Polk Swiftmud Board Vacancy Drawing Pushback

The Polk County Commission agreed Tuesday to draft a resolution to send to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to fill a vacancy on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board involving one of the two seats allocated to Polk County.

The seat has been vacant since August.

Haines City businessman Paul Senft, who was honored Tuesday for his public service, said he applied in February to serve another term on the board. His term expired in March, but under the rules was allowed to continue serving until August.

Whether anyone else has applied for the seat has been a well-kept secret in Tallahassee.

DeSantis’ so-called Communications Office has not responded to emails in recent weeks asking for a list of applicants for the position.

Polk received a second seat on the 13-member Governing Board in 2007 under legislation that expanded the board from 11 to 13 seats, putting it on equal voting footing with coastal urban Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which had two members each.

Why DeSantis is holding up the appointment has been a matter of speculation.

One rumor is that DeSantis thinks the Swiftmud board has too many members and would like to reduce its size, though it is unclear what the reason is. There was a proposal in 2013 that was never considered by the Florida Legislature to reduce the board’s membership to nine seats to match the size of the other water management district boards. Any change in the board’s makeup would require legislation.

Another rumor is that DeSantis was looking for an environmentally-conscious Polk County appointee who was also a Republican and was not involved in supporting his opponent Adam Putnam in the 2018 gubernatorial race, which one observer said was like trying to find a unicorn or simply a ploy to keep the seat vacant so it would easier to eliminate.

This comes at a time when Polk is trying to continue to secure funding from Swiftmud to finance alternative water supplies to continue to support the county’s and cities’ growth ambitions.