Daggers fly at DCA’s Pelham during growth bill debate

The House today adopted a growth-management bill after heated debate during which a Republican leader suggested he’d like Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham to leave state government.

The remark by Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, followed a statement issued by Pelham yesterday against SB 360.

DCA supported the bill as approved by the Senate, Pelham said, because it would lift restrictions against development in urban areas with roads that are over capacity. Supporters say such “urban infill” is needed as an antidote to sprawl.

But on Tuesday, Pelham issued a statement saying that SB 360, as amended by the House, and SB 362, another growth-management bill, “do not constitute good public policy and will seriously undermine Florida’s growth management laws.” He said the bills would allow “unchecked development” in rural areas and eliminate DCA review in major portions of the state.

During the debate today on SB 360, Rep. Davie Murzin, R-Pensacola, said the House Economic Development and Community Affairs Policy Council that he chairs had been working on its version of the bill for a long time. Neither he nor the other House members who spoke in support of the bill disputed Pelham’s analysis.

“I’m not hiding the fact I’d love to see Secretary Pelham find a job in the private sector, OK?” Murzin said.

Murzin said that DCA had not been the partner that the House needed to write the bill. “To put out a press release without showing your face in the House Office Building for weeks is wrong,” he said.

But Pelham said Murzin’s council never invited the department to help write the bill. Instead, Pelham said, the council rejected his testimony when he appeared before it and also proposed a bill that would dismantle DCA.

Pelham said he would not respond to Murzin’s suggestion that he find a private-sector job. “I would rather not respond to personal attacks,” the DCA secretary said.

Gov. Charlie Crist said he supports Pelham, but the governor may not have been aware at the time of the accusations made on the House floor. Pelham said he had not spoken with the governor about the SB 360 debate.

Pelham has won praise from environmentalists for DCA’s objections to some controversial projects while industry groups have been calling on the state to roll back growth-management regulations to boost the sagging economy. Pelham says growth-management has not caused the nation’s economic problems.

Before being picked in 2007 by Crist to lead DCA, Pelham was an environmental law attorney and was president of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association. In 2001, he received an outstanding public service award in environmental and land use law from the Florida Bar Association.

Pelham also served as DCA secretary under Gov. Bob Martinez from 1987 to 1991, which was pointed out by Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, in debate against SB 360.

“When we have an opinion from someone we should respect, we should listen to that opinion,” Saunders said, calling for a nonpartisan vote against the bill.

Rep. Chris Dorworth, who earlier in the session argued for a House committee bill that would eliminate DCA, joined Murzin in criticizing the department for issuing the statement the day before.

“At whatever point you decide for now on you are going to defer entirely to what the secretary of an agency says, I suggest you forfeit your membership in this body,” said Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, before being applauded by some Republican House members.

The 76-41 vote was split largely along party lines.

To see how individual representatives voted, click here.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Florida Environments.com.