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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
P: This is Julian Pleasants and I am with Thomas W. Brown in Lake City, Florida. It
is January 4, 2006. Give me some brief background. You were born in Lake
City and have lived here most of your life. Where did you go to school and where
did you get your law degree?
B: Of course, [I attended] local high schools and graduated in 1959, then started
class at Emory University in the fall of 1959, and graduated in December of 1962.
Then I came back here and started [at] Florida, University of Florida Law School,
on the trimester program in, I guess the spring of 1963. I went straight through
and graduated in August of 1965. I was 23 years old at the time. I was sworn in
to practice law within sixty days after my graduation. Back then you had to go to
Tallahassee and get sworn in, so it was a little unusual. As soon as I finished
exams at law school, we got in the car and drove to Miami and took the bar exam
and came back. So it was just sixty days, during which time I had my 24th
birthday. When I was actually practicing, I was just turned 24. I'm 64 now.
P: So you've been here all your legal career. then?
P: What, in general, are your areas of expertise?
B: Primarily wills, trusts, estate planning, and contracts. I did some banking years
ago when we had a Barnett Bank here, but now it's turned into Nations Bank,
then Bank of America, then they had statewide councils that handled everything.
I did city attorney stuff when I started out in government. That broke me in good
for the Water Management District. I left from the city [position], which is all part-
time stuff, of course, and went to work with the Water Management District
somewhere around 1975, I guess.
P: Yes. I have 1976, is that pretty close?
B: All right, that's probably good.
P: Now explain who approached you and why you decided to go to work for the
Suwannee Water Management?
B: Actually, I had nothing to with it. It was because of family relationships. My
father was in this law firm then, until his death in the year 1997. And he was
good friends with Buddy Camp, who was the first chair of the Water Management
District. So Mr. Camp had mentioned to my father that he probably needed to
get some lawyers. And that was after they'd been in existence for a few years,
because Mr. Camp, like many people, [believed that] you don't need lawyers for
everything. And life was much simpler back in those days than it is today. So
the district had been up and running a while before they got a lawyer. When he
mentioned it to Dad, Dad suggested that Mr. Camp call me and ask me about it,
FWM-20, Brown, Page -2-
which he did. I went in and was interviewed, then was hired, and they haven't
run me off yet.
P: Was your father named Clarence Brown?
B: Yes, sir.
P: Let me read you a statement from John Camp who talks about this. He says,
part of the committee had the desire to hire an attorney, and Jerome Johns was
at that time the head of the committee. I think it ought to be more accessible
[referencing the lawyers] so I went over and talked to Clarence Brown and I said,
Clarence, I know you won't do it, but will you kind of guide Tom? And that's how
Tom got to be the attorney.
B: I thought it was from Mr. Camp. Yes, sir. I didn't know exactly how it all worked
at that time.
P: Yes. Now when you started out, exactly what were your specific duties?
B: Basically, it was to attend the meetings and answer any questions that may arise.
At that time, there were no administrative procedures. There were no rules and
regulations. There was really no permitting by the districts, so it was basically
just running the internal organization and answering the questions that might
arise regarding just everyday governance.
P: What kind of questions, can you give me some examples?
B: Well, personnel issues, for example. Sometimes budget issues, procedures in
the statute to adopt a budget, what the steps might have been. As we moved
into the administrative code, then of course issues and stuff came up about
adopting rules, rules of procedure mainly, since that's about all we were doing,
just trying to get organized before the land funds came in. We weren't
purchasing land. In fact, we were criticized when the Save Our Rivers program
started. We took so long to get involved in the purchasing, because our board
was very concerned about not just jumping headlong into a program, and they
took a lot of time in surveying and determining what their overall goals and
policies ought to be for this district. Because we were a rather unique district in
that we had the lowest tax base. At that time, of course, we weren't levying ad
valorem taxes. When we just started, we were all funded by the legislature. But
we had like one percent of the population, sixteen percent of the land area, and
what we thought was maybe half of the available water. This was one of the
things that our first director, Jack Woodruff-who came to us from the Florida
Department of Natural Resources-said, in so many words, that with DNR when
the districts were established, that he was interviewed about taking the executive
directors at one of the districts and was asked the question. If you were given
your choice, what would you like? And personally, as he looked at it, he looked
FWM-20, Brown, Page -3-
around and said, I want Suwannee. I would take Suwannee. And they said, well,
you can have it. Because [there] wasn't anybody jumping to come to Live Oak,
or Lake City, or High Springs-White Springs, I mean. The reason he did that
was, from what I just said, he could see down the road there may be some
battles over water. As he saw the geographical area and the population and the
abundance of the resource in the area, because of what flowed down from the
Okefenokee and the Suwannee, that this would be a place where there should
be less problems being an administrator than in other parts of the state.
P: Talk a little bit, I'm not sure if you have all the background, but originally the first
headquarters was going to be at White Springs. How did it ultimately play out?
B: Well, like everything else, it's a little bit of everything, a little bit of politics, a little
work and effort. Of course, you look at the district and we are in, I think, almost,
parts of fifteen counties. Some of them [are] very small parts, some of them [are]
larger. You look at the geographic center, and it's somewhere around Lake City.
We started out in White Springs, as I understand it, because there was a facility
P: Right on the river?
B: Right on the river. We are named Suwannee River district, and it was an old
motel. So it was quite interesting as people got in the different offices, they were
assigned motel rooms. As you moved from one office to another, you either
walked outside or you knocked a hole in a room. Everybody had a bathroom,
though, so there was not a big problem with lengthy breaks or anything. They
built a meeting room in the center, and that stayed our place for years. Of
course, as the responsibilities of the districts developed, we decided that that
was not going to suit the needs of the district, so we looked for another place. It
boiled down to [a choice] between Lake City and Live Oak. And they were
naturally gravitating toward Lake City, it being the largest geographic area, I
mean, metropolitan area, if you can call it that. It was centrally located, and was
serviced by more U.S. and federal highways here than any other part of the
district. So it would be easier if you scooted around from Lake City as your
headquarters. But lo and behold, there were some folks in Live Oak that didn't
want to take a back seat to Lake City. They got pretty well organized, and
between the city and the county and some of the chamber of commerce, they all
came together and really courted the district. Where Lake City at that time was-
I think the city and the county might have been feuding a little bit about some
local issues, and they really didn't have it together. And while they made a few
little overtures, it wasn't anything like Suwannee County. Suwannee really put on
a good show, and they had some of their higher officials that came to the
meeting, and they locked elbows there as they walked in the door and sat down
in front of the board, and really made an impression. The board felt that Live
Oak really wanted the district and had an offer of some land that had been
donated, or not donated, but that Suwannee County was going to furnish. So
FWM-20, Brown, Page -4-
after some fair amount of discussion, they just took the Live Oak offer. As it
turned out, it didn't really save any money because there was a lot of clay under
the land, and we had to spend more than the land was worth to get it prepared
for the building. But it's been wonderful, and it's worked out really well.
P: So you think that was ultimately the right decision?
B: Well, being a native of Lake City, I would perhaps like to have seen it here. I just
think it's worked out really good there in Live Oak. Looking back now, no, I don't
think I'd change anything.
P: Although I have been out there when it was flooded.
B: Well, that's good. It gives the district something to do. Control water.
P: When the district started out, because you had the lowest amount of millage, I
talked to John Camp and John Finlayson and some of the other members of the
board, and they were saying the original budget was something like $50,000.
What would the current budget be?
B: Well, you have your operating budget, then of course [you have] your land
acquisition capitol budget. I'm thinking, just right off the top of my head, it's about
$2.3 million, something like that for the operating budget. The total budget is like
$68 million, somewhere in there, $68 to $70 million. But just keeping the staff
and operations [functioning], I think it runs somewhere in that area.
P: John Camp told me that that was way too much money for a Water Management
District to have.
B: Well, in Suwannee, you have to go back, you can see the direction that the board
takes today, and [that] the way they view things is a result, directly, of the prior
board members and their influence. Their influence is still there today in a very
important way. One of those, of course, was Camp. Camp was very strong and
would, even at times, call the director to task on the phone bill. That was before
we had cell phones. This is long distance, [so we wondered] is it necessary to
really do this? While that may seem silly, it struck a tone that went through the
district about being efficient and being cost-conscious. That is still there, pretty
much, today. It's lived on.
