
But be assured we are not going anywhere.
Five people hold the pursestrings to your taxes and by majority vote chose not to invest in us in 2021. But you - the people - (residents, business owners, property owners, and lovers of Brooksville) will not lose this movement that means so much to so many. But we will need your help - come to our Community Squad Open House on August 6 to find out ways you can get involved!
We are grateful to our County government who has been so supportive at every step since BMS started. Even when their budget issues last year meant they had to cut back cash funding, they've been by our side at all times, figuring out ways to contribute. Recent examples: helping us provide outdoor seating for restaurants, lending parking spaces so restaurants could create outdoor seating, providing advice on projects and plans, administering CARES funding to our businesses, providing beautiful and inexpensive office space with County Tourism so we can further collaborate, and saying 'yes' to a new mural that will foster love for the arts in our children. They see the vision and are helping make it happen and we couldn't be more honored by their support.
So now what?
Will we need to make adjustments to our plan after last night's City Council vote? Yes. Will our progress timeline be impeded? Most likely. But does our end goal remain the same? Yes. We are still committed to making Brooksville its best version of itself and making it somewhere people of all ages and walks of life want to call home. We will win this battle for the heart and prosperity of our community. It's a battle we the people cannot afford to lose.
Natalie Kahler Executive Director Brooksville Main Street
City of Brooksville City Council 201 Howell Avenue Brooksville, FL 34601
RE: Beautification Board/ BMS
Dear Council Members:
First off, I’d like to say thank you for my appointment to the City’s Beautification Board during last Monday evening’s City Council meeting. I feel strongly that I should support the City I live in by volunteering, so I submitted the application not long after we purchased a historic house in downtown Brooksville earlier this year. While we have operated a business in Brooksville for many years, we decided it was finally time to relocate our residence here as well and are quite happy with the move.
I will say that nearly everyone we talk to asks why we would leave Hernando Beach to live in downtown Brooksville. While being on the water was lovely and it was exciting every time a dolphin swam by, there was no town center, and not enough vibrancy nor character to feel a true connection to the neighborhood in HB. In Brooksville, there are things to do, places to go and friends to bump into at every turn. I try to walk downtown most evenings for exercise and nearly always see someone to wave to. I love that sense of community. That is especially important to me as we socially distance so much these days.
That said, I really was surprised to have opposition to my offer to volunteer, particularly from people that have never met me. As stated, I have a strong architecture and historic preservation background and thought I would be a natural fit for the Beautification Committee, much as I have been for the Brooksville Main Street Design Committee. And as both groups have similar missions, I can not for the life of me think how there could be a conflict of interest. The mistrust of the Brooksville Main Street program comes from those not involved in the program and who don’t seem interested in making an effort to learn more. The program enjoys great support from many business owners and residents who understand what it does and how it impacts the City. Local merchants will tell you that the people that attend Main Street events and activities do return to downtown and shop and eat as a result. The optimism then results in business and building owners wanting to invest in their properties as well.
Additionally, I was flabbergasted to be accused of trying to make a profit off the City for putting my licensed contracting company on an application for installing pole banner signs, when in actuality I planned to donate my services for free. This speculation, which went on for a bit in a public forum without my ability to respond, is very troublesome, particularly from our elected leaders. It is hard to not take offense to implications such as these, both towards me and others who are donating their time to the Brooksville Main Street program and in extension, to the City.
I can assure you that I, and the many others I have met who volunteer their time for Brooksville Main Street do not have any nefarious intentions. What I see from those involved is a desire for the City to become its best version of itself so people can enjoy downtown, whether it be shopping, events, or having wonderful places for guests to stay. If all goes as hoped, Brooksville will benefit from an increased tax base, lifting the whole City up, and the increased revenue that benefits the City will come from visitors rather than from residents.
