(UPDATED: March 16, 2015 @10:53am)
In the twist and turn of events surrounding Mexico based Cemex’s proposed land use change, it has become apparent that the mining giant will stop at nothing to get their way.
With over 516 petitions signed and packed county commission hearings requiring overflow rooms to be opened, the seemingly unstoppable wheels of the mining giant continue to roll over the opposition. It seems that we now may even have the City Manager and City Councilwoman Natalie Kahler adding grease to the axles.
At the City of Brooksville City Council meeting held on Monday, March 2nd, council members heard from Neighbors Against Mining during the Citizen Comment period. 518 petitions signed by Brooksville residents and property owners opposing the CEMEX application to amend the Hernando comprehensive land use plan to allow mining were presented. The request was made to agenda the item for the next council meeting.
The City of Brooksville, with 7100 residents, is the largest adjacent use and has right of first refusal. Since 2011, Brooksville has maintained a position of silence on the issue, while other adjacent uses have come out in strong opposition to the proposed change.
The City Council agreed to hear it at their next meeting, to be held on Monday, March 16th, at 7pm at City Hall in Brooksville. Mayor Frankie Burnett took the initiative and encouraged the council members to talk to their constituents, talk to CEMEX and review the documents available at City Hall, and come prepared to issue a letter stating their position for consideration by the county commissioners.
DeeVon Quirolo, President of Nature Coast conservation, Inc., contacted City Council members on February 16 to meet with them individually to ask them to pursue a city council review of their position on the CEMEX application after submitting written comments to them on two earlier occasions.
City Councilwoman, Natalie Kahler, responded to Quirolo’s request for a meeting by email on two separate occasions.
On February 18 Kahler emailed, “Because this issue could potentially come before City Council when we are in our quasi-judicial role, my understanding from our attorneys is that I am unable to meet with you privately on this matter.”
Quirolo contacted her attorney who advised that “Plan Amendments are legislative not quasi-judicial so they can meet with you, although they do not have to.” This information was sent to Kahler with another request to meet.
Kahler responded again on February 25th by email stating, “I spoke with our attorney again and he said it could be legislative or quasi-judicial, depending on what actually comes before us. In order to keep the process pure, I would be more comfortable hearing your information in our public meeting.”
Hernando Phoenix advised Councilwoman Kahler of this story and extended the opportunity to respond. we did hear from Councilwoman Kahler this morning by email and she stated that, “Ms. Quirolo requested the meeting with Council in February – BEFORE our March 2 meeting. At that time, I did not know specifically what was coming before Council. It was possible that it would be a quasi-judicial matter. I did, however, agree to review all Ms. Quirolo’s material and did so prior to the March 2 Council meeting. At the March 2 meeting, it was decided that we are merely voting on whether or not to write a letter to the County Commission. That is a legislative action; not judicial. I have taken the Mayor’s directive and spoken to many constituents, and thoroughly studied all materials given to me by Ms. Quirolo. In addition, I was the only Council member to attend the December CC meeting and I heard hours of citizen input at that time. The meeting with Cemex representatives was intended to give them equal opportunity to present material.”
Kahler also explained in her email that the city attorney did not specifically advise her regarding the mining issue, but advised her in general not to engage in private meetings on quasi-judicial matters.
Something isn’t adding up. On Friday the 13th, the Phoenix was flying high and learned that Brooksville city manager, Jennene Norman-Vacha, worked with Cemex representatives and set up individual meetings for the foreign company to come in and meet with city council members individually. Kohler and the rest of the council, with the exception of Betty Erhard, met individually with Cemex representatives.
Should city staff be facilitating behind the scenes meetings between council members and applicants in a pending issue? Should council members be advised not to meet with concerned constituents on the same issue?
An apparent bias is being exercised that makes one wonder whether the public trust is being violated.
The city council meeting is tonight at 7pm at City Hall. If you are concerned about what is taking place please plan on being there and let the city council know your thoughts and position on this important issue.
To learn more about Cemex and the proposed land-use change please visit neighborsagainstmining.org.
You may contact Dorothy Famiano by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org