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By Ryan Houck

On June 8th, the special interests bankrolling Florida Hometown Democracy announced that they have enough signatures to appear on the 2010 ballot.

Many of you have supported and even participated in the efforts of Floridians for Smarter Growth, the statewide campaign leading the fight against this radical amendment.

Not familiar with Hometown Democracy? Don’t worry; this article will fill you in.

Not sure how you can help? Floridians for Smarter Growth has organized a highly-effective grassroots network and there are numerous ways for you, your company, your family and your professional association to get involved.

In 2003, special interest lawyers wrote a proposal to stop Florida’s economic growth at any cost. They called their idea “Hometown Democracy” and told voters that it would return “power to the people.”

Hometown Democracy author and co-founder Ross Burnaman called the amendment “really, really simple.” He said it just “involves giving yourself a vote on growth.”

But for the first hometown to actually give this idea a test drive, the results have been anything but simple. Due to an appeals court decision, Hometown Democracy became the law of the land in the small Pinellas County town of St. Pete Beach. At the time, Hometown Democracy followers celebrated the decision.

Three years later, economic stagnation and nearly a dozen crippling lawsuits have imposed a heavy cost on the citizens of St. Pete Beach. Unable to effectively update its local comprehensive plan, the town soon fell out of compliance with state laws.

Why? Hometown Democracy required that any change to the local comprehensive plan—even small technical amendments—go to referendum. Burdened with heavy regulations and gross uncertainty, new businesses found it nearly impossible to move to St. Pete Beach. Stifled by a failing business climate, the tourism-based economy began to wither and jobs left town.

Fed up with Hometown Democracy’s economic nightmare, a diverse group of business owners, citizens and long-time residents organized a campaign to place four comprehensive plan changes on the ballot. After a long and expensive effort, they succeeded. They did exactly what Hometown Democracy co-founder Ross Burnaman said was “really, really simple”: They gave the people a vote.

Not surprisingly, the citizens of St. Pete Beach voted overwhelmingly to authorize the pro-growth amendments. With the people having spoken, that should’ve been the end of the story. If even remotely true to their rhetoric, Hometown Democracy would’ve quickly applauded the election and moved on.

But that’s not what happened.

Within twenty-four hours, Hometown Democracy disciples had filed a lawsuit to overturn the very election their proposal had prescribed. Apparently, Hometown Democracy only supports democratic decisions that conform to their agenda.

Three years after trumpeting the passage of their proposal in one small town, Florida Hometown Democracy is now struggling to put space between themselves and the catastrophe in St. Pete Beach.

With this idea now headed for the statewide ballot, every Florida hometown is in jeopardy. There are three things you can do right now to help:

1. Visit the Floridians for Smarter Growth website (www.florida2010.org ) to sign up for e-mail updates or make a contribution. You can also follow us on twitter (http://www.twitter.com/FLSmarterGrowth) or join us on Face Book (http://tinyurl.com/llwwjf) or LinkedIn (http://tinyurl.com/l5g5r2).

2. Contact me to join your local stakeholder group and help with letters-to-the-editor, radio call-ins or the Speaker’s Bureau. I can be reached anytime at rhouck@florida2010.org.

3. Share this message with your local professional associations, elected officials and good government groups. Ask them to contact Floridians for Smarter Growth to get engaged.

Our message is motivated by the firm belief that Hometown Democracy is bad for Florida. As a result, the key to our strategy is education. History proves that the more voters learn about Hometown Democracy, the more likely they are to reject it. With your help, we will take our message to every community in Florida and win a decisive victory for our economy and quality-of-life.

RYAN HOUCK is the executive director of Orlando-based Floridians for Smarter Growth.


Hometown Democracy close to stumbling over finish line

With over 12 months to go, organizers for the so-called “Hometown Democracy” amendment are now only 46,000 petitions short of reaching the 2010 ballot. Despite three prior failures to reach the ballot, Florida Hometown Democracy finally seems close to stumbling over the finish line.

We have made them fight for every inch and now we’re ready for 2010. Since the creation of Floridians for Smarter Growth in 2007, business and community leaders have built an unprecedented network of opposition resources. To date, over 130 organizations have adopted a principled position against the “Vote on Everything” amendment. This growing coalition encompasses voices from all sides of the political spectrum, including 1000 Friends of Florida, the Florida State Council of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida School Boards Association.