Brooksville has such unrealized assets and is the only historic downtown in Hernando County - the potential here is just waiting to be discovered. The investment that has been made here over more than a century is substantial in the construction of roads, utility lines, buildings, sidewalks, landscaping and so much more. That investment has resulted in a quaint downtown and attracted some wonderful people, many of whom have invested in downtown businesses. Continuing the already substantial investment in Brooksville through the revitalization program of the Main Street Program makes so much sense and leverages so much return for a relatively small investment. Turning your back on Main Street is turning your back on Brooksville in my opinion.
As I mentioned above, the goals of the City, whether it be through the Beautification Board or CRA or other City program should be very much in line with the goals of Main Street. Having us all working together could result in great things for Brooksville, and I would welcome a conversation with any Council members regarding my motivations and thoughts. Alternately, you are welcome to talk to one of the other volunteers, or sit in on committee meetings so you have first hand experience with how things work.
You know something? There’s a difference between being outspoken because you’re a bully and being outspoken because you’re being bullied.
And I guess my last post has some at City Hall feeling that my outspokenness was an attempt by Brooksville Main Street to bully them. Comments at their last council meeting suggested it was akin to BMS biting the hand that feeds it. Well, that’s simply not the case. Instead, BMS is working very hard to increase and expand the hands that actually feed the city, by supporting growth of existing businesses and bringing in new ones which will bring added revenues to the city. Ultimately, these new revenues will far exceed its current monetary support of BMS.
Mostly through the hard work of unpaid volunteers, the truth is, Brooksville Main Street is doing everything it can to help City Council achieve what it and the City Council should mutually want, i.e., a vibrant, economically thriving community of historical significance worth preserving, and where living, working and raising children is a positive and safe experience.
But given the ongoing negativity and somewhat inexplicable animus toward BMS, what would you do? It has been made irrefutably clear by at least one City Council member that Brooksville Main Street should not be supported in any way by city government and has even introduced motions to that effect. This, despite significant and growing support from the business community for the program.
Look, here’s the bottom line. Brooksville Main Street has absolutely no desire to be at odds with City Council and will continue to be as cooperative as it can even in the face of adversity no matter where it comes from, including Covid-19. BMS has no choice. The community of Brooksville has no other organization with a program that includes two full time employees and exists exclusively to serve the community’s interests. To put it succinctly, finding itself at odds with City Council in any way, does not serve the community’s interests.
However, I also believe there’s a responsibility in there somewhere to step up and speak out when it’s appropriate. Like I said in my first post, if kudos are deserved we’ll give them, but if not, we won’t, and we will say why we won’t as honestly as we can and as frankly as we need to.
So, along that line, I’d like to offer a round of thanks and sincere appreciation for the council’s 4 to 1 vote approving Jo-Anne Peck to the City’s Beautification Board. Ms. Peck is well suited for the task as she has the educational background, imagination, energy, and a positive spirit that will serve the board well. Those voting in support of Ms. Peck were Mayor Joe Bernardini, Vice Mayor Pat Brayton and Council Members Bill Kemerer and Robert Battista. Council Member Betty Erhard voted against the appointment because she claimed Ms. Peck’s membership on the Brooksville Vision Foundation Board represented some kind of “conflict of interest,” despite being advised by the City Attorney that it wasn’t. (Her animus toward BMS seems endless. We cannot but wonder what’s really behind it. It is hurting the city).
I also want to thank City Manager, Mark Kutney, for attending a recent meeting of the Brooksville Vision Foundation which oversees the Brooksville Main Street program. I’ve never held an elected position but I’ve worked with many city councils and county commissions throughout my career. Elected officials particularly at the local level do not have an easy task. Nor do the administrators who work for them. It is painfully true that there is simply no way to make “all the people happy all the time,” as the saying goes. So, I commend Mr. Kutney for his service and professionalism in the face of that truth.