One of the major decisions that was made right early on when we were
there on the district, being with the Suwannee River, was trying to get a contrast
between what was going on in the other districts and what problems they might
have, and how that might affect our district. One of the central things, and this is
one of the reasons we held up with the land acquisition program, was trying to
decide what kind of public lands we were looking for. This is something that the
FWM-20, Brown, Page -5-
board early on, you mentioned Camp and you mentioned Finlayson, set the
stage for what we were going to be doing with this money.
The main issue was, were we going to be looking at any type of structures
or controls for water in our area, or were we just going to let God do his thing?
Looking at the very meager resources that we had in terms of a tax base for the
future, and looking at the cost on the taxpayers, the people that were being
represented by the board, and looking at the cost of the burden that was being
laid on the people in South Florida and other parts where they had these
structures, it was determined that the last thing we wanted to do was to change
the course of water by artificial means. The price of land was such that, with this
land acquisition program, it just made absolute sense for us to engage in a policy
that would protect the citizens and provide for the storage of water as it varied.
We had seen how the flooding could occur up here, because of the river. People
that of course served on the board had lived up here for many years. They really
were wanting to latch onto that, to acquire land to store water.
P: That was the original problem, flooding, right?
B: Yes, sir. That's one of the things that people looked at the district for, was to give
them some relief in these flooding situations.
P: But the district has never put in any canals or anything like that to try to maintain
control of that flooding?
B: Not that I'm aware of. No canals or ditches or dikes or impoundments.
P: What's the general approach to flooding? What do they try to do normally?
B: Well, they call it non-structural flood control, and it's through a public education
process of course. Then we didn't feel like we ought to take anybody's land; if
they wanted to build on it, they ought to be able to build on it. But if they built on
it and it was in a flood plain, then of course we need to have that structure built in
such a way that number one, it did not increase the flooding and impact other
people, and number two, it would be structured in such a way that the lowest
inhabitable floor was a foot above the hundred year flood plain. There would be
no fill within the hundred year flood plain. This was done by the board asserting
its own authority. I think this was a rather unique approach and contrast
between, say, what happened in Suwannee, and what may have happened in
some of the other districts. In many of the other districts, because of the
population and the complexities of local government, the district would have to
just take its statutory authority and make a law. Now, in our area, for example,
we have never condemned any property.
P: None at all?
B: None at all.
FWM-20, Brown, Page -6-
P: You have purchased land from owners?
B: We've purchased, yes. Many parcels. But, being in an area that's less
populated and has less layers of government, we can spend more time
communicating with the local governments and the local people and work things
out. That is a luxury that we have in Suwannee, that some of the other districts
P: Well, that's very unique, because every other district has a large amount of
condemnation projects going on all the time.
B: Yes. That's why they've got a jack-legged lawyer like me who doesn't need
anybody to jump into court all the time. So what we did when we started out with
all this non-structural flood control, in getting people not to build in the area
instead of the district taking all the heat for this, the director at that time was Don
Morgan, and he saw there was a young man out there that communicated pretty
well with country governments through his elected office, and that was Jerry
Scarborough. He was clerk of the court of Suwannee County. So at the board's
request through the director, Jerry agreed to work with the counties in trying to
get the counties to adopt their own ordinances in each of the counties that
bordered the river. That basically required everybody to build, any structure, if
they were building on the river, seventy-five feet back from the river bank, and
the lowest habitable floor being one foot above the hundred year flood plain, and
no fill in the flood way. So this was locally approved by most of the counties and
put in place. What the district did was then adopt regulations that mirrored the
country ordinance. So the district wasn't out ordering the citizens to do this and
do that. The district took the role, and very wisely so, of being a resource to the
counties. Well, you don't know where the hundred year flood plain, we're going
to do surveys for you. We're going to furnish that to your property appraisals so
you can go in and get this information. We're going to help you set this thing up.
We're going to support you, blah, blah, blah. So the district was looked upon as
kind of, I guess, a resource for the counties, instead of a big lord over [the
citizens], ordering the counties and citizens of the district to do certain things.
P: And were the ordinances fairly consistent?
1. Yes, sir. Jerry did a remarkable job with that, getting these people [together] and
convincing them, and I think rightly so, that this was done for the protection of the people
that had existing property. Because you keep building up the floodway, then the typical
flood that may just go up to a certain level, next time is going to go up higher with the
same amount of water because there won't be any room for the water to be
P: Earl Starnes told me that that was one of the things the board wanted to do very
early on, because there had not been a survey of the flood plain and that was
FWM-20, Brown, Page -7-
something that they did do. He said he thought that was one of the more
valuable things that the board decided to do.
B: Oh, yes, sir. I agree with that. I mean, you can enact all the ordinances you
want, but if they don't have the means of complying with them, or if they've got to
go out and pay $600 for a survey every time, they're just not going to do it. So
yes, you have to provide the means.
P: Who would enforce any violation of the flood plain, would it be county
B: Well, it would be, at some point, it became a rule of the district and also a local
ordinance. So it could be enforced by a governmental body.
P: How would you enforce it through the Water Management District?
B: Under chapter 373, you have several options.
P: 373 makes water a resource of the state, right?
B: Yes. Chapter 373 is what created the Water Management Districts. Of course, it
gave the background, or the language that was later interpreted by the courts in
Tequesta vs. Askew, one of the first cases that came up, where the village of
Tequesta was wanting to drill some wells and withdraw some water within its
ownership, and did not feel that the Water Management District had authority to
really prevent another government body and entity that was created by the
legislature, the district down there couldn't tell it what to do. That went all the
way up to the Supreme Court I think, and it was determined there that what 373
did, was declare the old common law theory that if you own a piece of land, you
own it to the heights of the heavens and the depths of hell, and whatever is in
there is yours, and you can do what you want to with and when you want to, and
how you want to. They said, nope. All of the water in the state is declared to be
a commodity that is owned by all of the citizens of the state, held in trust by the
state for the use and benefit of the citizens, subject to reasonable regulation.
That's what 373 does. So if it says that a consumptive use permit is required,
then you've got to get one, even if it's water right under your land, or even if it's in
a pond right on your property.
P: A lot of people were not real happy about that?
B: No, sir. Of course, back in those days, I mean, you could, in the early 1970s, you
could go hunting and you could kill 200 quail a day if you wanted to. If you went
fishing you could boat 200 fish, because there weren't that many people and
there were plenty of resources. But as you've got more and more people, and
the demands on the resources stay the same, you have to do some regulation.
Same thing with speed limits in different states. As you get more and more
FWM-20, Brown, Page -8-
people, you get more and more need for regulation of everything. And goodness
knows, if you go fishing today in the Gulf, you've about got to have a computer,
to figure out what's in season and what size and what weight, and all that. And
it's just because of the demand on the resource. Well, water's no different. And
so you've got a state that's growing, and you've got an increasing demand, and
you've got about the same amount of water. So how do you go through and
allow the growth, and at the same time preserve and protect that resource so that
it's available to for everyone to have their fair share?
P: Let me go back and ask you if you know specifically how the millage was set for
Suwannee River Water Management District? There are all kind of stories about
B: Well, there were problems in [the] Northwest [district] in order to get the, I think,
the legislation passed. There were some real restrictions that were put on the
Northwest district that even went into the constitution, and it applied only to the
Northwest. We didn't have that same restriction. But you can't levy any more tax
than you've got, basically, assets. You've got a limit, and the legislative limit was
$1 million. But $1 million wouldn't raise much in this district at all, based on the
tax base back then, and really not anywhere near but a fraction of what it does,
as compared to the other districts. So the legislature, through the Department of
Environmental Regulation, or whatever it was then. What was it?
P: Probably DNR then.
B: Yes. DNR. Department of Natural Resources. Whoever had the supervisory
jurisdiction over the districts then included a line item budget in its budget to the
governor for [the] Suwannee and Northwest [districts]. And we've always been, I
guess [it's] like raising a kid, and we just never got weaned, really. All the other
P: Now is it .3, the millage?
B: Yes, sir. I think we start out at one of the lower ends. Since we're in north
Florida, we're a composite of all of our counties. Our counties are poor. We're
rural, non-developed, and even within the counties, whatever millage they raise
could barely raise enough money to support their function. So when we came
along on top of that, the legislature recognized that that was just not reasonable,
to ask us to raise all of our operating capitol from the tax payers here. So we got
whatever was a reasonable budget in the DNR budget from the governor. And
that was the way it went for years and years and years, and we're still getting
some of that.
P: Well, I'm sure that the constitutional amendment-that all the voters in north
Florida were generally opposed to it-but there were enough votes in south
FWM-20, Brown, Page -9-
Florida to ultimately pass it. So I do know there's been some sort of resentment
about having to pay that sort of tax.