Floridians for Smarter Growth has worked with local business and community groups to place leadership teams in 31 of Florida’s most populous counties. Since 2007, the campaign has also engaged Florida Hometown Democracy on every conceivable battlefield: grassroots, earned media, new media and traditional coalition-building.

These resources have been deployed to engage Hometown Democracy on critical fronts, such as St. Pete Beach. In 2006, this small Pinellas County town became the first community in Florida to give Hometown Democracy a test drive. Unfortunately, they’ve been stuck with a lemon ever since. After adopting the “Vote on Everything” amendment, the people of St. Pete Beach have suffered through endless litigation and an ongoing economic nightmare. When the town followed the “Hometown Democracy” manual and held a referendum on four citizen-sponsored land use plan changes, voters decisively approved the amendments in the hope that they would revive the town’s flagging economy.

Without even waiting for the referendum to be held, Hometown Democracy disciples in St. Pete Beach filed a lawsuit to overturn the election. In fact, local Hometown Democracy organizers have tried every trick in the book to disrupt, delay or outright invalidate recent elections—simply because they didn’t like the outcome. The message from Hometown Democracy is clear: “You can have any opinion you want, as long as you agree with us.”

Floridians for Smarter Growth has worked with local leaders, journalists and Editorial Boards in the area to reveal the hypocrisy of a group that pretends to champion the will of the people while simultaneously seeking to overturn democratic elections. St. Pete Beach is only one of the battlefields on which we have engaged Hometown Democracy. With the amendment now closing in on the 2010 ballot, it is imperative that every business association, every healthcare group, every community organization and every concerned citizen get involved in the campaign against the so-called Hometown Democracy amendment. To get involved, please e-mail me directly at rhouck@florida2010.org or feel free to give me a call at (407) 608-5914.

Ryan Houck
Exec. Dir.


St. Pete Beach: Troubling developments in a Hometown Democracy testing ground

In 2006, St. Pete Beach became the only city in Florida to adopt a local Hometown Democracy (HD) measure, requiring voter approval for all comprehensive plan changes. Since becoming an HD test case, residents of the small Pinellas County town have endured seemingly endless legal battles, unavoidably chaotic elections, and serious economic setbacks. The local tourism-based economy has stagnated and costly legal and administrative delays have prevented the city from complying with state growth mandates.

Playing by Hometown Democracy rules, community leaders in St. Pete Beach organized an effort to reinvigorate the local economy by placing four comprehensive plan changes on the ballot. Eager to end the legal and economic malaise, the voters of St. Pete Beach decisively approved all four plan changes in a special election on June 3rd, 2008.

Lawsuits soon followed. Indeed, the same anti-growth activists who championed the “right to vote” are now seeking to overturn a free and fair election. In fact, Hometown Democracy disciples have filed nearly a dozen lawsuits aimed at stopping, stalling or invalidating the will of the people in St. Pete Beach.

In a recent development, Florida Hometown Democracy (FHD) Co-chairman Ross Burnaman filed a legal challenge that seeks to overturn the election. Most Floridians will marvel at the brazen hypocrisy of a group that preaches “power to the people” while simultaneously seeking to frustrate elections at every turn.

FHD leaders have claimed that Hometown Democracy is all about the voice of the people. However, the message they are now sending to the residents of St. Pete Beach is perhaps closer to the truth: “you can have any opinion you want, as long as it’s ours.”

This is the natural result of a system that encourages conflict rather than compromise. In fact, most observers will not be surprised that the same Hometown Democracy supporters who campaigned on ‘the right to vote’ now seek to overturn an election. They don’t really want to empower people; they want to stop all growth at any cost.

If Hometown Democracy is aimed at stopping growth, then its leaders should have the intellectual courage to say so. However, if their idea is really about letting the will of the people prevail then FHD leaders should withdraw their legal challenge and let the election stand.

Although it will not appear on the 2008 ballot, we can expect a full-fledged campaign in 2010. With your help, Floridians for Smarter Growth (FSG) remains dedicated to building that campaign and alerting every community to the dangers of this radical proposal. If you want to get involved, please visit the Floridians for Smarter Growth website at www.Florida2010.org .

Ryan Houck
Exec. Dir.