Finally, based upon comments made at the Council’s last meeting, I think it’s important to clarify that Natalie Kahler is not the writer behind the “Voice of Main Street.” These posts are written as a collaborative effort among a number of people who are extremely interested in the future of the City of Brooksville and, consequently, the “Voice” represents the voice of many committed individuals, not just one. To conclude Natalie is the author is incorrect and she should therefore not have to bear the burden of being accused of such.
… Stay tuned. The Voice of Brooksville Main Street
If you Google “banner,” you’ll find among other definitions that it is a “a long strip of flexible material displaying a slogan, advertisement, etc., especially one suspended between two points.” You will also find they are typically used to refer to “something that represents a belief or principle.” I don’t know where Google gets its information, but it’s not from the City of Brooksville. This I can tell you.
In Brooksville, a banner is considered a very dangerous thing that can only be used for certain purposes by a business or building owner and only under the good graces of the City’s very professional ordinance executioners. It is a thing that is so dangerous to the public that its use must be as carefully controlled as one might try to control a virus, allowing them to be displayed only as permitted and only for specified lengths of time lest their presence spread and infect the innocence of a community’s children.
So, given the danger of such a thing perhaps it was foolish to think the city might understand and even appreciate Brooksville Main Street’s harmless proposal that the city’s businesses display a banner declaring their belief in Brooksville. All it was intended to be was a way for them to show support for their wonderful city and the Main Street Program in the middle of the real fear and economic devastation that Covid-19 was unleashing upon them. It would be a way for them to declare unequivocally that they were “in this together” and their spirit and determination to survive would not be deterred.
Thus, notwithstanding this perhaps overly positive view of the world, why is it not entirely perplexing that, upon learning 41 businesses thought it a swell idea and hung a banner proudly about their premises, the city declared them to be a danger to all and is threatening to issue citations and levy fines if they are not removed immediately?
*(Brooksville Main Street had created a novel way to get folks downtown and into stores by creating a “Scavenger Hunt” involving the Banners. Folks were invited to find as many banners as they could, take a selfie in front of the banner and store they loved the best, and submit it with their comments to Main Street for a prize. Please see the comments attached at the end of this post. These are reactions and appreciation of our City we need to nurture far and wide)!*
Now here’s a city that, when the first hint was heard that Covid-19 was creeping loose amidst the populace, closed and locked its doors and summarily withdrew into the recesses of the city’s famous hills and were not seen again physically for maybe two months.
Apparently, it was only after finally determining the city’s many hefty governmental matters needed tending, virus be damned, that they returned, only to find a plague of banners had been detected which was coursing wildly up and down the city’s very streets. The problem was deemed such a serious threat that meetings were held, emails were sent flying, tempers were ignited, and the full brunt of the city’s legal might was brought in to right the situation, and bring those damnable offending banners down. Posthaste.
Then the matter became suddenly, and sadly, very serious. Here, in part, is what the city manager wrote to the Brooksville Vision Foundation after all the exchanges in just the last week or so:
“The sign definition indicates banners are a sign and signs are "used to announce, direct attention to, or otherwise make anything known..." Therefore, by definition, a special event banner is used "to announce, direct attention to, or otherwise make anything known" "in conjunction with a specific event." The Main Street banner contains language that says "Believe in Brooksville" and "Brooksville Main Street." The banner does not announce, direct attention to or make anything known in conjunction with a specific special event; "Believe in Brooksville" and "Brooksville Main Street" is not a specific special event. The banner therefore does not meet the requirements of LDC Section 7-1.4 and placement must be permitted as required by LDC Section 7-1.2. Remedy Any individual or entity desiring to keep the banner (s) in question will need to submit a sign permit application with the applicable $75.00 permit fee. Concurrently, the code enforcement process regarding these signs will remain in progress. Should you have any questions, please contact Community Development. Best regards, Mark A. Kutney, AICP, ICMA-CM City Manager City of Brooksville”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Albeit as banal and unreasonable as one might think of its current ordinance (per the above), the city has every authority to set standards for displaying banners. Let’s be clear about that because the City Manager has sent an email to Council members suggesting our motives are ill intended. The BVF is not questioning the city’s authority in any way.