B: It's been a change over the years, just like everything. The only thing that's
certain is that nothing stays the same. That applies of course to the Water
Management Districts. Until we started levying a tax, we were just sitting there
and everyone thought Water Management Districts were fine. But two things
really affected the public's perception of the district. One was, of course, the
taxes, even though it was a small amount when that was passed. But more so
than the taxes, was the regulatory aspects. When that went into effect, the
district enacted rules and started telling the people, enforcing the rules, which
they should do. And we were much behind in our enforcement of rules.
P: Are you talking now about permitting?
B: Talking about permitting wells. Let's just talk about a water well. These well
drillers now had to come in and get a permit to drill a well. Well, that was
[controversial], I remember meetings that we had in Perry where the board was
shouted down as being Communist. So, I mean, the district really needed a
deputy there to keep order. We didn't have many of those meetings. Maybe
P: That was enough?
B: That was enough. So the board became really sensitive about the regulation. I
know they wanted to regulate as little as possible, that was their mandate, and
yet those were the things that needed to be done. So we tried to educate the
people and the well drillers, for example, is where we started out, just regulating
the construction of wells and went through a real learning period with that. Then
as we went in to enforcing the different aspects of 373, we used that educational
component as much as we could. We went in to local government, and were
talking to them. We still have problems. Today when people in the county are
supposed to build a road, they're not supposed to go out and just pile up a bunch
of dirt and impede the flow of water, because it does create flooding problems,
you're supposed to get a permit. We have some counties today that just [don't
comply], we've got some that have nine or ten violations right now, even today.
But most of the governments and the builders, the people, they realize that what
the district is doing is to really preserve and protect and maintain their property,
as well. People are willing to give up a little in order to get something.
B: I believe John Camp told me at one point that they lowered the millage from .3 to
.2 because as he said, they had too much money. Are you aware of that? And
how would you go about changing the millage either up or down, wouldn't the
legislature have to do that?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -10-
B: Well, we found out what the problem was. They had just come out with what's
known as a Trim Bill today, where you have to advertise this millage. When you
started out with a millage, you didn't have to, you just did it all in-house, nobody
knew what was going on, and there wasn't a real problem. Now, when they first
came out with the Trim Bill, even though you kept the same millage, the
advertisement would go in the paper that you're raising taxes 6 percent. That
means, as you know, if the assessed value of your property goes up 6 percent
and you keep the millage the same, you still have to advertise the 6 percent
increase, unless you choose to roll back the millage so that the amount of money
that you gather from the assessment is the same. We got a little slack about
raising the taxes, and the board said, well, I think we can get along with this
money this year. So we'll lower it. We'll roll it back. And we did.
Now the problem, if you're at three mills and you roll back to two, well,
you've got a thirty percent decrease. The problem is, later on you need some
more money and you go back to three from two, what do you get? A 50 percent
increase. You took a 50 percent decrease and you go back to the same place
you were before, you've got a 50 percent increase. I think we took that slack one
time and said, [never] again. And by then, it was the same thing with the
counties and the cities, and everybody was understanding that now. So the
majority of the people understand that your millage is the same. So while it says
that, that's an advertisement, and we are getting some more, but that takes care
of inflation and pay raise and stuff. So we've just kind of kept it the same over
these years since then.
P: How do you go about doing that? Does the Water Management District have the
authority, don't they have to go through the legislature?
B: No. The constitutional amendment that passed under Governor Graham [Florida
Governor Bob Graham] that gave Water Management District taxing authority.
We have the right to levy an ad valorem tax on all real and personal properties
within the boundaries of the district up to one mill in any one year. We follow the
same procedures as the city and the county in levying the taxes. There's an
advertisement, and your proposed budget is adopted in July. It's a tentative
budget. Then in the first part of September you've got to hold a meeting after five
o'clock p. m. So we hold two meetings in September, at five-thirty p. m., adopt a
tentative budget, then the last meeting in September we adopt a final budget and
levy the tax.
P: Did you get much public participation in those meetings?
B: I remember one time we had somebody that came in, and they lived in St. Johns
County. I think the first meeting, we might have had ten or twelve. The average
attendance today is one or two.
P: So technically you could raise the millage this year?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -11-
B: We could have gone to one mill, I think.
P: You could do that every year if you wanted to?
B: Yes, levy a mill.
P: Talk a little bit about your relationship to DNR and DER [Department of
Environmental Regulation], not so much the water district, but what sort of
interaction would you have with these agencies and how much authority did they
have over the Water Management Districts?
B: In my opinion, they've never really exercised the full authority that they have. I
think that 373, at least in my opinion, gives them a tremendous amount of
authority over the Water Management Districts. Of course, with authority goes
responsibility, and with responsibility goes accountability. So I think that the
department kind of lays back and would rather be involved in such a way that
they can do their job, and let the districts do its job. Since the department is
appointed by the governor, then the governor's office may direct the department
to do certain things, but the department-again, I'm just saying what I see and
what I think, I've not been told this by anyone. But I can see the department
being involved only to the extent that they're ordered by the executive branch or
they think it's something that may directly affect them. But the districts need to
function as the districts and the department needs to function as a department.
We try to coordinate what is going on. That is a very important part of what the
department does, try to set meetings of the directors and the chairmen of the
districts. They meet on a regular basis. Again, it's largely a coordination. They
discuss mutual problems so that we do not end up in a conflict situation where
the department's saying one thing and the districts are saying another, and
confusing the public or the other county and city governments, or the legislature.
There was a committee that went out about twenty-five years ago,
headed by Senator Carlucci [Florida Senator Joe Carlucci] from Duval County
that visited all of the Water Management Districts, and about every ten or twelve
years somebody wants to go out and say, is it broke? If it is we're going to fix it.
Maybe they want to fix it whether it's broke or not, but they want to investigate.
And I think that's good because it means you go back and you question what
you're doing from the ground up, and you justify it in that process and it brings
people back to reality. One of the things they would stress then was consistency,
the need for consistency, and back then they [the WMD directors] weren't
meeting that regularly. That's what grew out of that. It was wrong for someone
to have a business and go into St. Johns district and have all this set of
procedures, or things that were going on, and then come over to maybe
Southwest and have another set or another rule. I mean, everybody doing things
differently. Now we are different districts and we do need to have some
differences, but there are some things that ought to be the same, because we're
FWM-20, Brown, Page -12-
all under one chapter of the same law. We're all governed by the same law.
That's good and I think that's where the department really helps today, is to bring
about consistency between these districts and to resolve possible issues before
they become real problems.
P: Most of the time, people I talked to concluded that previous governors didn't get
involved too heavily in DER, DNR, and what they were doing. But more recently,
and there's been some complaint with Jeb Bush, who appointed this Committee
of 100, that in some people's view, would supersede what the Water
Management Districts are doing and the districts don't like the idea of what they
would call political meddling. Do you see any of that now, and were you aware of
it in previous years?
B: Well, now, again, you understand I'm just the attorney. So I don't participate in
the meetings that the directors have with the secretary, or the chairman of the
board with the secretary and whatnot. I just pick up what may be discussed at
the board meetings. I have not been aware of any problems that you're
discussing there. I mean, all the time we're saying, now the governor wants our
budgets approved. So there's somebody from the governor's office that we work
with on our budget. But again, that's just furnishing information and getting stuff
up. A lot of that is because of what was brought on by what we did to ourselves.
For example, we're talking about St. Johns flying their airplanes and their board
members around and all this stuff. It got out and so people were complaining,
why am I paying taxes for these people to go flying around like they're the
president of, well, you can't say General Motors today, I don't think.
P: They might have to give up their plane.
B: Or Winn-Dixie. The governor said, I'm going to get a handle on the money. I'm
going to look at it. You know, a lot of this extravagant stuff stopped, so I think
P: Well, in fact, one of the criticisms of Water Management Districts was that there
hadn't been enough supervision.
B: I think that we tend to become really excited about our own selves looking in the
mirror and stuff, and there needs to be a wake-up call once in a while. And it's
usually brought about because of some extremes of some sort. When those get
leveled off again, the governor really doesn't want to run the Water Management
Districts. They want to let it do itself. So if we get out of line and we need some
nudging and prodding, so be it.
P: Let me ask you about several of the people who have worked in the Water
Management Districts. Some you may not have worked with very long and some
you may know fairly well, so just give me an overview of these individuals and
FWM-20, Brown, Page -13-
what their contributions might have been to the Water Management Districts. I
wanted to start with Don Morgan.
