Volusia County Council members posed for their official photo in January 2021. Standing are Ben Johnson and Billie Wheeler. Seated from left to right are Heather Post, Barbara Girtman, Jeff Brower, Danny Robins and Fred Lowry.

DELAND — A public meeting scheduled for Aug. 13 at the Ocean Center was advertised as a chance to get into an in-depth discussion on the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a greenway network of essential habitat throughout the state that’s going to expand soon with $300 million in federal funds.

But some allege the meeting was also going to be used by County Chair Jeff Brower for something happening 10 days later: The Aug. 23 primary election.

Detractors say Brower has been cheerleading for his handpicked slate of candidates running for open County Council seats, and the wildlife corridor meeting was becoming a choreographed show to make his candidates of choice look like desperately needed defenders of the environment. 

Brower recruited a local woman who’s involved in environmental causes to take a leading role in setting up the meeting, which was intended to be run by county government staff.

And the closing speaker at the Saturday meeting was set to be Arnie Bellini, a Tampa-area billionaire philanthropist who donated $20,000 last month to a Volusia County political action committee that supports the four County Council candidates endorsed by Brower.

Volusia County Council members posed for their official photo in January 2021. Standing are Ben Johnson and Billie Wheeler. Seated from left to right are Heather Post, Barbara Girtman, Jeff Brower, Danny Robins and Fred Lowry.

Allegations about Brower and the environmental meeting were tossed around for weeks in private conversations and on social media. And then during closing comments of last week’s County Council meeting, the accusations exploded into public view.

“Mr. Brower, last meeting you lied to me,” charged County Councilman Ben Johnson. “You lied to this Council. You lied to the public, the people that we represent. You have made this a political event, a cheap political stunt to enhance your ‘Volusia Values’ candidates.”

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