What is a little distressing, however, is: 1) The banners were associated with the “Scavenger Hunt.” Is that not an “event”? and, 2) there are other banners around town which have been up for a long time that are most likely not in compliance. So, why the sudden kerfuffle over the banners that some 41 businesses put up to show their pride and faith in the community? Does it look like selective code enforcement? Well, frankly, yes. And that’s our concern. Why are those 41 businesses now being targeted and not others? Or are those other banners somehow “in compliance”? And if they are, how so?
We believe it’s a fair question which should not trigger a fear that it’s some Machiavellian attempt to “challenge the authority of the City to address enforcement matters,” as the City Manager has suggested. Come on, Mark. We just want to find out what’s going on.
And having said all the above, maybe this would be a good time to sit down with the city and representatives from the business community and try to develop greater clarity within the code as to how and when banners may be displayed. From what I’ve seen of the emails, there’s hope all parties may be amenable to getting this needed little thing done.
But just why have we found ourselves in this perplexing situation anyway? Why are Main Street’s efforts to assist the business community seem so at odds at every turn with the very city we’re trying so hard to work with? This is something we as a community need to look more deeply into, don’t you think? With a thriving economy, businesses aren’t the only ones that benefit from a revitalized downtown. Assessed valuations will go up and there will be revenues available for the city to fix the many problems it is struggling to address today on behalf of its residents. A thriving economy will bring increased tax revenues for the city without the aggravation of higher tax rates. All boats are raised. Why aren’t we all working in that direction?
I just do not understand why all this has come down to such an ugly aggravation between the city and the 41 businesses that are so proudly displaying banners with the words “Believe in Brooksville” and “Brooksville Main Street.” Why would a city not see the goodness in the intentions of those who put those banners up; businesses who paid for those banners during some really tough economic times; businesses who are proud of Brooksville and want to believe with all their hearts that this is the place where they want to spend their evenings, make a living and raise their children. What does it say about those who refuse to appreciate just how wonderful it would be if their city could join in this little expression of exuberance in the face of these dangerous times and, instead of threatening fines, say,
“Now that’s a great idea! How can we help?”
… stay tuned The Voice of Brooksville Main Street
Scavenger Hunt Comments - 2020
“We were looking for business we were more familiar with and a lot of them didn’t have the banner, so this was great to find new businesses. My new favorite is Panbanged Knits because I just learned to crochet and need lots of help! Thanks for organizing this, we had lots of fun!” - Bethany and Chris Seitz.
“I chose Easy Street Home Decor as my favorite place because I like all the unique items they sell. It is fun to walk around the shop to browse and a great place to buy that special something that you are looking for or that piece you just can’t live without.” - Suzy Marosi
"We are both new here to Brooksville and ABSOLUTELY love Brooksville. The pics are of my best friend and I. I have been here a year and originally going to move to Tampa after getting a job there. But after being introduced to Brooksville I love it here and now live and work here. This was a GREAT and fun hunt. Thanks to who ever thought of it!" - Virginia Carrillo
Virginia Carrillo took photos not in front of ONE place, but SEVERAL of her favorite places and told us why she loved them. Some of her comments read: Teal Plank: “Want to try this spot out when it opens again for sure! looks FUN.” Main Street Eatery: “LOVE to eat here! Great food.” Thorpe Law Firm: “Never had to use will stay local if had to.” LaRocca Chiropractic: “Great staff!” Downtown Loser: “NEED to try them out for sure - heard GREAT reviews” Patricia’s: “Love the windows!!!!!! Cute clothes” The Bistro: “Best in TOWN to eat GREAT atmosphere!!!! Great decor inside and GREAT staff!” Panbanged Knits: “Looks super cute spot to visit” Easy Street Home Decor: “Super Chic place to find fun things, GREAT staff.”
