Florida Today Seeks Accountability


The newspaper Florida Today has published an article on April 25, 2016, seeking accountability for the catastrophe in Indian River Lagoon.  It examines the record and past actions of the legislators and city leaders whose leadership or lack thereof impacts the health of the lagoon.  In doing so the newspaper exposes the failures and inaction of those who could have done much more.

Commendations go to Bob Gabordi because, in his words, “The scorecard in essence is a public demand for greater leadership.” This would be a fine procedure in many other places in the state.  Indeed, one sees here names of some leaders in Tallahassee who pass judgement on water issues affecting our Santa Fe River.  Scroll

Scorecard shows failures on the Indian River Lagoon

Bob Gabordi

Bob Gabordi, Florida Today 12:17 a.m. EDT April 23, 2016

FLORIDA TODAY Executive Editor Bob Gabordi explains why the news site created the Indian River Lagoon scorecard in one simple word: accountability. Video by Rob Landers. Posted April 22, 2016

Even before the first word was published, the new FLORIDA TODAY Indian River Lagoon Scorecard had served our intended purposes of generating community conversation and focusing attention on how we can do better.

My email and voicemail have been impossible to keep up with. Facebook comments have been blistering. There is a renewed sense in the community of the need to focus on fixing the lagoon and making those who represent us accountable for helping.

[Related: Lawmakers have mixed record on Indian River Lagoon issues]

That was the simple purpose of this scorecard. It was never meant as a broad or blanket indictment of our state lawmakers and county commissioners or a measurement of their overall performance. It keeps our promise to hold public officials accountable on the lagoon – a promise we made when we launched the “From the Water” project last year.

On issues that impact the health of the lagoon, only Sen. Thad Altman among our local state legislators got a passing mark, using the traditional grading scale from our public school days. He got a 75, or a C. Our grading scale is as follows:

  • A: 90 points or better (no one got there)
  • B: 80 to 89
  • C: 70 to 79
  • D: 60 to 69
  • F: 59 or less.

In recent years, some legislators have come to realize the urgency we face and have supported adding money to the state budget for lagoon cleanup projects, most notably the muck dredging currently underway.

We acknowledged that by awarding 25 “extra credit” points for lawmakers who voted in favor of the adopted budget that included money for the lagoon cleanup. We awarded Altman an additional 25 points for leading the effort to get the muck-dredging money.

At the county level, two commissioners got failing marks and three got a B, though two of those Bs, Jim Barfield and Curt Smith, come with an implied asterisk. Only one commissioner in office for all of the six years included in the scorecard, Robin Fisher, got a passing grade. Barfield and Smith were in office for only two of the five measured votes.


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We hope that at the state and local levels the scorecard will be seen as a clarion call to do better, to make greater efforts to clean up the lagoon and pass legislation and ordinances that will protect it. The scorecard in essence is a public demand for greater leadership. Our representatives must understand we are not going away. As new votes are taken, the scorecard will be updated.

[Lagoon Scorecard: County Commissioners’ reactions]

In truth, no one got a report card to be proud of. But how could it be otherwise?

The scorecard was done in the days following a historic fish kill, brown tide and algae bloom, and with concerns in the media about toxins from other kinds of blue-green algae that sometimes bloom in the lagoon creating a possible future health concern. No doubt, all of that impacted our thinking.

Scores and points aside, no one has stepped up to lead the fight for the lagoon, local fishing industry and the economy of lagoon-related businesses and those of us who simply love to fish and play in the water. Altman and Fisher come closest, but we need more and better leadership on the lagoon.

Any other result would have been a disservice and impossible to justify.

[Lagoon Scorecard: State Legislators’ reactions]

Our process was not willy-nilly or arbitrary. Subjective, yes, but not arbitrary. The process was painstakingly difficult, resulting from hours of debate about how to apply the scores, how to weigh the votes (sometimes over the awarding of a single point) and how much to consider wider implications.  Every dollar spent cleaning up the lagoon, after all, comes at the expense of something else.

The debate sometimes got a little heated. More than one of us complained our heads were spinning.

A look at the problems plaguing the Indian River Lagoon, spanning 156 miles and six counties. By Tim Walters and Jim Waymer Posted Dec. 10, 2015

As an example, an argument can be made – was made, in fact – that the county’s proposed state of emergency declaration should have been worth more points. It would have asked the governor to declare an emergency after the fish kill, allowing him to funnel additional funding without legislative approval. So we looked at other areas where similar actions have occurred to determine real impact and simply could not justify anything but a few token points for the effort.

This was about the lagoon, not making political gestures to an aggravated populace. We gave it a minimal number of points. You may justifiably disagree. We get that.

Above all else, we tried to be real and fair. In the end, when all the points were totaled, we stepped back and asked if it reflected the reality of what is going on in the lagoon. We think so.

[Podcast: Indian River Lagoon Scorecard]


Lagoon idea: Put more mussels into it


As we said before we released the scorecard, it reflects OUR collective judgment at FLORIDA TODAY based on our research, discussion and knowledge. A lot of people at FLORIDA TODAY were involved and have a voice in this. Years and years of experience – and frustration – are embodied in this scorecard.

Yet we know and fully acknowledge it is hardly perfect. It is simply our interpretation of the facts and analysis of the information at hand.


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