"If I leave a meeting with steam coming out of my ears, it is because someone was blowing smoke up my ass." -former North Port Commissioner Cheryl Cook
It was a sad, sad day when this punk hater was able to get elected. To put this trash out, and using little children to exploit his hate-filled rant: the Angels weep for the people of Sarasota who this fool represents. Hopefully, someone is monitoring his interactions with small children. This sort of bullying is what First Lady Melania Trump works hard to extinguish. We wait for the day when we can say Good Riddance, Zieglers. You are embarrassments to decent people.
Thank you Christine Johnson, Debi Osborne, of the Conservation Foundation and former North Port Commissioners Cheryl Cook and Rhonda DiFranco for being on the front lines from the beginning; and Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida's Cabinet Jimmy Patronis, Ashley Moody and Nicki Fried for finally making it happen. And to all of the warriors behind the scenes who helped fight and win the Good Fight.
February 4, 2020 a.m.
Today is the day Governor DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet decide whether or not to purchase Orange Hammock from the private owner.
In 2014 then North Port commissioners Cheryl Cook and Rhonda DiFranco had the foresight to support this effort by Conservation Foundation. Thanks to Linda Yates, Jim Blucher and Tom Jones, the long 5+ year delay began in instituting this purchase. The delay has caused great distress in the quality of life for the people of North Port, neighboring counties sharing the environment and wildlife corridor concerns, and Florida's environment, and a private property owner's attempts to protect, conserve and preserve his property for all of citizens, wildlife, safe drinking water and flooding.
When Cook attempted to bring the conservation issue back again, the trio of Yates, Blucher and Jones doubled down in their refusal to protect the city, environment and private property owner:
This morning, we, here, at Cherylcook.org await the final decision of Governor DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, all elected by the people of the State of Florida, on the fate of Orange Hammock in Sarasota County, Florida and extend our great hope that, after over five years of delay and despair, that good governance as first inspired by Former North Port Commissioners Cheryl Cook and Rhonda DiFranco prevails; and concerns for the people, wildlife, hydrology and environment of this precious part of our most beloved state are finally and Forever protected, conserved and preserved.
This set of clips from the January 2, 2020 meeting were selected for a very specific reason which we will explain after viewing the videos. They are all intact and not edited, extrapolated from the city web site, but time-limited. Be sure to click on the musical note to turn on the audio.
As you watch and listen to this video clip, here is what it shows: (be sure to click on the speaker button) When Ms. McDowell addresses staff, the city manager should have taken control of this part of the discussion. Staff that is present is not the same individual who made the initial presentation for First Reading of the impact fee ordinance so is not competent to answer for her predecessor. Amber Slayton, the city attorney, quickly takes up the conversation and articulates in a measured, meaningful response to Ms. McDowell's assertions. We hear Ms. Slayton mention the "grace period," that the 2014 commission utilized for addressing their impact fee increase. This is the usual method to allow businesses and builders a smooth transition which the 2019/2020 commission chose not to utilize. Ms. Slayton uses carefully crafted language to explain the legal aspects of the code, impact fee increases and the decision of the current commission, "When you directed your impact fee to go into effect immediately, it's going into effect immediately."
Again, the individual present representing staff should not have been allowed by the city manager to stand in the line of fire. As you can see, Ms. McDowell becomes more agitated because she does not understand the clear language of the city attorney, and, using her position of authority, Ms. McDowell challenges, in an open public meeting, "What I'm hearing is that we have a code in place that wasn't followed." This is dangerous language for this individual - Ms. McDowell - in her capacity, to use in this forum. "I'm waiting for the answer." Ms. McDowell is predicating her hostility toward staff and charter officer Slayton with crazy eyes, becoming increasingly hostile. Who speaks to anyone like this, let alone city staff. Staff again attempts to address an issue that she was not responsible for in a previous discussion and is now being charged by her boss, the city manager, to explain to Ms. McDowell and her crazy eyes, and is receiving no support or protection from other commissioners against Ms. McDowell's aggressive words and behavior.
Amber Slayton responds, "What we are looking for in interpreting city ordinances is what the legislation actually says." And "If the ordinance speaks for itself, in plain language speaks for itself, then you don't have to get into 'what did they really mean by that.'" Keep this instruction in mind as we continue.
Listen carefully to what Ms. McDowell responds, even after a learned city attorney - Amber Slayton - very carefully addresses Ms. McDowell's statements, twice: "Somebody made the determination to not follow the code," Ms. McDowell charges staff as well as the city attorney. So after being carefully explained by the city attorney twice, Ms. McDowell doubles down on her previous inaccurate accusation against staff. This is an enormous breach of protocol for a sitting commissioner, who has been deemed responsible enough by her four fellow commissioners to show leadership and hold the role of Mayor for the year, for which she is extra-remunerated, for Ms. McDowell to accuse staff and the city attorney of putting thought process to deciding to "not follow the code." What is Ms. McDowell's accusation in one word? Intent. That the city staff and the city attorney intended to break the city's law. This is breathtaking. And Jill Luke, Emrich and Chris Hanks sat and said nothing. Vanessa Carusone is, as usual, not in attendance.
