After weeks of angry protesters and outspoken residents filling Osceola County Commission meetings, local leaders pushed back on Monday.
It came after repeated demands for the resignation of County Manager Don Fisher, who some residents blame for a contract that allows tons of imported Puerto Rican coal ash into an Osceola landfill.
But local leaders like Commissioner Brandon Arrington pushed back during the final moments of a Monday afternoon meeting, voicing his frustration.
Arrington said he thought the county was doing a great job.
Arrington, who has sat on the five-person elected board for 11 years and is up for re-election next year, went on to name projects he thought have improved residents’ quality of life, including a dirt road repaving program and the creation of an expressway authority.
“Osceola County’s financial rating is the greatest it’s ever been in the history of our county,” he said. “The idea that we’re somehow mismanaging funds on a regular basis is ludicrous.”
Commissioners didn’t address questions raised earlier in the meeting about why local government would exclude groups benefiting education and communities surrounding the landfill in order to increase profits for Waste Connections, but took aim at vocal critics who use social media to voice concerns and frustration.
“When people come forward and state things that aren’t necessarily true, that the sky is falling, that Osceola park – that this county is coming apart at the seams – they’re the furthest from the truth. We are doing a great job. We have a good, diversified county commission that has good spirited debate. We may not always agree, but we at least have the debate. And you as citizens have a wonderful opportunity to come and address us. And we are respectful. We pay attention to you. We look at you in the eyes when you speak to us,” Arrington said.
“So, I’m proud of where Osceola County is at. I’m proud of my county manager and the other two employees that we have. But once again, I’m proud of the entire staff of Osceola County.
“And I just want to make sure it’s understood that this is a great community and we’re continuing to move forward.
“And true, there are a handful of people, some failed politicians, some disgruntled employees, but others real concerned citizens. And we want to make sure we can continue to hear their views and hear their concerns. Because they’re valid.
“But I won’t be swayed and I won’t be moved by people who couldn’t get elected to this office or couldn’t sustain a job with Osceola County as the ring leaders of a hate mongering session that has happened in our community," Arrington said.
Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. said that even if board members have a problem with Fisher, he doesn’t believe it should be addressed at a public meeting because that’s “not good leadership.”
“Just because people don’t see us up here name calling or pointing a finger at the county manager…doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen back there in his office,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins added that he loved Arrington’s passion.
“I always tell people when his hands get going – look out. He is going to be excited,” Hawkins said about his peer.
Hawkins also dismissed negative online comments.
“The keyboard cowboys out there on social media – that’s what I like to call them – it’s easy to tear someone down sitting behind a computer,” Hawkins said.
Commissioner Viviana Janer said she spoke to Sen. Victor Torres who said he would love to file a bill banning coal ash from all landfills in Florida on behalf of the county.
Janer said the language would also be sent out to other local state representatives in case they want to craft a companion bill for the upcoming legislative session in January.
Janer also complimented county staff, and noted improvements to affordable housing and education.
“The last couple of weeks have been very ugly. I do not believe the voice of hate is the voice of all Osceola County. It’s a beautiful place to live,” she said. “People in Osceola County care about each other.”
She also said that commissioners pay attention when people speak.
“I hold our times of public comment very seriously. I always listen to every single comment that comes here,” she said.
To watch video from the June 10 meeting, click here.