B: Well, I'd say [he made] significant [contributions]. I'll give you a little thing to put
in the file with it. These are some notes, a program for a memorial service, and
some notes there that might just get filed away some where. But Don came from
south Florida [Water Management District], and it seemed, personally and
[having] been through the experience of all the problems there, and was
determined that when he came to Suwannee that those would not be problems in
Suwannee. I think the guidance and all that we received from him had an
important and lasting impact on the board, and on the direction that we took. He
guided us in the right direction. I think he did a good job in shaping us. He was
the person that we needed at the time. That's what needed to be done, and he
did it right. He was really upset about trying to start all this regulation and have
people get upset. It upset him. He didn't want that any more than anybody else.
But it was just something that had to be done. Because he was so averse to
that, he was the one that really went after Jerry Scarborough to go into the
counties and to try to work out these issues. That had a lasting impact on the
way the board did business.
P: Several people told me he was a very able administrator.
B: Yes. He figured that the district-if he left and had to go somewhere for a month,
even though I don't think he ever did-the board ought to run it. I mean, the staff
ought to run itself. So he would kind of notoriously move department heads
around. That's what he'd teach them.
B: Well, it isn't training them, they're doing it. So yes, that's the way to train them.
You do it, then you're trained.
P: Jerome Johns?
B: Again, I think a very able chairman. Very much in charge. Kind of like Camp.
Again, always willing to listen and consult with staff. I think, as far as I could tell,
from my perspective, he did a good job.
P: Talk a little bit about John Camp. I think from what little I know about John, he's
a pretty straight forward, plain spoken kind of individual?
B: Yes. He promised me once if I'd go over to Tallahassee with him, he'd buy my
dinner. So I said, all right. I went over and went this, blah, blah, blah. And
coming back he pulled in a Burger King, went in the drive through window and
got my sandwich and put it right in my lap. He was just a serious as he could be.
FWM-20, Brown, Page -14-
I had just figured one thing, and that was him, he just figured another and he was
ready to get back home, so we ate in the car as we were driving.
P: How powerful is the chairman, vis-a-vis the executive director? Or does it
depend on individual chairmen?
B: I think it's a shared relationship that they have. Now you talk about statutorily,
the director and the auditor and the attorney are hired by the board and the
chairman. We're under the Sunshine Law, so the chairman's not supposed to be
talking to all of the board members except during the meeting. And I think we
stick pretty much to that. That does, in a way, take away from some of the so-
called power that the chairman may have. I mean, he serves at the pleasure of
the board. We've never had a rift that I can remember with any of the board
members. I've been to about every meeting for thirty years, and they've seem to
have gotten along pretty good. We've had some where a board member got
upset and stormed out. But I think they all stuck to the Sunshine [Law] and did
their discussions during the meetings.
P: But a persuasive chairman could have an influence over how the board voted?
B: Yes, but we've had some strong people on that board. They speak up. I mean,
I've never felt like that there was a chairman that rammed anything through.
Now, like I say, Buddy Camp was strong, I think Jerome was. They all had their
own styles and ways of getting things done. But if there was something that
somebody didn't think was right, they would speak up as far as I could tell.
P: How difficult is it having to deal with the Sunshine Law in your meetings? Does
that create a problem for you? Or do you see that as a positive step because it
allows the public and everyone to know what's going on?
B: Oh, I think the Sunshine Law [works], I approve [of it]. I've been involved in it,
going back to the 1970s with the city of Lake City, then with the district. The
public is not served when you've got a nine person board and a fifteen minute
meeting. The stuff that goes on back there, you miss things, you get part of the
information, sometimes you get misinformation. It does allow a chair or
someone, if you didn't have a Sunshine Law, to run it out of their back pocket.
It's one of the best things that's happened to Florida, as far as I know. Now
you've got problems with that. Sometimes it does create problems. I'm saying
all things considered, it's one of the best things.
P: Do you think it's observed in the letter of the law, if not always the spirit?
B: I think that the board, from what I have observed, I think they're conscious about
it and that's in our orientation, the first time they get in. I think they're conscious
about it and I think they conscientiously try to observe it. There may be some
incidents where there's slippage here. There may be a discussion at a dinner or
something, but they'll say, oops. They'll catch it and they'll quit, somebody will
FWM-20, Brown, Page -15-
remind them. But I don't think they pick up the phone and call them and say,
We've got this vote coming up, what are we going to do? Of course you can
alleviate some of those communication problems or technical violations by
working through a director. It's like a straw person. That's something the
director needs to do, is to stay in touch with the board. That's one of the things
that I think Don Morgan was really a master at. He would stay on the phone
frequently with the board on a number of issues. Every director would have to do
P: Now I will tell you a story that Auley Rowell told me, he said that he and Earl
Starnes, would get into disagreements that would be pretty strong. Occasionally
we'd just go in the bathroom and kind of settle things.
B: Well, that's borderline type stuff. But it may not necessarily be a violation.
P: Well, I think in terms of the letter of the law, it's probably not.
B: Now if they had gotten back there and said, now look, you voted on this thing
over here and I'm going to vote on this one over here, no, you do that. But say,
you have a discussion in the public and you say, now you know this and you
know that. The way I look at the violation is the public being deprived of
information that should be laid out.
P: And both these men, as you well know, are very conscious of this. This is almost
an accommodation. It's almost humorous, the way Auley presents it.
P: Now, when you're talking about members of the board, the question always
comes to me, why would anybody want to be a member of the board? There are
no perks, the hours are difficult, the issues are complex. I know they get huge
amounts of homework.
B: All right. I look at maybe south Florida, some of these places, they've got three
day meetings. We don't. Our average meeting, we start at nine o'clock a. m.
and we're usually on the road home by one-thirty p. m. or two o'clock p. m. with a
dinner, lunch we serve at the board, at the headquarters. We used to have
committees and everybody was on some kind of committee, and the committees
would meet and do all that, but then we do everything as a committee as a whole
now. So I'm saying the Suwannee district is a lot more laid back than the others.
The problems that we have are less critical and in less number and degree.
That's witnessed by, you've got one lawyer here that's part time. You go down to
St. Johns and there are twelve and you go down to south Florida there's twenty-
six or twenty-seven. That's just lawyers. We've got sixty-eight employees and
you look at these other districts that have 1,200. Now some of those working on
FWM-20, Brown, Page -16-
works of the districts and other stuff. There's a lot of difference. So when you
ask me about south Florida, I'd say, yeah, I don't know why they do it.
P: Why do people join the board?
B: Well, I think a lot of people, number one, if you're called by the governor of the
state of Florida and you're asked to do something and the governor's going to
appoint you and all, then that's part of public service. Now if you were called by
the chairman of the district and asked to serve, I don't think [you would] get
anybody serving anywhere. But you're commissioned by the governor, so
there's not a lot of people the governor appoint to positions around that serve.
So I think that's a lot of it. You get public service and responding to the governor.
That's about it as far as I know.
P: Have the governors, by and large, on your watch, made good appointments to
B: As far as our district is concerned, yes. Every time the board comes up I watch
the directors and they say, oh my goodness, what are we going to do? What are
we going to get now? It won't be as good as what we had last time. How am I
going to deal with this and that. So it's really kind of upsetting to the directors
knowing that here I'm getting new bosses, and I don't know what in the world
they're going to be like or what they're going to do. As it seems to me, as this
thing has evolved in our district, every board does seem to be a little bit better
than the other one. It seemed to work out.
P: Are they diverse in terms of the interests they represent? So there's one farmer,
there's one businessman, environmentalist, all of those various points of view are
represented in the board generally?
B: We probably haven't had the environmentalists represented as much. We have
had Frank Sedmera and Sue Colson, who were very sensitive and did a
wonderful job. Right now I don't think there's anybody on the board, I would say,
that is really in that category at this time.
P: Is that a problem, do you think?
B: No, sir, because we have groups that do monitor what we're doing. And I think
just because you don't have someone that's really committed to that area,
doesn't mean that the other board members aren't committed or the staff isn't
committed or the director isn't, and I think they all are. They all try to do that.
P: For example, somebody like Earl Starnes would be knowledgeable and sensitive
about environmental issues?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -17-
B: Yes, sir. I think these people are, but I'm saying they don't come out and say, I'm
a representative of that, or I'm a member of the Sierra Club, or I'm a member of
the Save Our Suwannee organization, or I'm a member of Card Carrying ... like
we have had some others on there. But they've all worked together,
P: Have you found any conflicts of interest where, let's say a farmer might own land
that's going to be affected by some decision the board makes. If that's the case
do they recuse themselves?