“Kayla Bagley (me) and my 3 nieces spent the day going around our wonderful city to see all the shops, people, and rain or shine we made it to 25 places and were able to walk and sometimes drive around even to places we didn't think to be there. The best place we love to go is to Transformed Treasures! The owner is very nice and always has candy and her dog is the cutest. We love finding things in there (we just bought a rotary phone for the girls) we never walk out empty handed!! We read the rules wrong and thought we had to take a photo in front of all the shops/places that had the banners and I thought, well we took the photos we might as well share the time we had taking them and showing off all the businesses! We wanted to share our great time we had together and reach the goal of the 25 locations or more. These girls and myself love this city since I've started living here in 2014 from Jacksonville and I got my nieces in 2018 when my sister passed. So things like this bring us together just be spending time with each other ! Thanks again for a great hunt!” - Kay Bailey
“I took a picture in front of The Bistro because it is my favorite restaurant. I love their flatbread pizza.” Lori Mostoufi
“After 2 hours of walking The Mermaid Trail (and more) my boys got over heated so we stopped for fries and a shake at Coney Island. From there we headed back to the car and pursued the last two signs by car but had no luck. After an hour of driving checking from Candlelight to the meat market to Tom Varn my one son got car sick so we headed home. Needless to say we are missing two signs (and about 10 mermaids) but we really enjoyed ourselves and plan to go back to Brooksville very soon. Our favorite stop was the Hernando Park. I had no idea it was there! My husband and I love tennis so we can't wait to use the courts!” - Krystal Magnuson
“I love Teal Plank because it gives me a space to clear my mind and be my creative artistic self that I think I am.” - Jose Morales
“I love Patricia’s Boutiquebecause of all of the pretty dresses that are displayed in the windows. I love driving by and looking at them. It’s always fun when they change. I make sure to take that way home just so I can look at them.” - Skye Breeann
“We love Coney Island the most out of all the participants in the "Believe in Brooksville" scavenger hunt because WE LOVE FOOTLONGS! and their customer service is not too shabby either! Thank you for giving us a free, fun event to participate in. The kids had a blast!” - Marybeth Liebenberg, Brantly Homer and Anneli Liebenberg
“I’m soexcited that we found 27!! It took several trips downtown for my son, Zechariah (11), and I to find them. But we had a blast looking! I took a selfie at The Bistro because We eat there frequently. I absolutely love the Bistro Cobb salad!”
“Although it is not historical as many of the buildings in Brooksville are, I do know that at one time Pro-Civilwas a single-story auto parts store. It was remodeled in 1994 to its present condition. Again, I really did enjoy driving down all the different streets looking for these banners. I hope we can continue some of the many events I have enjoyed with the Main Street Program.” - Beth Garman
“On our girls day we decided to stop in to Transformed Treasures! We had never been inside before even though we have lived here for a few years. When we went inside the store on our antique adventure, we were in love! It has something for everyone! Beautiful pieces fill the store! My favorite thing though, had to be the bowl of toy soldiers that she has out. You may have one for free. She has a sign placed next to it that says please take one as a reminder to pray for our soldiers! I was almost brought to tears. It hit home. The owner is a very sweet lady who greeted us with a warm smile! This is now my favorite store in Brooksville, Florida!!” - Rachel Izor
A bit of history about the origins of Brooksville Vision Foundation and Brooksville Main Street
Last week, Brooksville Main Street made its request for funding assistance to the City of Brooksville and Hernando County Governments for the coming year. These are difficult times for all, so we know there are going to be some tough discussions and hard budgetary decisions. It’s appropriate and we expect it.
So, with this in mind, now is a good time to share reasons why we hope a better understanding of who and what we’re about might help you see that what we’re doing for the city is a good thing.
