The intent of this column is to keep you apprised of the continuing efforts of your elected municipal leadership on your behalf to obtain some assurance of the RESTORE Act projects within the city of Apalachicola receiving an equitable share of the fine funds allocated within this area of disproportionate impact.

The much talked about Gulf Consortium met in Tallahassee April 5. You will recall that although not referenced in the RESTORE Act, the consortium was formed primarily through the influence and lobbying of the Florida Association of Counties to control and administer RESTORE Act funds on Florida’s Gulf Coast.  It is presently made up of the disproportionately impacted area of eight counties, from Escambia to Wakulla, and the non-disproportionately impacted area of 15 counties down to Monroe.

What became more apparent as the meeting progressed is that the fear is being realized that these more numerous non-disproportionate impacted counties (many of which have much greater populations and economies like Pinellas, Hillsborough and Sarasota) are throwing their heavy weight around when it comes to direction and control of the consortium now that all of the counties, including Franklin, have joined.  These larger, more numerous counties each have the same one vote as the eight Northwest Florida counties that were disproportionately affected and in my observation dominated the discussions and decisions of the meeting.

We learned a lot from this meeting and I encourage you to watch it for yourselves at “The Half Shell Web Forum” online YouTube Channel. First we learned the consortium definitely does not want any cities included within it, or their decisions on this “once in a century” allocation of funds, and were clearly annoyed by the resolutions of the cities of Carrabelle and Apalachicola to join the consortium.

However, when the Interlocal Agreement was filed and signed by the counties in Fall 2012, the consortium specifically provided for cities and other public agencies to be a part of the membership, stating that “each Consortium Member shall constitute a Florida Municipality, County or such other Public Agency which is permitted by the Interlocal Act to be a member of the Consortium.”

We also learned the consortium counties have now changed direction and intent from the statements expressed in resolutions by most of the Northwest Florida counties, including Franklin, in June and July 2011, that the cities were to be included with the counties in the distribution of the fine funds and it was to be equitably distributed by a fair formula.

This July 2011 resolution from the disproportionately impacted eight-county area specifically states “That Gulf Coast Restoration language legislation provide the monies to the states and local jurisdictions with local jurisdictions defined as county/parish and municipal governments,” and that “We endorse a policy that equitably distributes monies to states, counties and municipalities  for projects across the entire Gulf Coast.  We believe in an apolitical formula….”

Can it be said that the cities were lulled to sleep by these statements and resolutions of the counties before the language and apparent intent of the counties changed to exclude the cities?

Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala was particularly vocal and assertive during the meeting and was joined by many others in directing Franklin County to “take care of their problem” with its cities which were acknowledged by the group as the only cities to have submitted documents for membership in the consortium. One can only presume that she and the other consortium members must be referring to the problem of satisfying and assuring the cities within their boundary that they (the cities) are in fact going to be allocated their fair share for projects within their municipal limits of the applicable RESTORE Act funds. I say this because the consortium members even discussed that they had taken care of their cities – pointing out there was no problem from the more than 100 other cities within their county boundaries.

I am not sure exactly how this was done by the other counties but it is obvious the cities within these other counties have somehow been assured of their fair share for their projects or these cities would likewise be singing our same tune.  Early in this process, Apalachicola communicated with a large city to our west which also had indicated similar concerns about being assured of their fair share for RESTORE Act projects. However, after a couple of weeks of sharing these concerns with their county commission, we were advised that this city has been assured and their concerns resolved, and had decided to partner with their county in the receipt and utilization of the RESTORE Act funds. Our response was that, that was “wonderful,” and that Apalachicola also wanted a true partnership with our county commission.

Both cities in Franklin County, and Apalachicola in particular, look forward to the county commission “taking care of the problem” as these other counties apparently have done by assuring the cities of their fair share of the allocated fine funds for their projects – preferably under an “apolitical formula” such as was recommended by many of these counties.

Our duty to the people of this small but great city does not permit us to stand by idly and quiet while our county appears content to abandon the interests of our people to create and join this “big government” consortium without giving us any assurance at all – and without even any indication of intent to include or even meet with the City to discuss this matter.  I will keep you informed; thanks much.

Van W. Johnson, Sr. is the mayor of Apalachicola.