When politicians wanted to trick the public in years past, they were quite artful about it. Sometimes, they were so clever that one could only sit back and admire.
Locally, the master of selling sand to the Saudis was that sly character, the late Steve Richey. By the time he finished telling county commissioners why they needed to OK a cookie-cutter subdivision he was hawking, a listener would swear that Shangri-la was coming to Lake County.
Aw, shucks. Just doin' my job, ma'am, he'd say.
Now, however, politicians and those around them have dropped the pretense of gentility. It's getting downright mean out there.
The trend in Lake started with former Superintendent of Schools Anna Cowin. She used a simple technique: Say something enough in public and people will believe it.
When confronted about her inaccurate declarations, Cowin often used to say that she "misspoke." Other times, she got choked up and blamed the media. Most often, she simply declined to explain the gap between her statements and the truth.
That method has evolved into a scheme whereby those in power redraw the lines of any issue to suit them and then declare what is best for the public. Never mind that their stories are half made up and will benefit only them and their campaign contributors.
Woe unto those with a different opinion, even if it's based in fact. They're not just wrong — they're either marginalized as nut cases or belittled as unimportant.
An excellent example of how these insidious techniques work occurred last week in the Lake County Commission meeting.
The agenda stated that commissioners were being asked to approve the creation of the Green Swamp Mining Committee, which was to decide "whether additional protections" are needed in the environmentally fragile area regarding mining. The committee was being set up as part of the new comprehensive plan, the county's blueprint for growth.
A group of local activists who worked hard on helping to write the plan immediately picked up the nuance of the statement.
They said the committee was intended to report on what other protections are needed in the swamp, not "whether" they are needed. The writers of the plan are keenly aware that the swamp is designated an Area of Critical State Concern and is the source of water for the underground Floridan Aquifer, from which much of the state drinks.
One of the plan writers stated in a an email that commissioners approved the plan last year "recognizing that serious unanswered questions exist with respect to environmental impacts of mining in the Green Swamp, that current regulations were insufficient, and that a committee was needed to identify additional protections."
The new wording was created on the fly at a County Commission meeting when only two commissioners supported the original wording.
So, where is this going? Is it an exercise in splitting hairs? Let's look further.
Consider the makeup of the new seven-member mining committee: It has one environmental advocate, one hydrologist or geologist and one person from either the water management district or the state's gutted Department of Environmental Protection. Those three should be focused on protecting drinking water.
The other four are part of the mining industry: one representative from the sand-mining industry; one from the Mining Industry Association; one "environmental consultant," which is to say "one minion for the mining industry"; and the member that tilts the committee's composition against the environment, a representative of the peat-mining industry.
Peat mining is not allowed in the Green Swamp, and for good reason. It is harmful to wetlands, which need particular protection in the critical recharge area.
So, why is a representative of the industry needed on the committee? Brian Sheahan, the county's chief planner, said the committee might recommend making "more global" changes in mining rules that could affect peat mining outside the swamp.
That seems a stretch, since this is the "Green Swamp Mining Committee," which, by definition, means that members are to consider mining regulations inside the Green Swamp, not in Altoona. A more plausible reason is that the peat-mining industry wants to loosen regulations so that it can start digging in the Green Swamp.
Now, throw in the discussion at the County Commission meeting last week, and most attentive folks will figure out where this committee is headed.
While commissioners were talking about the structure of the committee and brushing aside as irrelevant concerns from environmentalists that the committee was stacked in favor of the mining industry, Commissioner Jimmy Conner spoke up to suggest the appointment of a particular environmental consultant.
"He's respected in the environmental community. He's respected in the mining community. He's not a polarizing figure," Conner said.
Commissioner Sean Parks, who likes to portray himself as environmentally concerned, backed the same consultant.
Whoops! Apparently, they forgot to ask the real environmentalists, who all know that the consultant in question lobbied commissioners to oppose mining limitations in the swamp and who consider him a lackey for mining. No matter how many times Conner and Parks declare this fellow an upstanding neutral party, it won't be so.
Just wait. My prediction: Anyone who questions this appointment in the future will be labeled "anti-business" and their concerns will be tossed aside. Somehow, being "pro-business" justifies nearly anything these days — maybe even peat mining atop Florida's underground rain barrel.
In the end, commissioners decided to take applications for the committee and perhaps change the structure later.
They should immediately remove the representative for the peat mining industry, which has no business on the committee, and revisit the structure no matter who applies.
If the industry wants to open the Green Swamp for peat mining, it should have to ask permission separately, not try to slip such a dramatic change into a committee where it would be easily camouflaged by smaller changes.
County commissioners aren't the only elected officials who blow smoke over serious issues that will come back and harm the public in a few years. Consider this a pledge to bring some of them forward as they emerge.
Lritchie@tribune.com. Her blog is online at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/laureninlake.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times