SEBRING - Highlands County commissioners did a lot of listening Tuesday morning: they heard from Geri Canale, who wanted to lease an abandoned Avon Park clay pit but backed out after a motion to ask for bids; they listened to a paramedic supervisor who was fired after being accused of taking a prescription drug belonging to his wife, and they were lectured by a tea party member.
However, Commissioner Jim Brooks finally got enough and spoke his own mind.
Local tea partier Dale Pflug spoke for more than five minutes about the dangers of Agenda 21, conservation easements, a government takeover of private lands, and the U.S. Constitution.
Apparently, the commissioners haven't been listening, they didn't get it, or Pflug was ineffective in describing how the United Nations is using Agenda 21 - 1992 a plan regarding sustainable development - to threaten the property rights of Americans, Pflug said. Perhaps he should bring in an expert speaker. In the past, he and others have insinuated the commissioners are willing dupes for a plan to take away all private property in Highlands County and to herd citizens into camps.
Finally, Brooks erupted, "I'm not going sit here and be lectured by you and accused by you."
Landowners who sell conservation easements to the government - a dozen agreements have been signed lately to prevent encroachment on the Avon Park Bombing Range and to reduce agricultural runoff into Fisheating Creek - do so voluntarily, Brooks said.
"Don't tell me I don't know anything about the Constitution." Brooks looked Pflug in eye and, red-faced, began to recite: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. That's the preamble to the Constitution."
"I don't see the threat that you see," Harris put in calmly, "pure and simple."
Troy Granata requested an investigation of his firing on Nov. 7, 2013. Two years ago, he failed a drug test because - at his doctor's recommendation, he told Highlands Today last month - he took his wife's prescription for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Commissioners backed away, saying they were warned by their own labor attorney, Michael Bowling, not to comment in a public meeting.
"Any comments made by staff or the commission at any such meeting may be misinterpreted and used in potential subsequent litigation," Bowling wrote in a Dec. 18 letter.
"Troy, I feel for you," commission chair Greg Harris said.
"I will sign anything," Granata said. "There is no litigation. I am not going to file a lawsuit. I will sign anything that says that.
"This is my whole future," Granata said. "I didn't not do anything wrong.
"There's a reason they don't want you to hear from me," Granata said.
"At what point can we hear this?" Harris asked.
County Attorney Ross Macbeth said he would speak with Bowling.
After Geri Canale asked commissioners a month ago to lease an old clay pit in Avon Park, commissioners asked for proposals from others in the community. One came forward and proposed the same use as Canale - a rifle and archery range.
However, when commissioners moved to put the pit out for bids, Canale bowed out.
Earlier in the meeting, she had presented more than 4,000 petition signatures.
"I've never seen such an outcry of public want before," she said. "But I would rather you take it over. I don't have the time. I give up. You got me. I'm just not going to do it."
Commissioners agreed that the county did not want to run a gun range, and Canale said she would return to the people who wanted her business, Boom Boom Guns & Ammo, to open and supervise a rifle and pistol range.
"Nothing happens fast before the county commission," Brooks said.
"We're doing it the right way," Harris said, and commissioners passed the motion on a 5-0 vote.
Without explanation, County Administrator June Fisher pulled a discussion and possible vote that would have allowed Choice Environmental to start a curbside recycling program in Highlands County.