New Brooksville Main Street Director will give presentation for city’s support on Aug. 12
by KATHRYN DENTATO
The Special Meeting for the Brooksville Main Street Program (BMS) was intended as an opportunity for the Council to hear a presentation from and ask questions of the principals involved, as well as give the public an opportunity to comment.
A scheduling conflict prevented the new BMS director, Natalie Kahler, and Cliff Manuel of the Brooksville Vision Foundation from attending. The meeting was not cancelled so the public could be heard.
Mayor Bill Kemerer stated that council members received emails from citizens who could not attend but wanted to give an opinion. Their names were read and Kemerer said the emails would be entered into the public record as part of the minutes.
Robert Battista made the motion to that effect. Pat Brayton seconded the motion. The council approved the motion 5-0.
Vice Mayor Joe Bernardini stated there was one citizen who specifically asked for the email to be read into the record. He moved to read that one email. Brayton seconded the motion. Kemerer objected, saying it gave preferential treatment. The motion passed 4-1, with Kemerer opposed.
Citizens were given an opportunity to speak to the council members and share their opinions.
Comments against BMS included:
• The Main Street Program presentation was delayed yet again.
• Lack of accountability; show the accounting of the $300,000 given to the program
• Money could be used for something else (parks, road, water, code enforcement officer)
• No apparent return on investment
• Lack of outreach to the community
• Should have a community effort to revitalize Brooksville
• Taxpayer money should not fund the events
• Other local organizations could use help putting on events.
• Marketing and advertisements would be more effective and bring visitors to Brooksville during the day when businesses are open.
• Money is paid to musicians and artists with no apparent benefit to Brooksville
Comments in favor of BMS included:
• It’s a public-private collaboration
• It will increase economic vitality and sustainability
• The county will benefit as well
• Volunteers have given thousands of dollars’ worth of their time
• More marketing should be done and would help
“It takes time to build momentum and a brand,” said Beth Putnam, Vice-Chair of the Hernando County Fine Arts Program, as she described the partnership with BMS. “Now is not the time to abandon it. Now is the time to nurture it.”
Mike DeFelice, President of the Hernando County Growers Association, suggested that leadership in the city and community needed to improve their efforts beyond just funding BMS. Objections are based on opinion or prejudice against it. In other areas of the country, the Main Street Programs successfully develop entire communities, not just a few businesses.
John Lee of Coney Island talked about business management. If the business needs to change managers, he said, it doesn’t mean the business was bad, just the manager. Downtown Brooksville needs guidance to be successful under the program. “You can’t just throw in the towel and quit because things don’t go the way you hope they will.”
Bernardini read the email from Stacy White which drew comparisons between BMS and the previous Blueberry Festival. Destination Brooksville and the accomplishments by volunteers were designed to bring all businesses together, she said.
Kemerer explained the scope of the request to BMS and Brooksville Vision Foundation. The next City Council budget meeting is scheduled for Aug. 12, 2019, and the presentation from Manuel and Kahler is expected then. Mike Dolan read a formal request for the postponement.
Council members had the opportunity to respond to the comments. Kemerer thanked everyone who spoke, particularly those who volunteer.
Betty Erhard thanked everyone for attending. She addressed the apparent division in even the seating during the meeting between those who appear to benefit from the Main Street Program and those who have not.
Erhard’s main concern is the level of control that the Brooksville Vision Foundation has over BMS and the lack of transparency.
Barbara Manuel, chair of the Promotion Committee for Brooksville Main Street, explained how the money for the Christmas tree was obtained. She said it took Dade City 15 years to develop their downtown area. Expectations for BMS to achieve the same in three years were unrealistic.
Bernardini was angry about the postponement and the lack of transparency and accountability. “The Vision Foundation has failed in oversight of the Main Street Program and the City’s failed oversight of both,” he said.
Battista agreed that lack of oversight has been a problem. “Three years was the commitment,” he said, and the City should have been advised that the actual time frame was much longer. Since the budget is finalized in September, Battista said there is time for BMS to present their plan and guarantees to the City.
Brayton’s concern is mainly regarding the financial statements. Until now, there has been no requirement that any financials be provided.
Erhard spoke strongly about the division she sees in the City and advised she would not support the BMS program. Past performance indicates what can be expected, she said. Discussing the City’s infrastructure needs, Erhard said roads and water are needed to benefit the businesses.
After a long and heated discussion between council members, Brayton moved to approve the Brooksville Main Street program’s written request to postpone the presentation until the Aug. 12, 2019 meeting. Battista seconded the motion. The motion passed 4-1, with council member Betty Erhard opposed.
Council members made closing remarks thanking the public for providing input. As government “closest to the people,” Bernardini said the council listens to the passion of the constituents.
Kemerer said he appreciated the consideration the speakers showed for each other. There seemed to be as many comments in favor of the program as against it. Transparency will likely be expected if the funding is approved.