OUR VIEW: It’s not smart to give your boss the one-finger salute his first week on the job.
That’s essentially what members of the South Florida Water Management District did just a couple days after Gov. Ron DeSantis was sworn into office. Now, they’re paying the price.
As outlined in a spot on editorial in the Sun Sentinel, members of the water board, which covers much of south Florida and the Everglades, are on their way out after arrogantly ignoring the governor’s wishes. Their action to thwart DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast was not the first time members of the board, appointed by ex-Gov. Rick Scott, have made decisions not in the best interest of the state and their region.
The latest controversy reared up when the board refused to delay, as requested by DeSantis, a vote on extending a lease on land targeted for a reservoir to relieve overflow on Lake Okeechobee. If you’ve followed the problem, polluted runoff from the lake carried blue-green algae west to the Caloosahatchee River and into canals along the Gulf of Mexico. It was a terrible ecological disaster that was on the front page much of the summer.
One of the partial solutions agreed upon was to dig a reservoir where water from the lake, swollen by summer rain, can be drained.
The South Florida Water Management District (SOFMUD) board, however, has leased the land to Florida Crystals sugar company. The board has been buddy-buddy with Big Sugar forever and makes no bones about it.
SOFMUD went so far as, according to the Sun Sentinal, block emails from citizens who were protesting the lease extension. And, to add insult to injury, board members sought a decision in federal court to excuse the district from having to adhere to Florida’s open records, or Sunshine, laws.
All this, and more, led to DeSantis calling for board members to resign. As of last week, the turnover of board seats was well underway.
According to the Sun Sentinel, most if not all of the nine-member board will soon be gone. Two members, Dan O’Keefe and Carlos Diaz, have resigned. The terms of three other members will expire March 1 and you can bet your last dollar DeSantis will not reappoint any of them. One seat is vacant.
The remaining three members can stay on the board until 2021. And they may stay, if pressure from the governor does not force them to step down. The Sun Sentinel cited a report that DeSantis is considering asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the land-lease decision.
We’re confident DeSantis will appoint members to this critical decision-making board who will look out for the people they represent.
No longer should this board be allowed to do things such as pumping polluted lake water into the ground or consider allowing a billionaire to collect and store Lake Okeechobee water in a rock mine and sell it to municipalities. No longer should board members be allowed to side step Sunshine laws to give them cover.
We applaud DeSantis for his quick and strong actions to strangle the power of this board, which long ago lost sight of its mission and bowed to the deep pockets of industry and developers.