On Friday night, February 1st, the Florida Division of Elections announced the Hometown Democracy amendment had not qualified for the 2008 ballot. This was a successful end to another battle in a war to protect Florida's unique quality-of-life. Floridians for Smarter Growth will remain vigilant and continue to take our message to every Florida voter: Hometown Democracy is bad for hometowns and worse for Democracy.

Here are some highlights:

1) Hometown Democracy failed to qualify for the 2008 ballot for one reason: they did not gather enough signatures. There will be a lot of complaining and finger pointing out of the Hometown Democracy camp, but they simply fell short by 65,000 valid petitions.

2) Hometown Democracy failed three times to qualify for the ballot because it is a cynical, over-reaching and flawed idea. A tiny group created an extreme amendment and ignored the concerns of Florida's mainstream environment and growth-watch organizations. Without a coalition, they failed to gain support.

3) The Hometown Democracy proposal so badly over-reaches it failed to attract broad volunteer petitioning support. Instead, the effort relies heavily a few wealthy extremists to bankroll signature collection. Their money fueled a growing addiction to paid signatures – an expensive habit they could not sustain.

4) Floridians for Smarter Growth has built a formidable campaign to defeat the amendment as it will likely qualify for the 2010 ballot. Sign up for email updates - we'll keep you informed

- Michael Caputo, Exec. Dir.


Hometown's Meltdown?

With just a month left to collect the remaining 200,000-plus signatures they need to qualify, there are signs the wheels may be coming off the Hometown Democracy bandwagon. Floridians for Smarter Growth is meeting them on every Florida street corner - and proof our efforts are stopping Hometown Democracy hit the media this week.

After years of media misreporting Hometown Democracy as a "grassroots movement," the Jacksonville Business Journal (JBJ) pulled back the curtain this week to reveal Hometown's paid signature gathering operation. In the article, University of South Florida professor of public administration and political sciences Susan MacManus says the proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution is not a grassroots movement at all. Instead, it is funded by a small group of wealthy donors – a classic special interest campaign. The article is worth reading, here.

But the back story is even more interesting: even as reporter Mark Szakonyi wrote his JBJ story, Hometown Democracy was severing ties with Progressive Campaigns Inc. (PCI), the group’s longtime signature gathering company. Founder Lesley Blackner wrote hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal checks to PCI across years of cooperation. Suddenly, the beginning of December was the end of their partnership, according to the Daytona Beach News Journal (DBNJ) in an article published Wednesday.

Hours after firing PCI, the amendment campaign’s second largest donor hired another signature gathering firm. Curiously, DBNJ reporter James Miller was unable to get Hometown mega-donor Steve Rosen to give up the name of his new consultant. We could have helped him with that: it’s Derrick Lee of Phoenix, Arizona. We know because he was negotiating to manage a small Gainesville crew for our vendor before he signed up with Hometown.

Still, Rosen claimed in the DBNJ article that Lee Petition Managment is “steadfast in its commitment.” That’s as credible as calling Hometown a grassroots movement.

In fact, Lee Petition Management is a much smaller operation than PCI, a leading national firm. The firing of PCI proves Hometown is a campaign in disarray. But hiring Lee proves they are scrambling to win. We know from our sources that Lee is calling across the country, recruiting out-of-state petitioning crews willing to work in Florida for the holiday season.

According to Miller’s story, skin-care guru Rosen hired the new signature gathering company directly, but handed control over to Hometown Democracy. This begs a question: how much has Rosen contributed to the campaign? He’s already given $200,000 – and Hometown needs upwards of half a million more to make the 2008 ballot.

Here's the real story: the Hometown campaign may be in free fall. They canned their longtime signature vendor at the very worst time. Their grassroots claim-to-fame is a casualty of good reporting. Florida's top environmental groups have labeled the idea pro-sprawl. Now desperate, they have turned to the media to gin up their troops for a big finish.

But what troops? Good reporting has also uncovered another important fact: amendment backers finally confessed that their oft-mentioned 3,000-volunteer petition force is no more than Hometown Democracy's email list. I am personally registered on their list four different ways; finding 50 dedicated volunteers amongst us "faithful" would be unfeasable.

Clearly, there is less to Hometown Democracy than meets the eye.

So is anyone really listening to this small extreme special interest group's cry for help? Not really. I mean, not far beyond the dwindling list of compliant media.

- Michael Caputo; Exec. Dir.


Tallahassee Press Conference Successful!

