The below post updated 11/15/2017.
Where one finds a piece written by a government body that is neither clearly written nor written in common English, there’s room to be concerned. Recently, in Davenport, Florida, on July 24th to be exact, we had a situation just like that. It had to do with a notice for a public hearing.
The hearing was about a local company wanting to expand their manufacturing plant, a plant reputed for being a “bad neighbor” for dumping. They were planning to realize this expansion via a re-zoning request.
Before this hearing, I had been told that this bad neighbor had been using an unimproved lot next door for some time to dump their trash, debris and dust. It’s a heavily wooded lot, just perfect to conceal large amounts of garbage. I stopped by to confirm it and, yes there are hills up to 10-feet-tall that apparently came from just across the street, the bad neighbor, a place known as J&N Stone.
Some representatives of J&N told me that the property owner permitted them to do this and that the owner is aware that they are dumping. That’s pretty amazing considering that property is nearly eight acres large of prime highway real estate, eight acres of dumping grounds next to a quiet residential neighborhood, eight acres that could, perhaps be used for Davenport’s future “community center,” but that’s another story and this one hasn’t ended yet.
In addition to the dumping, it appears that J&N Stone has also completely ruined a once-paved street between their property and the one on which they’re dumping. It’s called 42nd Street, once a rear entrance for the adjacent neighborhood. There are so many potholes and thick sediment caking this section of 42nd Street today that you can barely make out it was once paved. Enough?
In addition to these issues, residents say they can see dust coming from J&N’s debris, a fine, gray powder wafting through the back of their neighborhood. (This is a Fumes Across the Fence Line community, as reported by Mother Jones.)
This is where this company’s dumping crosses the line. It is where we start talking about the health of a population, the North side of Davenport, a main entry point for those entering our little Mayberry on Route 17/92.
Before the hearing for J&N’s re-zoning request, I was told to check out the agenda for our commissioners’ planning meeting. It was the place where bad English made the connection with this bad neighbor.
There it was, posted, a cryptic agenda item, like so many others, not particularly palatable to the average brain. It read:
“PUBLIC HEARING TO AUTHORIZE A ZONING AMENDMENT TO ESTABLISH ZONING AS MANUFACTURING/WAREHOUSE (I-1) FOR A CERTAIN PARCEL OF LAND. SAID PROPERTY IS LOCATED ON PAGE ROAD, SOUTH OF FOREST AVENUE AND EAST OF GREENBAY AVENUE”
Nothing out of the ordinary, really, from first look because much, if not most, of what gets released by government entities isn’t actually written for its intended audience: us. It’s almost always written for themselves.
We can only put so much blame on government entities, though, for writing like this. After all, if you go to any of their meetings you’ll notice, they actually talk like this too!
The problem with this kind of writing, the kind not written in common English, is that it appears purposely vague. “Vague” is imprecise and unclear, leaving room to be concerned by the reader. If a public notice isn’t clear, then the public it affected will tend towards distrust of the information, regardless of whether or not the government body intended deceit or not.
Let’s see what would happen if I, yes, I as in me, Darhlene, had been the one to have written this notice. Would anyone have thought the following an improvement?
“We are asking the public to hear a request for re-zoning for a property that is owned by CM Holding, which re-zoning would benefit J&N Stone, which property is located at the intersection of Page Road and Forest Avenue.”
Instead of vague language, my notice gave specifics. It named a party in this transaction familiar with a significant number of residents.
Primarily this re-zoning request was important because the application benefited a secondary party, J&N Stone, at least as much as it would have helped the owner of the property. It benefited other parties too, to be sure, but it mostly helped the dumper.[i]
I mean … at the very least, J&N Stone would’ve been included in the piece, had I been the one to have written the public notice, but I didn’t. What the bad writing did in this case was stoke distrust. People started asking, “What’s going on between those lines?”
Conspiracy theorists in my neighborhood, and there are many, told me that J&N Stone’s association in this re-zoning request was purposely hidden so that no one in the public would notice and voice dissent. I would’ve agreed except that the name of the company did come up in the agenda details, but who reads past that when the agenda item is written in Cryptic English, these theorists argued. True. I too tend to skip boring, antiquated-styled writing.
However, with due diligence, I looked more into the agenda details, and there it was. More cryptic. “More,” some said, “deceiving.”
In the government-issued details of the agenda item, on the application, the name of the property owner for this re-zoning request was CM Holding, a nothing name, a complete and utter nothing name.
If one looks around for them, this CM Holding, one would find something akin to tertiary and unreliable information about this “owner.” That’s pretty creepy in the Internet age.
Who is this CM Holding: a person, a contractual entity, a shell company? I challenge my readers to help me find out more about this phantom Holding.
But, back to the application.
Just three lines down from CM Holding is listed the phrase, CM Arrington. The conspiracy theorists piped up. “You see! Read between the lines. They’re trying to hide Amy. The city’s still paying her!”
As it turns out, since her termination, Amy has been working for CM Arrington in the capacity of “consultant.” To the theorists and a few others, it appears the city fired her on the frontend only to be sustaining her income once again on the backend. That makes for a very interesting twist on a controversial termination.
Was CM Holding obligated to disclose her employment? Was this connection simply not noticed, not vetted by staff, or was it consciously ignored by everyone?
I like to think that our local leaders care enough not to ignore such a coincidence lightly but they didn’t even discuss it during the meeting. Lack of discussion makes it impossible to tell if this was intent or neglect.
Sometimes the words of our English language can become so convoluted that not even the people writing it and certainly not the esoterically few who can read it can find the hidden problems. It’s an unconscious and unhealthy form of self-deception in bodies politic caused by mounds and mounds of legalese-styled English riddled throughout government offices everywhere.
The disconnection between J&N Stone and the dumping, CM Arrington and the recent firing, and the effects of all this on a bunch of taxpayers on the North side of town are all testaments that something must be fixed. Whether it’s the English or not remains to be seen; however, that could be a good place to start.
Applications for re-zoning are not meant to uncover all problems inherent in re-zoning requests but, if written in proper, modern, American English, maybe issues like this would not have been swept under the carpet for a future meeting. Maybe it’s time for Davenport to consider this issue when drafting futures agendas and, definitely, when updating its re-zoning applications.
By the way, in the end, the re-zoning was approved without contingencies.[ii]
[ii] Although the re-zoning was approved without contingencies, during the public hearing, a request was made that a contingency be applied requiring J&N Stone to clean its dumped materials before approval of the re-zoning request.