Which brings up the first important point. We’re not asking for support for us as individuals. With the exception of two full time staff members who make the wheels turn, the rest of our organization, and hundreds of unpaid volunteer hours that are totally dedicated each month to the purposes and goals of Brooksville Main Street, will use Brooksville Main Street funds to reinvigorate and restore the economy of the city. Our request is for, and will remain laser focused on, the revitalization of Brooksville’s downtown.
Because we are humans and citizens of the community, who we are as individuals at times seems to get in front of what we are trying to accomplish for our city. Just keep in mind we’re people - business owners, property owners, residents, just plain hard-working folks like you concerned for the future of Brooksville. If we’re going to be judged, let it be for what we accomplish for the city, not by rumor and unsubstantiated innuendo.
On that point, and because of comments we’ve heard, it may not be clear just who the Brooksville Vision Foundation is, how it came to be, and what its relationship is to Brooksville Main Street. So, let me offer a bit of history for context.
If you’ve been around Brooksville a few years you’ll remember the phenomenal success of Rogers’ Christmas House; that series of old homes on top of the hill a block off the northeast corner of Jefferson and East Broad Street that became nationally known for being a place where one could find Christmas 364 days a year. The only day they closed was Christmas Day, as I recall.
It was an amazing success story because of the vision and hard work of a lady everyone knew as Weenie Rogers. The Rogers family was well known and very much a part of the Brooksville community back in the early to mid-1900’s. They started a downtown retail store next to the old Sun Bank called Rogers’ Department Store. They started and owned City Garage which would become the Chevrolet dealership known today as Register Chevrolet. They owned a dry cleaners where Bobby Meadows Printing was located as well as a ladies and men’s clothing store where Patricia’s Boutique now stands on the southwest corner of Main and Broad Streets. Ms. Rogers also bought and restored many of the old southern antebellum homes just north of town on Olive Street.
Rogers’ Christmas House was such a tremendous success the entire town benefitted. Thousands of visitors were brought in every year by its popularity. Eventually, however, the last of the old family passed and its success waned. The store closed and began to fall into disrepair. That’s when a small group of individuals remembering its heyday and what it meant to the city, joined together to try and rejuvenate its wonderful success. The city was suffering as most small towns were. Commercial outlets and retail stores were moving from downtowns in droves for the malls and “big box” stores on the outskirts. Thus, the loss of the Christmas House had a significant and measurable impact on the city’s economy.
Unfortunately, the group’s dreams for the Christmas House became frustrated when the owner leased it to another party and removed it from the market. Nevertheless, knowing the city remained in deepening economic trouble, the group moved its focus from the Hilltop to downtown and began to hold public meetings to create a “2050 Vision Plan” for the city. The effort was closely coordinated with and officially adopted by the city. Here’s a summary of that plan excerpted from the city’s website https://www.cityofbrooksville.us/community-development
“Welcome to the City of Brooksville Comprehensive Plan. While this document is intended, in the short term, to address the years from 2017 to 2027, the Plan establishes Goals, Objectives and Policies designed to shape the City through and beyond the year 2050. The Plan represents the collective ideas and dreams of Brooksville stakeholders who participated in the Brooksville Vision Foundation’s meetings from 2011 through 2015. This document describes the preferred future of Brooksville expressed by stakeholders. These stakeholders spoke with a strong voice about what they value in their community and what they want for its future – safe, walkable neighborhoods and parks, a thriving downtown district that maintains the historic charm that has existed for decades, a strong educational foundation for Brooksville’s youth, vibrant local business districts, and excellent housing and employment opportunities throughout the City.”
By that time, the group had created a 501c3 non-profit organization called The Brooksville Vision Foundation and it was also during those discussions that the concept of a Florida Blueberry Festival was conceived and pursued by the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. The two organizations, working together with the city, made it happen.
The single most important thing the Florida Blueberry Festival brought to Brooksville was a new belief in itself. Never before had an event of its size been planned and executed so successfully within the jurisdictional boundaries of the City. It took a lot of people and organizations all working together to make it happen, and, after it all, there was no denial it was a monumental success. Yes, over the five or so events that were held over the years, there were controversial aspects which even today cast a shadow over the Brooksville Vision Foundation (BVF), mostly because of that word we hear over and over – transparency – but the BVF today is a different organization.