On Tuesday, November 6th Floridians for Smarter Growth held a press conference for all media outlets housed in the Tallahassee Press Center. We set up actual voting booths with sample ballots from the City of Tallahassee/Leon County and Orange City/Volusia County to illustrate the potential voting experience Hometown Democracy would have created if it had been in effect prior to the 2004 and 2005 elections. Curious reporters, as well as a Hometown Democracy advocate, stopped by to see first-hand the impractical forty-seven-page City of Orange City/Volusia County sample ballot. Although the sample ballot for the City of Tallahassee/Leon County was slimmer, visitors still seemed overwhelmed by its sixteen pages of highly technical amendments. Our table of sandwiches proved not only to be a nice refresher for guests, but a necessity if they planned to spend the day voting on such complex issues. The perplexed expressions on our guests’ faces further demonstrates the unworkable nature behind this so-called Hometown Democracy initiative.

- Aimee Sheire; Public Affairs Spec.


MAKE NO MISTAKE: Hometown wants a vote on every single change!

Part of my role as deputy political director of Floridians for Smarter Growth is to coordinate vital research. While examining Comprehensive Plan Amendments from across the State, I noticed far more technical and text amendments than increased-density amendments. In fact, there are thousands more!

In the mind-numbing bureaucratese of land-use plans, proposed changes can be State-Mandated Amendments, Administrative Amendments, Large Scale Amendments, and Small Scale Amendments. Hometown Democracy would require us to vote on all of them, without distinguishing the controversial from the mundane.

Every year, the Florida Legislature passes laws to change certain growth management requirements. State-Mandated Amendments are changes the City or County must submit as a Comprehensive Land-use Plan Amendment to show its Growth Plan is compliant with new mandates. If Hometown Democracy were in place today, Floridians would be voting on changes the State Legislature has already enacted into law. Hometown Democracy proponents forgot about this, or just didn’t care about the confusion that will surely result.

Administrative Amendments are technical, or text, amendments submitted by the City or County which usually represent a clerical error. For example, renumbering of policies, changing "the" to "a," or adding commas, periods or other punctuation where appropriate.

Large-Scale Land Plan Amendments are amendments that are 10 acres or more and change the current future land use designation for that particular parcel of land. Accordingly, Small-Scale Land Plan Amendments are amendments that are 9.9 acres or less and change the current future land use designation for that particular parcel of land.

I can tell you this: most Comprehensive Land Plan Amendments fall into the State-Mandated and Administrative categories. With that said, I cannot even begin to imagine how anyone would be able to decipher everyone of these very technical terms, conditions, procedures, and more. I know, because I read almost every single one of them – and survived!

My fear is that the extreme special interests behind Hometown Democracy are trying to pull the wool over Floridians’ eyes. They’ve said it many times: all Hometown Democracy deals with are the Large and Small Scale Amendments. They are flat-out lying. Just read the Hometown Democracy Amendment - nowhere does it distinguish one amendment from the others. Instead, it clearly requires votes on all Comprehensive Land Use Amendments.

All 11,000 of those amendments - every single year.

JJ Whitson; Dep. Political Dir.


Hometown Democracy Spin Collapses in Tampa Debate


Yesterday, I joined several Floridians for Smarter Growth colleagues on the road to Hillsborough County where we attended the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Hometown Democracy Debate. With more than 200 people in the audience, it was quite an event. In fact, this is the first in what the Business Journal hopes will be a series of debates.  They should keep plugging, because they did a great job.

Our team of three debaters faced off against proponents of the so-called Hometown Democracy amendment. It is important to note that none of these participants were actually from Florida Hometown Democracy, Inc.  Indeed, none of the group's founders agreed to participate in today’s debate. Instead, large contributor and adult entertainment kingpin Joe Redner led their team with Sierra Club activist John Hendrick and “public interest” attorney Kenneth Weiss at his side.  After only a few minutes of debate, our team had Redner and his colleagues red-faced and on the ropes.

Adam Babington from the Florida Chamber focused on the amendment’s impacts to Florida’s economy and unique quality-of-life.  Each time he spoke, he did so with polish and aplomb and, without fail, returned to hit our message points conclusively.  Adam’s careful litigation of the case set a tone of clarity for the rest of the debate.

