Tanner Andrews mug

Tanner Andrews

One nice thing about COVID-19 shutdowns is that we have fewer public government meetings. Well, that is good for the governments, who are busy operating via conference link or otherwise keeping low profiles.

You could argue that some functions are essential, and phone conferences are better than just letting the county chairman decide. That argument is hard to rebut, since we have a county chairman with the brilliance and charisma of a pile of cinder blocks.

The state is operating mostly by executive decree. One thing that is moving forward normally is the “Pave Florida 2019” planning. You may remember Pave Florida from last year: three toll roads serving DeSantis’ contributors’ lands. Well, this year’s budget includes more funding, and the meetings are underway.

These roads would normally draw public opposition. Wildlife fans and hunters hate them because they are bad for the animals. Environmentalists hate them because of the damage to the swamps, forests and wetlands. Planners hate the urban sprawl. Taxpayers, other than a few large and generous landowners, hate the cost.

That makes this COVID-19 situation particularly helpful. All those annoying wildlife fans, hunters, environmentalists, planners and taxpayers cannot fill meetings to complain. Instead, a few selected political appointees meet in the quiet of COVID-19 to chart the roads and divide the loot.

There are a lot of things in state government that are not working. The unemployment system has essentially collapsed, as has been predicted by the auditors since around 2014. Health departments have orders from the governor to hide what they find. DBPR inspections, licensing and nursing-home regulation are more or less on hold.

But a big giveaway like Pave Florida, well, that’s different. Big donors expect the pols to keep the money flowing, and so much the better if there are no rooms full of angry citizens getting in the way.

Some people would divert the Pave Florida money to other things such as unemployment relief, small-business assistance, health care and schools. That is the risk of open government: With public meetings, angry citizens could protest spending money on things like Pave Florida.

However, the governor and friends have things under control. Those noisy citizens must stay home and watch Pave Florida move forward. At least they know what the governor is thinking — workers, small businesses, nurses and teachers are all pretty stingy with campaign contributions.

— Andrews is a DeLand-area attorney and a longtime government critic. For purposes of the column, he finds it convenient that there is so much government to criticize.