We have noticed a pattern in Amber Slayton's representation of the city over the past three years: it appears as though when Vanessa Carusone is absent, that Ms. Slayton becomes more professional and confident in taking action to defend the city from the type of inappropriate accusations and behavior Ms. McDowell is displaying here, and has a history of engaging in.
The above clip (be sure to turn on the speaker at the musical note) is what set Ms. McDowell into the act of hostility viewable in clip 1. This second exchange actually took place immediately preceding clip #1 that we presented. We wanted you to first witness the hostility of Ms. McDowell in the first clip, aimed at staff and the city attorney, the lack of protection the city manager affords her staff from the onslaught of insults and false accusations by Ms. McDowell, as well as the complete disinterest in the rest of the board of electeds in controlling their colleague. The detachment of Emrich, Luke and Hanks is a result of "getting along," instead of doing their job of protecting the city.
Already, in clip #2, Ms. McDowell is becoming agitated, displaying wide-eyed confusion and cannot frame her words into a coherent thought. Businesses and developers are witnessing this display by the electeds of North Port. Ms. McDowell's total confusion of the item is evident but instead of going into the meeting prepared, having spoken with staff, Ms. McDowell chooses to challenge city employees in public with her interpretation of the contents of a previous meeting then not allowing staff to respond. They are being held captive to her wild-eyed rants.
Finally, when staff responds, the individual is very specific and pointed in her speech. She chooses her words carefully as she may be just as aware as we are of Ms. McDowell's inability to understand. Ms. McDowell's statements, "We need to be sure we're speaking the same language," and "Help me explain it," is not what a professional, almost two-decades city employee needs to hear from her boss whose demeanor is already hostile and wide-eyed.
The third clip above is somewhat of an overlap of clip #1 and an extended version. It is to show you how the hostile behavior of Ms. McDowell elevated from Clip #2 to Clip #3, and we've added more footage so you can witness how Ms. McDowell continued even further to accuse staff, contradict the attorney that she, herself, hired as well as insult her own time on the dais, "the consultant report from 2011 hasn't been updated since." Ms. McDowell has now been in office for over three years and spent a great majority of that time blaming past commission for doing their job. "I'm not trying to place blame," then proceeds to place blame. We see the active social media trolling activities of Ms. McDowell prevalent in these type of unintelligible comments. As if placing a smiley face after a social media rant, "I'm not trying to place blame," or adding a thank you after an insult nullifies the offensive and hostile rant.
City Attorney Slayton represents that there were oversights in the process and Ms. McDowell uses the chance to attack Ms. Slayton, "Now we're left trying to fix an oversight that really wasn't an oversight." Again, very dangerous territory for Ms. McDowell to tread - she is displaying public hostility toward staff even after a reasonable and legitimate explanation for the item is presented by the learned city attorney and experienced and qualified staff. Ms. McDowell has actually taken to lying on the dais. How does Ms. McDowell come to this conclusion "that wasn't really an oversight," based on the representations of her own staff? Nowhere in this conversation is there any evidence of staff and the city attorney intentionally defying city code in drafting the ordinance.
Next comes the dramatic heavy sighs by Ms. McDowell. Yet not one of the three sitting commissioners challenges her. More displays of hostility aimed at who? Everyone is held captive while Ms. McDowell rants and throws herself around, insulting and accusing staff who cannot correct her. Ms. McDowell proceeds to present what turn out to be false and made -up numbers that cannot be defended because they are fictitious. Again, none of her colleagues challenge her. Keep in mind, this individual has drafted employment contracts on the dais, wrote the new city charter on the dais, is engaging in rewriting the ULDC and a multitude of other judicial acts accorded her office. The display you are witnessing in these brief clips are who Ms. McDowell is and has always been. Most people outside the city are aware of this.
Ms. McDowell concludes with "This is a comedy of just (we wonder what Ms. McDowell really meant to say in this pregnant pause) craziness." Yes, go back and listen to the end of clip #3. Ms. McDowell actually said "This is a comedy of just craziness."
editor; Let's wrap this up. This was the agenda item to repair the Impact Fee Ordinance from July 2019 that was approved at first reading. Jill Luke eventually reads a motion into the record that appears to be pre-typed, half of a page long. Remember what city attorney Slayton said at the beginning: "If the ordinance speaks for itself, if the plain language speaks for itself, then you don't have to get into 'what did they really mean by that.'" By Ms. Luke reading a half of a page of a motion with multiple moving parts, she is doing exactly opposite of what good governance demands: make it defensible.
Ms. McDowell has spent the past three and one half years displaying the same behavior captured in these brief clips. By acting out, Ms. McDowell is attempting to deflect from her ignorance; this is Ms. McDowell's frustration at her own ignorance that she is projecting onto whoever is in her path using this hostile behavior. Look at her life's experience: nothing involving thought process. Ms. McDowell left her job at Charlotte County Corrections after a year. Why? This position could have led to lifetime secure employment. What is displayed in the above clips is someone who has no idea what is going on, no qualifications to be making the decisions she has been elected to make, no education past a six-month course over thirty years ago in typing and filing. Instead of acting in a professional manner, Ms. McDowell has been taught by her mentors to deflect her ignorance by acting in this hostile manner.