April 05, 2019

Commissioner demands shelter legislation be withdrawn

By: Vicki Parsons - IT


April 4, 2019

The battle continues between Charlotte County Commissioner Joe Tiseo and Rep. Mike Grant (R-Port Charlotte) over an $8 million legislative request to build a hurricane shelter at Babcock Ranch.

Tiseo on Thursday sent an email to Grant and about 35 members of the state Legislature asking Grant to withdraw the legislation that has already received level one approval from a subcommittee. A decision is expected at the end of the month.

“This matter completely bypassed my Board without a public hearing and public input,” Tiseo wrote.

Grant was defiant.

“If he wants me to withdraw the bill, let him get a majority vote from the commission, then I will gladly do it, but if he’s not willing to do that, then stop throwing bombs,” Grant told the Sun.

At one point, Grant insisted that Tiseo “shut the hell up…I don’t answer to the Charlotte County commissioners and I certainly don’t answer to one member.”

Babcock Ranch President Syd Kitson said he too is shocked by Tiseo’s accusations.

“I’m just very confused by what the controversy is,” he said. “Very candidly, if Charlotte County isn’t interested in doing this, that’s OK.”

Tiseo has slammed Grant, his fellow commissioners, and Kitson for pursuing the legislation without a vote from the commission, and without telling him. The legislative proposal states that commissioners have made a shelter a legislative priority, which Tiseo disputes.

It also highlights $2 million in local contributions, but a separate box notes that the contribution has not been committed, the county’s Public Information Officer Brian Gleason noted.

Kitson’s plan has been to build a field house that would also serve as a shelter near the growing community of Babcock Ranch. Babcock sits in the previously undeveloped eastern section of the county. That region is one of the only parts of the county where elevations rise out of the high hazard flood plain. With most of the population living near the water, Charlotte County is currently one of two counties in the state with no Red Cross approved shelters, although the county has opened several schools as shelters.

The dispute has stalled on the question of who knew what, and when. Tiseo states he never knew of the legislation until the Sun reported it on Feb. 25. Tiseo says he believes no staff or other commissioners knew either. Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch has agreed that he did not know about the legislation, while other commissioners have not commented.

Gleason reported Thursday, however, that the county staff were informed on Feb. 11, about a week after the legislation was filed.

Kitson asserts that he told commissioners in private, during one-on-one meetings.

“We told every single one of them about the appropriation,” he said.

Deutsch has taken a philosophical view, saying that as a former Rhode Island state legislator himself, he understands legislators do their own thing.

Tiseo has not backed down, however.

“The (legislative) subcommittee, based on false premises, approved an $8 million appropriations request. They need to know that it’s not right. They think the people in Charlotte County were able to exercise their first amendment rights to speak for or against the proposal.. It needs to be withdrawn because the underlying information is false.”

Tiseo also objects to the fact that the shelter will serve as a regional resource, benefiting other counties that have not weighed in on the project, or offered to help pay for it.

Grant countered any notion that Babcock Ranch and Kitson are using public funds for its own field house.

“If Syd Kitson wants to build a sports arena, he can do it with or without hardening it for a shelter. All he’s asking for is the money for the upgrades so it can be considered Red Cross approved, which adds a considerable amount to the cost,” Grant said. “He’s a man of integrity. There’s nobody besmirching this guy other than Joe Tiseo.”