B: We've had very few recusals over the years, probably not more than ten. But
yes, that's come up.
P: Is that your responsibility to point out the fact that there might be a conflict of
B: Well, I can only give an opinion when I'm asked the question, because I don't
know what's on their mind. I don't know that there is a conflict unless they
discuss it with me before.
P: But if you were buying property on Suwannee and one of the members of the
board actually owned that property?
B: If we've got a purchase. Oh, yeah. Well, those things come up. Sure. We
have done that. We have purchased some land before.
P: And the person would recuse themselves?
B: What we've done is, we've asked another district to handle it. We'd just go back
and say, hey, you negotiate with this guy. If you reach something and you buy it,
then you send us a bill for what it is and we'll pay you.
P: Another question that comes up, when you look at the members of the board, is
how do they interact. Just sort of describe a typical meeting. Your meetings start
at nine o'clock a. m., and are through by one-thirty p. m. The director comes in,
makes a report, it's discussed by the board, the staff makes recommendations.
Is it usually discussed pretty thoroughly or, as Auley Rowell would say, is that
Earl Starnes would always say, move the staff report.
B: Move staff recommendation. That's the standard thing. We get the materials
mailed out two weeks ahead of time. The board members are requested, if
there's anything in there that raises an issue or a question, to contact staff about
it. We have assistant directors and they have the four major areas, the
administration, the land acquisition, the regulation permitting enforcement, and
say, if you've got a question about any of these, contact that person or meet the
director. Then, one week before the meeting, the department heads and the
chair sit down and go through the whole thing. Have you heard anything from
FWM-20, Brown, Page -18-
anybody? Is this any problem? Anything that's going to come up that I need to
be aware of? Blah, blah, blah. He gets it pretty much in mind. Then if they think
there's a problem somewhere and any legal issues, then I may get a call saying
heads up, look at item fourteen, blah, blah, blah. So that's the way it goes. They
come up with estimates of how long the meeting is going to last. And they're
usually pretty right. But if we've got a short meeting and somehow or another it
goes in and they get in a relaxed mode, these rabbits sometime get to running
out. Well, what is this for? What is this computer thing here? You mean
$20,000 for this? How does that help us? What is that? Then they'll get way off
and you know, those things happen.
P: How often would you say the board would pretty much unanimously approve the
B: 99 percent.
P: What about financial disclosure? John Camp was very upset about that. I think
that was a reason he finally left the board, because they required him to do that.
Do you find any problems with that, when people are asked to serve?
B: I think surprisingly not. I think me and others, we do one kind of disclosure, they
do the full disclosure, I think.
P: You can give just a range?
B: I give a little, where'd the money come from and stuff like that. But they do the
full one. But nobody ever looks at them that I know of. Then they file them in
some spot. You'll never see the newspaper publish them.
P: But it is public record?
B: Sure, it's public record. Would it be a problem if the newspaper would start
publishing those things? Yes. That would be a big problem. Right now they
just, it is not published, it is not put on the Web, and somebody could, I guess the
district could put it on the website if they wanted to.
P: Or somebody outside could get it and put it on the website.
B: Or on a blog somewhere. And that probably will happen one of these days.
P: Should the members of the board be appointed as they are now, or elected?
B: Absolutely appointed.
P: What's the advantage?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -19-
B: I think that the advantage is that, if you're elected, you have to go out and spend
money. And I'm always worried about why somebody wants to spend money to
get a job that doesn't pay anything. I don't like it. These people that are
appointed, they are screened, as far as I know, by the governor's office and the
ones that have come on to serve always have been conscientious, and don't
appear to have any hidden agenda and get in with the program. When
somebody runs [for office], you don't know what kind of thing you're going to get.
Of course, you can take what I'm saying and apply it to the city council or the
county commission, and I chaired a part of the Charter Commission here in
Columbia County, and we got a charter through. And we're the smallest
chartered county in the state, seventeen out of sixty-seven. I hope we've got a
review going on now, that was three years ago, as far as I'm concerned they
ought to knock the salaries way down. Because I mean, there are people
running for that for the money, and I just hate seeing people involved in the
district for the money. And you ask the question, why does anybody want to
serve? And I think to do their service, respond to the governor, and help the
state of Florida and help the community. When you start running, nobody's going
to run unless they're going to get something.
P: We know about people who pay millions of dollars for a United States Senate
seat which pays $200,000 a year or something like that.
B: And Mr. Abramoff [Jack Abramoff, political lobbyist indicted for bribing public
officials] and others are clearing some off the deck up there.
P: Well, that's the payoff.
B: Well, we don't worry about the districts.
P: Talk about some other individuals and their contribution to the Suwannee River
district. Earl Starnes?
B: He's done a wonderful job. He brings a lot of resources, but he doesn't ever
really relate back because of, I'm a professor, or because I know this or because
of that. I mean, if you didn't know the man and his background, he handles
himself in such a way that he meets the reason and gives you the background
and is persuasive based on his knowledge, and not on his reputation. So I think
he does a really good job.
P: Auley Rowell?
B: He has a different leadership style than some of the others but is very effective,
very affable and friendly as a person. [He has] a personality similar to Finlayson.
They're all from small towns. Auley's from Shady Grove and Finlayson's from
Asheville, Florida, which is, I don't even think they've got a caution light there.
FWM-20, Brown, Page -20-
P: Well, they do have one in Shady Grove.
B: They do have one in Shady Grove, yes. I got a speeding ticket coming through
there one time.
P: It's interesting because if I look at Auley Rowell, who is not highly educated, and I
look at Earl Starnes, who is, both of them have a lot of common sense and both
of them can understand the issues, and I think that's what makes a good board
B: Yes, sir.
P: So they know what their responsibility is and the objective is how to meet this as
efficiently as possible?
B: Yes, sir.
P: One of the things Auley told me about was the CARES [County Alliance for
Environmental Stewardship] program. Rather than just do regulation, you offer
incentives. How has that worked, and have you been involved?
B: That's changing the character of the Water Management District. We started out
and really were just getting organized for a year. Then we started acquiring land
and made that major decision about non-structural flood control, again, never
condemning anything. Then we got pushed into doing more of this regulation.
The we got really kind of black eyes because we're ordering people to do stuff,
we're just red tape, you know, we don't need this regulation and blah, blah, blah.
That approach that we started back then with some of the funds that were
coming in has been greatly expanded in recent years. The districts have
changed now, from being looked at as someone that gets in the way and causes
problems with needless and unnecessary regulations, to a source of support for
the local governmental bodies.
Besides the programs that we take out to individuals like the CARES
program, sharing some costs with farmers and conserving, ultimately conserving
water, that has grown out to a lot of cooperative programs through the NRCS
[National Resources Conservation Service] and other Florida Department of
Agriculture and others in trying to reduce the nitrates. Instead of having the
regulations that would come out through the Department of Environmental
Regulation that would mandate certain things, we've gone in and set up
partnerships with other governmental agencies where we go in and actually pay,
in some instances, between other governmental agencies and the district, up to
maybe seventy-five percent of the cost of what they might otherwise be required
to do just through business. So the private sector thinks the district is really nice.
And the Suwannee River Water Management District has taken the lead in
bringing these agencies together. It didn't happen by themselves. The
FWM-20, Brown, Page -21-
greenways, trails, rails to trails type things, DEP for years was trying to get
something going and they were talking about doing this, and while DEP was
talking, Suwannee River was working. We just went ahead and hired a guy three
or four years before DEP was going to be doing something with it and paid that
person by contract salary to try to get things going and get them together, and as
a result of that, all of our little counties now have an opportunity and they have a
resource where a person would work with them.
And we apply for the grants for them, the county gets the grants, then we
use our staff to turn around and help them build the thing, and we use our staff to
help them supervise it, and I know all that because I fix all the contracts. So
there's been a tremendous flow toward the local governments from the district as
a resource that's benefitted the counties directly. Then they look at well fields
areas and say, what are we going to do? We're having problems with this well
field. We can't get this. Our pumps are running down. This agency is getting on
us for that. So we come up and take some of our funds that we have granted to
us and we purchase land so the counties-and the cities within the districts-can
have their well fields protected for the next twenty-five, thirty-five years,
whatever. So that's a tremendous resource for them. In some cases the
counties have needed land swapped and they have taken some surplus lands
that we've had that the counties have need for, and we sat down and worked
with them so that the counties and governmental units can benefit from that.
