News Section: Local Government
Council of Governments Close out 2012 at Final Quarterly Meeting
BRADENTON -- At 2012's final Manatee County Council of Governments meeting, traffic control management, education reform and money from the Deepwater Horizon settlement were all major topics. Also on the agenda was information on FPL's new "smart meters," as well as a preview of legislation on tap for 2013.
County Traffic Engineering Division Manager Sage Kamiya gave information on the progress of his department, including the Manatee ATMS project, a system whose purpose he said was to increase efficiency in traffic management and maintenance, as well as provide a more coordinated regional system, reduction of congestion, and improvement of incident management.
Mr. Kamiya also showed technological improvements that will soon be made to the traffic system. He spoke of the county's planned Freeway Management System project that is being worked on by the Florida Department of Transportation. A multi-tiered project, part of the Freeway Management System will include installed closed-circuit cameras, dynamic message signs, and microwave vehicle detection sytems, which will enable computers to see vehicles for purposes of analyzing traffic flows and data. The project is slated to be completed by 2014.
A Florida Power and Light Company presentation on replacing electrical grids with "smart grids" was next, given by the company's external affairs manager Rae Dowling and spokesman Don Sayre. Explaining that smart meters are the next step in modernizing the electrical grid, the two said the meters will be more reliable, efficient and will not require workers to walk on the property of FPL customers in order for them to be read - instead, information for readings is sent directly to the company via a wireless network.
Dowling did acknowledge that smart meters are "not without controversy". Sayre said that, contrary to a popular claim, smart meters do not transmit the personal information of FPL customers, nor do they emit high levels of radiation from radio frequency transmisssions. Instead, the presenters advised that "tests confirmed smart readers operate at radio frequency levels that are hundreds of times lower than other common household items." The FPL reps also said that the claim that smart meters are causing fires is false, saying that no confirmed reports of any fires caused by the meters have been received.
From the school board, Interim Superintendant Bob Gagnon talked about literacy and accountability within the county's education system. Gagnon pointed out several dire statistics that the district needs to improve upon: a high school graduation rate of 78 percent; a reading efficiency rate of only 50 percent for high school sophomores; a district accountability rating of 47th out of 67 counties in the state.
Gagnon also acknowledged an environment of continually-rising standards. Saying that "Children today are facing more and more pressure due to standardized testing," he noted that starting in 2013-2014, student expectations must take a state test that includes the reading FCAT, geometry and biology end-of-course exams, U.S. history, as well as chemistry and/or physics. "The bar is being raised rapidly on all of us," Gagnon said.
The interim superintendent's report was not all doom and gloom, however. Gagnon said that "systemic foundational change" will be pursued, and specified areas like improving community partnerships and academic support, and that the district is moving on from a knowledge-based learning system of just memorization to an application-based one.
After Gagnon's presentation, County Commissioner Joe McClash gave praise to the school board in the context that they have "done a pretty good job with the resources that they've had." McClash noted that the district has a large influx and outflux of foreign students. "We have so many people moving in and out of our community that I think it's a great challenge on the school system to deal with that influx and outflux...I don't think it's all in the numbers," he said.
Up next was Information Outreach Coordinator Nicholas Azzara, who gave a legislative preview of 2013. Two banning bills were on Azzara's list - one for candy-flavored tobacco, and another for internet (gambling) cafes, which he said were becoming a magnet for crime and "unsavory activities." When asked by Commissioner Breuler to specify what he meant by "internet cafes," Azzara advised that wi-fi hotspots would not apply to such a ban if passed, and that state regulation in place of a ban is still on the table.
The last to present at the meeting was Director of Natural Resources Charlie Hunsicker, who discussed the Restore Act of 2012, which has helped enable the dispensing of fines to BP for the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010.
Hunsicker said that 80% of fines coming out of the oil spill settlement will come directly to the gulf states. The fines will be split up among affected individual counties of the gulf states, with disproportionately impacted counties receiving the lion's share of payouts (for example, in Florida, 75% of the state's 8 disproportionally impacted gulf counties will receive 75% of the state's BP payout, while 15 non-disproportionally impacted counties, including Manatee, will receive the other 25 percent). Hunsicker's presentation advised that the estimated allocation for Manatee County is between $4.7 to $19 million.
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