The departure of the Florida Blueberry Festival to another city, simply put, took the city’s oars and rudder with it and left it adrift. Once again, the city had no organized effort to help it find its way to the future, economically or in any other respect. But the experience did one positive thing. It left a taste, and that taste was of success and a new confidence that the city had the wherewithal to define its own future. The belief became, “Hey, we can do this.” All it had to do was bring the people, businesses owners and property owners together in concert with the city and county governments and anything would be possible. It was new energy found.
Not wanting to lose the inertia of the larger Florida Blueberry Festival, talk began among business owners to hold another but smaller festival. At the same time, the thought of forming a long-term effort consistent with the concepts of the National Main Street program began to gain traction. At last, here was a concept that offered clear, graspable ideas with actual proven outcomes based upon the experiences of other cities across the nation, and it was available for the asking.
The National Main Street Center leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.
It was a simple but profoundly fitting opportunity. While it would not provide funding for local programs, it would provide guidance and a roadmap for communities exactly like Brooksville that were hoping to become economically stable and continuing to grow while protecting the unique architectural heritage that gives them special charm.
So with the motivation still high to find a path for the city’s future, the Brooksville Vision Foundation set out to: 1) investigate the program, 2) gather the support of the city and county, and, (3 create the organization, Brooksville Main Street, within the auspices of the Brooksville Vision Foundation.
Today the role of the BVF is to support and nurture the Brooksville Main Street program in a manner that reflects the basic tenets of the national program by gaining and maintaining the support of the community and governments and garnering the involvement of large numbers of committed volunteers in order to create the kind of community that will attract visitors from elsewhere and give them an experience that will bring them back again and again, if not to stay permanently.
As mentioned, we want to be judged by what we accomplish, so in future posts I’ll bring you numbers that show while there’s plenty more to do; we’re doing well, but we want to do better.
And that means wanting to be more transparent and improving the support of our community, especially the Brooksville City Council. However, the term “transparent” is one of those words that’s relative. People have used the term to suggest we’re hiding something. So, if that’s their aim, solely to cast a light of dishonest dealings where there are none, then no amount of openness is going to satisfy them. In my last post I was clear that there are some who want to kill the Brooksville Main Street Program, and for those there will never be enough openness because that’s not their goal. Nevertheless, we have nothing to hide and will continue to work closely with our Brooksville Main Street investors to assure full disclosure of how our public sector dollars are working to enhance the City of Brooksville.
Sincere and Special Thanks to the Council Members Who Supported Us … but geeze
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.
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.
“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.
The Voice of Brooksville Main Street: An Introduction
You’re probably a bit surprised receiving this email from Brooksville Main Street so let me say up front, defenders of Brooksville Main Street have decided it needs to speak up. Yes, we want you to know what we’re all about. That’s important. But we also think you deserve to be informed of other matters that may be difficult or complicated but central to your interest in revitalizing your city.
And, by creating a voice for Brooksville Main Street, we hope we are also giving you a voice because we want that voice to reflect what we’re hearing from you and for you to engage some of the challenges we face with us. The only reason we do this is for you, the residents, the businesses, and the property owners of the City. We know these are challenging times. We’re not going to sugar coat it.
Okay, so, this is the first post of a new Blog we’re calling The Voice of Brooksville Main Street, and I’m betting you’re going to want follow what we’ll be talking about over the coming months because, if kudos are deserved we’ll give them, but if not, we won’t, and we’re going to be saying why as honestly as we can and as frankly as necessary.
Let me ask you this. If you entered a contract with someone to provide a service and a month later there were unintended scheduling problems, wouldn’t you think there’s a good chance both parties would be interested in fixing the problem? Yes, I do too. If the agreement was entered into in good faith, it would be a piece of cake.
