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COLUMN

Happytown

The state of the city is fake, the state of the state is harrowing, state of the art cameras are watching you steal flowers and state Dems seek an altered state.

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You know what's not fake? The looming state budget crisis. Nowhere was that more evident than at this month's League of Women Voters of Orange County Hot Topics luncheon on March 9 wherein some 15 community leaders gathered for a mass bloodletting over the clanks of forks and salad bowls. Representatives from the whole spectrum of philanthropy (or society) - arts, education, medicine, judiciary, economic development - took turns speedily projecting their own failures in the face of Tallahassee's scissorhands: state "trust" funds have been raided, children will lose community advocates, judges are overloaded, the world is ending, etc. The word "decimate" was employed with alarming frequency, and Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie got to the root of the issue when she called out the "demonization" of public workers. It was not pretty.

Even uglier, though, was the commentary that followed the litany of three-minute presentations, in this case provided by Democratic strategist Jim Kitchens and Republican consultant Jamie Miller. Kitchens, naturally, dabbled in some doomsday talk, warning, "We're frankly going to see a lot of human suffering." Damn. But Miller, harnessing the cruel optimism of his host party, saw things differently. "What I like about what's happening right now is people are talking about it," he said, before staring off into space and offering to give each of the suffering organizations $100 of his own money. They deserved it, he added, but they "shouldn't depend on it" from the state. Nope. There is no state anymore.

After successfully handling the term "Facebook" at his State of the City address, Mayor Buddy Dyer followed the alluring scent of techno-savvy to MetroWest Golf Club, where he stood next to a giant steel cabinet which had regurgitated a bouquet of electronic displays. The live video feeds on the screen came from nine new surveillance cameras installed nearby, and Buddy congratulated the MetroWest Master Association for shelling out $160,000 to expand the grid of the city's surveillance cameras affectionately known as IRIS. "It can only mean more safety for your neighborhood," Dyer said, assuaging potential buyer's remorse.

Dyer then introduced, with his routine fawning, Val Demings, Orlando's police chief, who reminded the crowd that law-abiding citizens "love" cameras and that criminals - 400 of them, to be exact - hate them. "The camera … simply … records … what … it sees," she enunciated.

After the public posturing was over, Happytown™ cornered OPD Captain John O'Grady, one of the administrators of the IRIS program. He says that the city has roughly 130 cameras in operation, some of which are portable (a few were lent to the Daytona 500 recently), all of which feed a video stream to a room at the police mothership staffed by one to three people at any given time. "The benefits are huge," he says. "The days of the cop hiding in a tree, or a garbage can - you don't have to do that [anymore]."

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