[Concerning] storm water, we've worked with all of the cities, particularly
Madison, for years, they've had all kind of fights and spats with individuals,
governmental agencies, and I mean individuals, they even [started] getting
physical up there over the flooding in Madison, [for] years and years. We put our
resources to work there to help alleviate that flooding. We've put tremendous
funds in Suwannee County. There are funds in Columbia County going into
storm water quality treatment. Live Oak was one of the first cities to adopt the
storm water ordinance where they're going to actually assess a fee now to help
P: The developer would pay that fee?
B: The taxpayers that benefit from that. We're putting $100,000 a year for five
years in there to defray the cost of the start up. So what we're doing is not just
throwing money at a problem and walking away. We're putting money in there to
build a new way to look at controlling storm water that is going to take the city
and the county way down the road in the future. Then we can get out. We're
starting it up. Now they're coming over Lake City and working on the same thing
and have some interest here, because we have that incentive that Auley Rowell
was talking about years ago when we were working with just a few farmers. That
whole attitude that the board has is, the government is here to serve the people
and to make things better for the people, not just to sit back and spend the
FWM-20, Brown, Page -22-
So the board, again acting through the leadership of the chairman and the
director, has moved out in all of these directions in these communities with well
field protection, storm water enhancement, and flood control guarantees and just
anything, right down to the property appraisers. What do we do for property
appraisers? We've got some of the best GIS mapping minds around in our
district, because we've been doing it for years and years. A lot of these property
appraisers, they're now online and you can go in and just flip a button through
the Internet and go to any of these parcels. Well, they didn't develop that skill
themselves, where did it come from? The Water Management District. We sent
these people in to work with those persons. So we've furnished all kinds of
support in kind, money, grants, our staff reviewing these things. We're loved
today. The Water Management Districts are doing all these things, really as an
extension of these cities and counties and helping them.
P: So what you're really doing here, instead of regulations, you're educating about
best management practices?
B: That was the partnership. That was the theme of the Suwannee River
partnership, when that was set up, yes, sir. But we are still having to regulate.
There are people out there the we still have to regulate.
P: What about dairies and things like that? How do you deal with that kind of
B: The partnership was trying to use, as you just mentioned, the best management
practices. Then some of the environmental groups brought a lawsuit and that
went up and the first District Court of Appeals saying, hey, DEP, you've got to
regulate anyway. Which I think is good. I'm all in favor of the partnership, but I
think you speak softly, but you carry a big stick. The partnership was good at
speaking softly and getting things done. But if there ever comes along someone
that didn't want to be in that partnership, that didn't want to get in line, there was
no stick. So if you're going to have a program, you need a complete program. I
think it helps to get people to join the partnership if you say, here's the DEP rule,
and you work with us, we'll help you get through this rule. But if you fall off the
wagon, they're going to beat you over the head. We didn't have that in the
partnership. Now, I might get criticized for saying this, but that's just my little two
P: But there's always somebody who wants to take advantage of that.
B: That's been my experience in life.
P: What about the dairies? Do you have a particular problem with them in this
FWM-20, Brown, Page -23-
B: No. I think there's room for everybody. They just need, again, to share the
resource and not place an undue burden on the resource. We need to have data
and practices that will give reasonable assurance to the district and to the public
that the uses that are being made of the property by the dairies are not harmful to
the resource of water.
P: Discuss your interaction with and your relationship with the various environmental
groups, Thousand Friends of Florida, Sierra Club.
B: They don't know who we are.
P: You don't have much influence from these groups?
B: They don't bother us.
P: Is that because they're satisfied?
B: Now, I'm just speaking from my perspective. I don't work at the District. I'm not
over there every day. We do have several groups in our area and they are
working with staff. As far as I know, generally, the staff satisfies them and their
concerns. So it comes across my desk as a problem.
P: Some like Save the Suwannee?
P: So they cooperate pretty effectively?
P: Would you talk a little bit about DRIs [Development of Regional Impact]? Do you
have to yourself get involved with these regional impact statements?
B: Well, not as of yet. Again, I think if you look at our different counties and stuff
where we are, I'm not sure if there have been any filed in recent years.
P: Partly because you're less urban?
B: Yes. I mean, one guy said about one of the counties in Georgia, this fellow John
Gordon Stipe could have been referring to one of the counties here in this district,
that he's from so and so county and referred to that as the drain hole of the
cesspool of ignorance of north Florida, of Florida period. I'm not sure there are a
lot of people flocking here, where there's been about seven purchases in excess
of 2,500 acres in the last eight weeks.
P: That's a lot.
FWM-20, Brown, Page -24-
P: Another thing in that same context, John Finlayson told me that when he was on
board they tried to keep the cost, permitting everything, they tried to keep that
down. In other words, again, try make it a little bit easier.
B: That's one of the reasons why we would survey and put benchmarks out on the
hundred year flood plain so if somebody had to get an engineer to certify that the
habitable floor was a foot above the hundred year flood plain, then they wouldn't
have to run a line any more than so many miles. Now we're getting that down
P: When you purchase land, do you have any issues about mineral rights?
B: Yes, to some extent. What we want to make sure is, our policy is that we
purchase one hundred percent of the fee ownership, which includes all of the
minerals. If there are situations where that's not possible, then that's brought up
to the governing board with a recommendation and it's also taken into
consideration with the appraisal, and if it is approved, it's a specific exception.
Also I mentioned [about] the minerals, there's two types, mainly two types of
mineral interests that could be outstanding. One includes the right to go on the
land and explore, that is, to disturb the surface. The other type of mineral
interest that you can have is one that is only a royalty interest. That means that
you can't do anything with the land, except that if somebody does extract
minerals then you get your percent. And we're not as concerned about owning
land with a royalty interest out as we are with owning land with the right to come
in and mine and explore.
P: Talk about the process you've gone through to purchase land. I presume that
much of the money came from the land's trust fund, the dock stamp, and then
Save Our Rivers, CARL, all of these programs.
B: We don't have any CARL funds.
P: You don't have any of those?
B: No, we just do the Save Our Rivers, the Land Trust Fund, and what was it,
P: Preservation 2,000?
2. Those two things. Save Our Rivers, Land's Trust Funds, and Preservation 2,000.
P: So who decides what land to purchase and then how do you go about actually
purchasing it, and we've already mentioned that you do everything fee simple,
FWM-20, Brown, Page -25-
B: We were the leaders in the conservation easement purchases. You just have to
be careful. I mean, Don Morgan said one day, they've got like a flowage
easement down there in the Everglades, then a few years later somebody ended
up going in there and planting some tomatoes and some kind of plants in there
where the water's flowing and they just drill down in the lime rock and it started
growing. And they wouldn't have approved that if they'd known that that might
have happened later. So it's hard and you have to be careful with the
conservation easement. Basically, what we'd consider a conservation easement
is a purchase of the development rights. So people get to continue to use the
land whatever way they want to so long as it's not harmful to the water resource,
but there will not be a development of it.
P: Do you prefer that to a fee simple purchase?
B: It's all a matter of money. Of course, the land, that whole aspect of land up here
now has changed dramatically in the last year and a half to two years. I don't
know if we know for sure where it's going. Because a lot of the land that was up
here at 1,200 to 1,300 acres is selling for $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 an acre.
P: What's the Suwannee River Authority?
B: You got me.
P: I think it was something that was set up ....
B: Years ago by special act of the legislature to do dredging down at the mouth of
P: Yes, I think that was it. That has now been supplanted as it were by the process
of trying to preserve the Suwannee, primarily through land purchasing.
B: The other thing I mentioned while I was going through that whole litany or list of
things that the district does, I didn't mention that we've been the leader in getting
rid of septic tanks down in the town of Suwannee and Horseshoe, and others
we're continuing to work on, and Cedar Key. Again, the disposal of waste water
goes directly to the water quality. There's a lot of leeching out of the septic
tanks. So we've led the way and paid for engineering studies out of our funds
and helped apply for grants, and have also paid for part of the costs. We do
have staff that live in Tallahassee during the session, so they help answer
questions that the legislators may have regarding these projects in some of these
small fishing villages. We've been instrumental in getting those grants and funds
P: Same thing for underground storage tanks?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -26-
B: No, we haven't been involved. That's been more like DEP as far as those things.
But we've worked with the sewer system where they have a direct impact on the
waters, the adjacent waters.
P: I think Earl Starnes told me that the time he was on the board, I think he left in
1998, that probably 100,000 acres had been purchased during the time when he
was on the board, and now the district is the largest land owner on the river. Is
B: Yes, sir. I think that's correct.
