Tallahassee - Bay County officials are colluding with developers to break an array of environmental, planning and open meeting laws, according to a petition filed with today with Governor Jeb Bush. The petition, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) on behalf of county employees, alleges "an aggressive, sophisticated and well-organized enterprise with the ultimate purpose of dismantling impediments to unbridled growth in Bay County."
The petition asks the Governor to commission a full criminal and noncriminal investigation under the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into a number of violations, including abuse of the public trust, breach of the public trust for private gain, violations of the Sunshine Law, public records law and open meetings law as well as the Local Government Comprehensive Planning and Land Development Regulation Act, corruption of public servants by threat, and other statutes.
The petition further notes that Bay County officials who oppose developers' plans to circumvent growth management laws are threatened with the loss of their jobs, including the recent forced resignation of the county's planning manager.
Last June, Florida PEER filed a petition requesting that Governor Bush appoint a special prosecutor in Bay County to investigate the unwillingness of local prosecutors to take action in a number of highly- publicized pollution cases. The petition cited situations in which there appeared to be financial links between the State Attorney and attorneys for violating companies. On July 12, 2000, in a letter signed by his acting general counsel, Governor Bush indicated that he would not act without a request from the State Attorney himself, despite clear authority to act without such a request.
"The political web woven by the development community has paralyzed local law enforcement, which is why state intervention is needed," stated Steve Medina, Counsel to Florida PEER and formerly a top attorney with the state Department of Environmental Protection. "The deterioration of conditions in Bay County signals the real dangers with the Governor's plans to end a meaningful state role in growth management."
Medina notes that local government employees have no ostensible job protection from political retribution for doing their jobs. "The Governor is implicitly threatening to turn his buddies loose against all state employees. This would be very bad for Florida, just as it has been bad for Bay County," Medina said.