This column is a vehicle for a number of items in a bits-and-pieces, strictly opinion, sometimes irreverent format. Look for “Just Sayin'” to run once a week in this spot.

Congressman Brian Mast, What’s to Hide?

Why would a U.S. congressman stage a taxpayer-sponsored event in his district … but close it to the press?

That’s what 18th District Congressman Brian Mast did this week.

What, I ask you, does U.S. Rep. Mast want to keep from the press at an event meant to celebrate Everglades Day? 

He isn’t saying. 

Mast’s office issued a meeting notice earlier this week on his congressional letterhead — I can’t even call it a media release because it seems to want the media to summon environmental groups — the invitees — to his Everglades Day event while making sure reporters — the disinvited — know all they get is the privilege of waiting outside until it’s over.

I kid you not.

The freshman congressman representing the Treasure Coast apparently thought a press lockout on the taxpayers’ dime was his prerogative.

Why would the press care, he thought, because they get a five-minute photo op afterward, followed by a 15-minute “media availability.”

A “media availability” is better known as a gaggle, folks. It’s when reporters get to ask questions of whatever officials hang around later. Presumably in this case, Mast.

The emailed notice sent “FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY” was headlined, “Mast to Convene Southern Reservoir Summit with Local Environmental Groups.”

Here, in italics, is what it said in full:

Stuart, Fla. – On Everglades Day, U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) will host a summit with local environmental groups on water quality and storage options south of Lake Okeechobee.  Rep. Mast has been a vocal advocate of storing and directing water south of the lake to the Everglades and is committed to fighting for resources on the federal level to accomplish that goal. 
 
WHO:
Rep. Mast
Bullsugar
Everglades Foundation
Rivers Coalition Members
National Parks Conservation Association
Audubon Florida
American Sportfishing Association
Everglades Trust
 
WHEN:
April 12, 2017
 
Meeting (closed press): 3:00 p.m. – 3:55 p.m.
Meeting (b-roll and photos): 3:55 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Media Availability: 4:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
 
WHERE:
201 SE Flagler Avenue
Stuart, FL 34994
 
RSVP:
Media please RSVP to Brad.Stewart@mail.house.gov. 
 
WHAT:
With ongoing changes to plans on the state level, Rep. Mast will convene a summit to hear from local environmental groups about the impact that those plans would have on the Treasure Coast.  He will reiterate his support for securing federal resources to help the state of Florida build storage and flow capacity south of Lake Okeechobee.

 

I emailed back Brad Stewart and asked him if I understood correctly, “is the meeting closed to the press? Yes or no.”

Stewart fired back a one-liner: “There will be an opportunity for video and photo spray during the meeting and a press conference afterwards.” 

Video? Who gets to film it?

And “photo spray?” What’s that? I hate to show my ignorance, but is that anything like a funeral bouquet? I’m probably too old to know what that means, but if it doesn’t give me a key to the meeting room door, I’m not interested. 

I also called Mast’s aide in his district office in Port St. Lucie and asked why the congressman would want to close a meeting celebrating a treasure that belongs to all of us, not just the groups on his guest list. The aide said she had “no idea” and left it at that.

Now here I am considering the possibilities. Mast wants us out because — 

  • he won’t look good dancing around the reality that the deck is stacked against a federal partnership on Senate Bill 10, that a southern deep reservoir can’t possibly be ready by 2018, and that other states with projects behind CERP are salivating to get their hands on money Florida will forfeit when it interrupts its Integrated Delivery Schedule for this next shiny new thing;
  • the Everglades Foundation/Trust/Coalition — the ones really controlling the event — told Mast they don’t want the press raining on the happy parade they set in motion with SB 10.

Brian Mast just made the Suspicious Character List in my book. Hopefully, somebody in closer range than I am will bring him in for questioning. 

In the meantime, if you’re a a reporter and you want to know what’s going on next Wednesday inside the city building I remember as Stuart Recreation Center, go ahead and crash the party. What are they going to do to you? You’ve got a pen.

 

Does Anybody Else Wonder about the Cars?

Helping financially challenged foster children get their driver’s licenses and then reimbursing them for car insurance, an expense that averages about $200 per month, seems like a compassionate thing for Florida to do.

So, what’s not to like about the Keys to Independence Act, a three year pilot program funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families and managed by Community Based Care of Central Florida.

Time’s up on the three years. A pair of Republicans, Jennifer Sullivan in the House and Aaron Bean in the Senate, got a bill passed to make the act permanent and the governor is expected to sign it.

Sullivan and Bean say, “In just a short time, the number of teens in foster care who have a driver’s license has almost tripled, and 1,035 participants are currently enrolled, including more than 80 in Northwest Florida.” This is just in the area of the pilot program.

I can’t help but wonder, though: What about the missing ingredient — the cars?

This isn’t meant to be cynical, I swear. But if kids don’t have money even to get their driver’s licenses or pay for insurance, is it right to encourage them to make higher car payments than perhaps they might have without the financial aid this bill provides? 

It’s an interesting bill, probably a very good one. I like seeing money go to kids’ programs. It just made me think, that’s all.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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