P: How much land do you intend to purchase in the future? I know at one time
somebody talked about, let's just buy the whole river?
B: No, what we're trying to buy is not the river, but we're trying to buy the lands that
lay within the hundred year flood plain. If somebody came in and just said I want
to sell you this, and it's all high and dry and stuff, I don't think they'd buy it. Most
of the river is low. Now when we get a sale, part of the land is up and part of it is
down. We started out-I mentioned to you we were slow in getting started-I said
it was a good while before we made our first purchase, and that was because we
were starting, I think, in the right way. We contracted with the Nature
Conservancy, because they had a national organization that was experienced in
land acquisition. What they advised us was that what we should do was make
an assessment before we went out and spent money. We worked with one of
their vice presidents out of Washington from their headquarters up there, named
Dave Morine. He brought their biologist down here, a guy named Merrill Lynch,
and they surveyed all of the rivers, the Suwannee, the Santa Fe, our whole basin
and area. It was after we had all of that data plus other [information] before the
board sat down and made a decision about, well, what should we do? And you
try to develop a legislature after that that says you've got to submit a five year
plan, you've got to do this, and all this. Well, we did our planning before the
statute said you had to do all this planning. That's why it was about maybe up to
three years before we made our first purchase. We didn't have [much] but the
total funds that we had, and they were like $2.5 million. We were criticized
because we had $2.5 million in the bank, and we weren't spending it. Well, down
in south Florida you could buy one piece of land and it was $3 million. Of course
they were getting a lot more of the pie than we were. But I think the board acted
very prudently and did the right thing, and that's why I think we've got it together
P: Is there a continuing plan to buy more land on the river?
B: Yes, sir. Like I say, you submit a five year plan every so many years, and I think
you upgrade it, they tweak it annually and say, these are the areas that we're
interested in. It's because of the water storage and protection of the resource, a
number of factors go into the identifying of lands that may be acquired. But like I
FWM-20, Brown, Page -27-
say, the prices of those things are changing and we can get, as a rule of thumb,
about twice as much land through conservation easement as fee.
P: Was the district involved in setting up the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, is
that what it's called?
P: Part of that is to encourage what is now called eco-tourism?
B: Yes, sir. That's where it went with all the stuff, and we've developed partnerships
with the Florida parks through the Department of Natural Resources, I think that's
where the park system is. We have funded campgrounds, primitive
campgrounds, primitive cabins, things like that, we're still in the middle of that
P: Would you give me some idea of how much time you devote in legal work with
the district and what is your main focus these days?
B: I attend the board meetings and do the contracts for the districts and general
council. Within my office, Bill Haley is the Florida Bar board certified, real estate
person, and he handles all the real estate transactions for the board. A fellow
named Bruce Robinson used to be in the office, and he handled the enforcement
in recent years. He's not with us anymore so I'm handling the enforcement now.
P: One of the things that comes up is when Water Management Districts put a hold
on lawn irrigation or that sort of thing when there's a drought, how do you enforce
that particular regulation?
B: In our district we have never issued prohibitions against the use of water, in this
district. We have a water shortage plan, but like in St. Johns, you water between
four and six [p. m.], if you're an even numbered address you do it on Mondays
and Wednesdays, if you're odd you're Thursdays and Fridays. We've never
done that here. We've never had to do that.
P: Because you have a copious amount of water?
B: More water, yes. Agriculture is our major user. Of course you cut back on your
ag, the reason they're watering them in the summer is they're burning up and if
you don't put water on them then the whole crop goes away. So how do you tell
them to cut back to half? You might as well just tell them to plow up the field.
P: It's really tough when you're dealing with consumption to decide who gets to use
the most water? That's always a difficult choice.
B: Yes, sir.
FWM-20, Brown, Page -28-
P: One thing, you have less industry here, so that's not as big an issue.
B: Right. We don't have the [high-volume of industry], we have very little, as far as
the resource and the consumer, the industry is very little unless you consider ag
as an industry.
P: You encourage use of gray water?
B: We just did a thing the other day as part of a water plan for Greenville or
something, up to $1 million that we're passing through the legislature for re-use.
P: During your time as general council, what would have been the biggest, perhaps
most intractable problems you've faced?
B: Say that again?
P: Of all the issues you've had to deal with, legal issues, what have been the most
difficult legal issues?
B: To me generally, because of my personality, I think the most difficult personally
would be some of the enforcement issues, whether there are multiple parties and
the like. Certainly not that important to the district, though.
P: What would be, in your view, from a legal standpoint, your greatest
B: Surviving thirty years.
P: That's always good.
B: Yes. I'm just here. I don't think that there's anything great that the lawyers have
done for the district except, I just tell the board, my job is to keep you out of
trouble. They have not been in trouble. So I think from that point of view I've
accomplished my goals. The lawyer shouldn't be running the district. The lawyer
ought to be facilitating the district. When they come up with a thing and say, we
want to do this. For Madison we want to do this. We want to do this for Live
Oak. We need to know, can we do that? The answer always should be, yes,
and here's the way. You make things happen for the district. You don't give
them reasons why they can't do it. That's what a lawyer should do.
P: One thing I forgot to ask about, have there been much wetlands mitigation
through the district?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -29-
B: Two kinds. One is DOT, Department of Transportation. The other is through
development of industry and things like that. We don't have industry
development, so it's DOT, and that flows through pretty smoothly.
P: Do you have any conflict with the DOT?
B: Well, we've got a DOT district office here and we just entered into a little
agreement that they wanted to try to facilitate their roads and stuff. They're
paying us to devote some time to that, and we've got a little agreement with them
and it's working fine as far as I know.
P: Any conflict with the Army Corps of Engineers?
B: Not that I'm aware of. Again, that would be through our permitting department,
but if it is, it's never risen to my level.
P: What about water wars, one of the issues that we've talked a little bit about in the
past, that there's this theoretical dispute from southwest Florida ....
B: Well, it's a matter of economics, I think, and political representation. The best
defense that we have to that is to document the importance of the resource in our
district and to set minimum flows and levels. That is the point beyond which a
withdrawal would cause significant harm. Those resources are protected against
withdrawals at that point. So if we have a rule in place, which it's been mandated
since 1973 for the districts to establish minimum flows and levels. We've really
gotten serious in the last couple of years. It's Jerry Scarborough's statement that
he's made as our director, that when he retires in 2008, we'll have minimum
flows and levels for all of our major water bodies. We're on about the third one
P: Well, that would certainly change the character of this district if a significant
amount of water was taken out.
B: The water districts were set up on hydrological, not political, boundaries.
Certainly, and I think it's been proven in Hillsborough County and that area,
Pinellas, that through re-use and all that, you really can make a significant
difference. Also, the desalinization, a plant that they had there that's working in
conjunction with a hydroelectric generation of power is cost efficient when spread
out over a large body, so that it doesn't raise the cost of that significantly, yet it
adds to the resource. So there are ways to accomplish this without just trying to
put up a costly pipeline in and drag stuff out without realizing the consequences
of it or the length of time you might be able to use it before you're cut back.
P: But then you get politics involved.
FWM-20, Brown, Page -30-
B: That's a political as well as a scientific thing. That's right. Sometimes politics
make no sense.
P: Well, they've had some problems with that desalinization plant. What about
something like reverse osmosis? Is that a possible option?
B: I am not an engineer.
P: Nor am I.
B: I might have shot you a lot of bull today, but I'm not going to be that bold.
P: When you look back at the time that you've been with the Water Management
District, how much has that changed? Now, we've sort of talked in general terms
and obviously one of the things that you've talked about is that you've created a
much a more efficient way of accomplishing regulations without being too strict.
You've purchased more land than you have in the past. What will it be like in
twenty years? How will the Water Management District change?
B: Depending on whether we're giving or taking. Right now we're giving. It's
wonderful. We start taking, it's going to get rough.
P: Is that likely?
B: I hope not. I don't see it that way. Not that it'll get that one-sided. You're always
going to take. When you regulate, you're taking. But at the same time, if you've
got the right education with the public, then they can see that as a protection for
the people that are being regulated. You shouldn't have any regulation unless
it's a benefit. If there is a benefit you ought to be able to explain it to the people
that are being regulated. If you don't, it's your fault.
P: What should be the main focus of the Water Management Districts in the next
B: I believe it's in 373, and I don't think that's changed. It's basically to preserve
and protect the natural resources while at the same time providing for the
reasonable beneficial use for the citizens today.