Former DCA secretary Linda Loomis Shelley of Fowler, White, Boggs and Banker kept the Hometown side honest.  Twice she asked the audience to read a circulated copy of the Vote on Everything amendment, highlighting the inconsistencies and misinformation that surrounded many of Hometown’s fanatical claims.  Around the room, sounds of fluttering papers and muted agreement were audible as members of the audience discovered the Hometown disinformation for themselves.

Batting cleanup for our side was former State Rep. Bob Henriquez who connected with the Tampa audience on a personal level more than once. Bob made it clear that the extreme proposal would disrupt the Tamp-area planning process and make things far worse, not better.

Our team came to play and, when the dust settled, not one false claim from the Hometown crowd went unchallenged.   In the end, it was a clear win for our side. I don’t mind saying that the amendment's supporters were embarrassed many times over. In a moment that speaks volumes about Hometown’s cavalier view of this issue, Redner even said "let's pass Hometown Democracy and then fix it where its broken." His lawyer colleagues cringed, but had to let the comment stand.

Of course, Bob and Linda quickly caught Redner's foul tip: once the amendment is in place, they pointed out, only another amendment to the Constitution of the State of Florida can change it. Redner didn't respond; his team-mates sat quietly in defeat. The total collapse of their argument resonated in the Pepin Center meeting hall - but you won't read about it in the newspapers.

Our three debaters deserve a round of congratulations for preparing thoroughly and presenting so well. Hometown Democracy advocates have been exaggerating and flat-out lying about their proposal for years. Now that we are meeting them head-on with top-notch spokesmen, they don't stand a chance in any even-handed debate.

If the battle of ideas unfolds as it did yesterday, we can stop the Vote on Everything amendment before it destroys Florida's unique quality-of-life. But we will need your continued support as we meet them on any battlefield they choose.

Michael Caputo; Exec. Dir.


Thank you volunteers


I want to take a minute to thank everyone who came to our office last week to help stuff envelopes full of information packets supporting Floridians for Smarter Growth. Our mailing went as planned, allowing us to gain more momentum and become more effective in our defeat of Hometown Democracy. Steady backing of fellow Floridians like you will help us wage a successful statewide campaign, putting this dangerous idea to rest once and for all. Thank you again for your continued support and don’t forget to sign up for e-mail updates on our website under “Contact & Subscribe” if you haven’t done so already.

-Aimee Sheire; Public Affairs Spec.


Notes from the Trail: 7 Days of Momentum


As we wrap up another week of community meetings throughout the state, it seems that FSG has defied the law of diminishing returns and more than doubled the size of its local coalition in only 7 days. Locations booked for a few dozen attendees are turning out close to a hundred. Community Forums scheduled for 60 minutes are closing in on 2 hours. Every day, folks learn more about Hometown Democracy and every day, my inbox and voicemail fill up with messages from community groups looking for ways to help beat it.

Galvanized by word of the Hometown crowd's more colorful misadventures, our local partners have ramped up the frequency of town hall talks from 2-3 meetings a week to 2-3 meetings a day. They haven’t had any trouble getting people engaged.

Forum invitations and speaking requests from communities across Florida have encouraged me to crisscross our great state in a single week. The only downside to this kind of momentum is that you pay for it lost sleep!

Special thanks to our friends throughout Florida who have been working around the clock to organize these community meetings. Your efforts are making a real difference!

-Ryan Houck; Political Dir.


Hometown's Double Standard

St. Pete Times' Steve Bosquet wrote an interesting story on the revocation rule wrangling. Funny thing: Hometown’s cofounder Ross Burnaman exposed the rule to the 150-day adjustment himself. He's a lawyer, so he appealed it in the first place. And it backfired.

We felt blessed with the August 1st date and would not have reopened the rule with an appeal. So, now it shouldn’t have been reconsidered? Why isn’t he saying “Oops,” instead of "It was a last-minute re-interpretation of the statute contrary to the general rule that laws operate prospectively and I lost you when I stopped speaking English and fell into lawyerspeak.”

This is a very conflicted group of gadflies, Steve. Look at the other Hometown leader, Joyce Tarnow. She fought legal battles with abortion protestors outside her Ft. Lauderdale clinic for a decade, asserting her private property rights. Now, she’s spending her free time in jail saying private property should be open to anyone.

It’s the theater of the absurd; every day Hometown Democracy leaders enter the arena is a good day for us.

-Michael Caputo; Exec. Dir.

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Floridians for Smarter Growth, Inc., PO Box 532018 Orlando FL 32853