Well, let me share a situation that’s unfolding right now that doesn’t seem to be working out that way.
Brooksville Main Street is a new organization with a number of very important revitalization goals for the City that were worked out with our City Council and County Commissioners in 2016 which then agreed to help fund some of its start-up costs. The agreement was made between each government and the Brooksville Vision Foundation, a non-profit organization consisting primarily of downtown business and property owners. In exchange for the funding, the Vision Foundation agreed to work toward getting the City designated a Main Street Community per guidelines of the nationally recognized, Main Street America model, which describes itself as:
A Grassroots Network Made up of small towns, mid-sized communities, and urban commercial districts, the thousands of organizations, individuals, volunteers, and local leaders that make up Main Street America™ represent the broad diversity that makes this country so unique. Working together, the Main Street America Network helps to breathe new life into the places people call home.
Last fall, the City and Brooksville Vision Foundation created an agreement to more fully detail City expectations. After several months, both realized adjustments needed to be made to the agreement, so in March 2020, the City and the Brooksville Vision Foundation worked out the problems and amendments to the offending language of the agreement was officially approved by both parties.
At a meeting the following month (April), however, a member of the Council decided the negotiated fix was not satisfactory, so the City Council unilaterally decided to amend the agreement and - again unilaterally – has scheduled approval of those amendments Monday night. Yes, this Monday night.
The Brooksville Vision Foundation found out about these latest changes only yesterday, Thursday, May 14, when the city published its agenda for the meeting. This has left the Brooksville Vision Foundation Board no opportunity to meet and assess the changes to determine if they are acceptable or to be able to propose alternate language, and the apparent expectation is that the Brooksville Vision Foundation representative will have to negotiate “on the fly” without any input from its staff, lawyer or the Board of Directors.
I’ll let you decide what kind of signal this sends to any party to any agreement where this is the treatment one gives to the other, but I’ll wager it doesn’t involve good faith cooperation and positive vibes, the bedrock of any successful partnership.
The very purpose of any agreement is to set forth mutually agreed upon terms under which the parties agree to work to achieve mutually agreed upon goals through a specified period. It is simply not acceptable for a partner to unilaterally change the dance in the middle of a song.
The city’s rationale for all this is that it wants to assure the public’s funds it has agreed to provide are being spent properly, so more transparency is required, i.e., more than what was originally asked for and agreed to, which was substantial. Therefore, it is now demanding copies of all canceled checks for every dollar spent of public money.
Someone please help me here. How is this more transparent than the multiple reports and continuous updates we have already agreed to provide the city every quarter? We have already agreed to provide at the first available meeting after submittal of request for payment a presentation which “shall inform the public and the City Council of the activities where the funds will or have been used.” As well as a monthly Profit and Loss Statement, a Year to Date Summary and an updated balance sheet for each previous month.
Why is there now a demand for copies of all canceled checks? If there had been an opportunity to discuss a specific concern, maybe it could have been addressed in a forthright manner. What is the issue that a simple audit might address at the appropriate time if there is such concern about the honesty of the program’s leaders and staff? There simply is no basis or justification for any such innuendo. If there is, let there be factual data brought forward to support it. Until then, let there be a renewed spirit of cooperation and strength that will surely be needed in the days ahead as the city faces the impacts of a global pandemic.
Another new amendment I’ve learned they’re looking at is this sentence they want to add:
“…the City Council and the Foundation may discuss and agree to identify specific expectations for achievement during the following quarter.”
Wait a minute. Doesn’t this seem obvious? An agreement doesn’t have to include this language for it to happen if both parties wish it to happen. The old saying, “It goes without saying,” certainly applies here. So, what’s the REAL purpose?
Is it beginning to feel like there’s another agenda here? Is the city really behind the Main Street Program as it says, or not? It’s said the proof is in the pudding. Hopefully, we’ll soon see it is. Completely and in good faith. But the question is being asked.