P: But isn't that going to be more difficult as more people come into the state?
B: Absolutely. That's the purpose of all regulation. You've got 900 people a day,
nearly, coming into Florida. Most of them so far, eighty percent, used to live
within six miles of the coastline. Now some of those people are getting fed up
with the all the hustle and bustle with having people within that area, and they're
discovering there is a life after the coast and they're looking at the central part.
We're hopefully going to learn something from the development that other people
have experienced and the problems, and not have all of that repeated again.
FWM-20, Brown, Page -31-
P: Does the district do a lot to encourage conservation, low flow toilets, all that sort
B: We are with the large users. Not with the general public. We have with the large
users, like the ags, with the method of irrigation, with the reuse of water by
nurseries and all. So we started with the major users. As time goes on, I'm sure
we'll get more to the individuals.
P: It would almost have to, eventually.
B: Yes, sir. I'm just saying we haven't reached that density. We've got like 80 to 85
percent of our users who are these major users, and we're going to them and not
wasting our time and our resources in trying to spread out and go to everybody.
P: Why does the public know virtually nothing about Water Management Districts?
And do you think that is a correct assessment?
B: There hasn't been a controversy. I think because we're working with the local
governments, and helping them develop into what they're doing.
P: But if you ask the average person on the street, what are the Water Management
Districts and what do they do, the wouldn't know the answer to that, correct?
P: Should that change? Is it incumbent upon the Water Management Districts to
explain more to the public?
B: I think that's always a challenge and we have programs where we work with
schools. That's your best way to do it. You're not going to get Joe Six-Pack to
flip off the ball game and find out about the Water Management Districts, but you
can catch his or her children in the school. There can be programs that we do in
teaching environmental aspects, and we do have people that work with that in
our department, and we have programs that go with schools. So I think that over
a period of time, as you go out, you're going to find more and more people aware
of the districts and what the districts do.
P: Of course, when his house floods, then he is interested in the Water
B: Yes. Oh, yes. They always think that's something that the district ought to be
P: One of the problems that people talk about in general, and this is a little beyond
your purview but I want to ask it anyway, that people argue that there's a
FWM-20, Brown, Page -32-
disconnect between what we would call scientific information presented to the
Water Management Districts and public policy. That frequently public policy
doesn't pay enough attention to scientific information.
B: Well, the responsibility of the board, for example, in a consumptive use permit,
the Florida statute set up a three-pronged test, asking is it illegal use, is it
reasonable and beneficial, that's number two. Number three, is it in the public
interest? So you're balancing public interest and the scientific aspects of it. Of
course the board in its discretion then applies all of those and comes up with an
answer, which is reviewable by an administrative law judge and then by the
district court of appeal. For example, concerning bottled water, our board, we
don't particularly care. We have our water drawn out here and shipped to Arabia
or New York state or San Francisco, so somebody can drink it out of a bottle
when we need the water here. However, if the plant is going to be put in and it's
going to generate jobs, it's going to put a $380 million structure on the tax roles
of Madison County and it's going to create 1,200 jobs, then you look at those
three factors, then it is in the public interest and maybe we ought to do that. We
can put some of the water into that and allow that to be withdrawn. Now you're
going to dig a hole and you're going to take all that water out and put it in a truck
and ship it to Atlanta and bottle it up there and not create a job? I don't think
that's in our public interest. So you deny the permit.
P: Do you have many of those spring water companies in this district?
B: We've got about nine permits and the board, some of those were issued without
a prohibition against transporting water, because the Florida statutes allow it to
be transported across district boundaries. Legislature did that as an exception,
with lobbyists. But you can still put a condition in your permit if you want to.
P: The board can do that?
B: Yes. So we went back, and these permits, people bought them on speculation
years ago. They haven't drawn water out in over two years. So the board
directed us to revoke the permits for non-use. They all went up the wall. We
worked amendments to all the permits, that if you're going to put a plant in you
can keep it. If you're not, you're going to just transport it, then that. And they
agreed to that. So they've got two years basically to put a plant in or that can be
revoked. One of them said no and we went to an administrative hearing on that
and we lost to the hearing officer, but the governing board did not accept the
findings of fact, all of them, or the conclusions of the hearing officer. It reversed
the hearing officer and then of course they took an appeal on what might have
been a slam dunk to them, because the board is not supposed to change the
findings of fact of the hearing officer. But we argued differently and the first DCA
agreed with us. So their permit is revoked.
P: They would not appeal it any father than that?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -33-
B: I don't think they would go very far with that.
P: There's no use dealing with that.
B: No. But they can apply for a permit tomorrow.
B: Right here again with us.
P: So would there be many jobs produced by these companies?
B: We've got just two of them that are active. Madison is active and they're piping,
I'm not sure if they're pumping anything out at Madison Blue yet. There's one at
one other spring, Ginnie Springs. They're pumping some there.
P: Is there a restriction on the amount they can pump?
B: Yes. They are all consumptive use permits. It gives an amount daily and a
maximum daily and the maximum annual and they are all metered and they're
P: Has there ever been much talk about ultimately charging for water use?
B: I think it's a good thing when these people are selling water and shipping it out.
Yes. The Florida legislature hasn't. See, it's contrary to the theory. All the water
is held and owned by the state of Florida and it's only used for trust for benefit of
the citizens, but if somebody's taking it and selling it as a commodity, I don't think
that was contemplated back in 1973. I think they really ought to look at that. The
water itself is not being used to raise crops, but it's sold as a commodity. I think
it's very legitimate to charge a sales tax on that, very legitimate.
P: As water is going to get to be more expensive. Somebody told me in a few years
it may be as expensive as electricity. Is there some way to try to, by cost, to
restrict consumptive use?
B: It works pretty good in the Keys. It's about fifty cents a gallon. It's piped over the
coastal waterway and it's high priced. So people tend to conserve.
P: It's like with gas.
B: Yes. And it will now.
P: Do you see it increasing?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -34-
B: Water is an unlimited quantity. We're talking about potable water. There's plenty
of water. So with the technology we have, I think we'll always be able to process
that water to where it'll be available at not too great a cost. I just think that's the
way the technology is going to develop, as the need does. That's just my
P: Okay. I think that's pretty much most of the questions I have. Is there anything
that we haven't covered that you think is important that you'd like to discuss?
B: No. I just think it's been a wonderful thirty years or so for me, seeing the changes
and the developments over the period of time. We've had only, like I say, three
directors. One was there only a short time. So we've had two people that have
left a lasting mark on the district. I would point out one thing that I think is
appropriate. People are all different. The way we look at things has a lot to do
with how we do things. I had a contract they brought in here for me to look at
and approve and advise, where we were hiring some people out of North
Carolina to come in here and teach us what our job was, and how to be nice to
people, and how to get along with people, and that was a lot of money. I stuck
my nose out of place and told them that's not a good expenditure. These people
came in and they flew in and we paid their expenses and they interviewed all the
employees in the district, then they got into that, then they had sessions. I'm
convinced that that's probably the best thing that the district ever did. It's
something that has made Suwannee unique. Not that that event made
Suwannee unique, but Suwannee is unique because it's so small. And I haven't
mentioned this, but the reason we're small is we don't want to grow like a
bureaucracy. This is something that Don Morgan brought in, that we need to
stay lean and mean. We need to have a person that's able to do five or six
different jobs. We're not going to have a union and say, I don't touch this, I don't
do that. We're here to serve the public. We've got to get along among
ourselves. We're going to pay you a little more then you get out in the private
sector perhaps or in another government-type job, but you're not going to act like
you work for the government. You're going to act like you're working for the
people, that you're accountable to the people and you want that ingrained in
them. And you're going to help. If that phone rings, you try to help them, and if
you can't get help, then you get their number and you find the answer and you
call them back. You don't just say, call this number. And these people came
down and created an esprit de corps among the staff, I think, that's had a real
lasting effect, where they compliment one another on what they do. I mean, it's
all the little things of human nature that you tend to overlook. And you can't have
a program like that with 1,200 employees. You can't give that kind of leadership,
but you can with a small group. And that's something I that commend
Scarborough for, is realizing that you can take a small group and you can do
things with them that you can't do with a larger group. He's done that in such a
way that it's really benefitted the district. That's one of his legacies, I think.
P: Great. Is there anything else?
FWM-20, Brown, Page -35-
B: No. Oh, I might just add that we're probably the first district to open our meetings
with prayers. We did that thirty years ago.
P: Okay. Thanks very much. That ends the interview.
[End of Interview.]