What is the role of the “state”?
That one question seems extraordinarily pertinent of late, especially in light of all that is occurring at the national level within the executive branch’s alphabet soup — IRS political targeting, FBI tapping reporters and the NSA tapping all of us.
Much less freedom threatening than those three usurpations of individual liberty and far closer to home, you certainly could pose that same question on Longboat Key.
Indeed, what should the role of the state — in this case, the town — be in determining Longboat Key’s future, in determining what direction the town should go as a collective community?
Unfortunately, it’s too late. As the cliche goes, the train already has left the station.
We’re referring to the Longboat Key Town Commission’s authorization to spend $125,000 to bring in representatives from the Urban Land Institute in October. They will conduct interviews and focus groups with 100 Longboat Key residents as part of a continuation of the town’s 2007 vision process and the development in 2011 of a mission statement and core values for the town.
The results of these efforts are expected to give the town’s 6,888 full-time and 4,000 or so part-time residents and property owners a road map of where we, the collective body of Longboat Key residents and taxpayers, want to take Longboat Key over the next 10, 20, 30 years.
Sorry, we don’t buy it.
It’s a noble idea. But it’s fraught with inevitable conflicts and flaws.
For one, the idea of establishing a specific vision or direction for the collective town defies what noted economist Ludwig von Mises wrote about in his seminal 1966 book, “Human Action.” Wrote von Mises:
“The life of a collective is lived in the actions of the individuals constituting its body. There is no social collective conceivable which is not operative in the actions of some individuals.” Heavy stuff.
Perhaps this is more clarifying: “All actions are performed by individuals,” von Mises also wrote. Every individual has a free will and thinks and acts differently from everyone else. So it’s virtually impossible for the Urban Land Institute representatives to interview 100 Longboaters and even attempt to present a direction Longboaters presumably want the town to go in future. In truth, with 6,888 full-time population, it would be impossible to have all 6,888 people agree on a direction. Maybe a majority can, but not everyone.
Respect for the individual
Likewise, it’s worth remembering that near the top of this nation’s historical values is a reverent respect for the minority, individual freedom and a strong fear of “the tyranny of the majority.” In other words, while a majority of those 100 residents who will be interviewed may offer the ULI representatives some common themes of what they want to see in the future on Longboat Key, you cannot conclude that their views will be emblematic of or embraced by Longboat’s 6,788 other residents. In those 6,888 residents, there are 6,888 free wills and free-thinking minds. Never unanimity.
To wit: Remember the most recent Town Commission elections? Incumbent Terry Gans defeated challenger Irwin Pastor Gans by 27 votes — 50.54% versus Pastor’s 49.46% of the roughly 2,500 votes. Gans, you may recall, was a strong supporter of the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million expansion plans; Pastor was a strong opponent.
This 50-50 split clearly says half of the Key’s residents want to go in one direction, half in a different direction.
And that leads to this: People choose to own property and live in places that suit their individual needs, desires and values. We look for places that are safe, clean, attractive and affordable (for our standard of living) and where taxation is reasonable. People want to live in peace, with as few threats of harm as possible to property or person. They want a minimum of government intrusion into what they can and cannot do with their property. They want what the French farmer told the minister of finance after the French Revolution: “Laissez faire” — to be left alone.
Here’s the point: A municipality may be incorporated, but it’s not a business corporation. In a business, you expect employees to buy in to a specific mission and vision. Sure, the town’s employees at Town Hall should adopt a mission and vision for how it wants to serve its customers. But it seems beyond the role of the “state” to try to craft collective mission and vision statements by which all citizens should live and aspire.
What’s more, who are these ULI representatives to be advising the town’s residents to begin with? There’s the old saying: You’re not an expert unless you’re from out of town. And while the ULI reps may be experts, they’ll never have an appreciation or understanding of the historical nuances of the Key the way its residents do.
Create the framework
As noted above, the process is already under way. So let it play out. Our prediction is that the outcome will be one that focus-group experts already know: Seldom do focus groups produce anything startling or new; typically, they reinforce 90% to 95% of what you already expect. And that will be this: Those 100 Longboaters who will be interviewed will tell the ULI representative they like Longboat Key the way it is — beautiful and safe, but they also will say it needs some updating in looks, amenities and its outmoded zoning codes. They’ll say there should be a balance between residences, tourism and businesses.
All of which will — and should — turn the focus and discussion back to Town Hall and the Town Commission.
Longboat Key’s collective 6,888 residents don’t need a mission statement or vision statement. Our bet is they would prefer a clear framework for the role of town government, specifically, an updated town constitution and codes that shift Longboat’s government from an obstructive, regulatory regime to allowing property owners flexibility and encouraging investment, re-investment and creativity.
Those ingredients would move the town in a positive direction for the future.
THE ULI QUESTIONS
Here are nine of the questions to be posed to about 100 Longboat Key residents in October:
• Longboat Key has an adopted Vision Plan. How realistic is it, and does it contain the appropriate elements to help ensure that Longboat Key remains a premier residential and visitor destination. Which elements work or do not work, why, what recommendations can be made to ensure the plan is relevant to future residents and visitors, and how do we measure our progress?
• Who will be the likely future residents and visitors of Longboat Key over the next 20 years (age, retired/families, fulltime/part-time, etc.)? How do we target and attract those who are most likely to help Longboat Key remain a viable, premier residential and visitor destination, with both short- and long-term objectives?
• What should be the balance of residential, tourism and supportive commercial services to ensure Longboat Key’s status as a premier residential and visitor destination?
• Much of the building stock on Longboat Key is aging. How should the town encourage revitalization to make properties attractive for the future?
• Do the differences in the north, mid and south Key warrant separate planning efforts? If so, what would be the primary elements of those plans?
• What challenges and opportunities should the town be aware of that are likely to influence our future and how can the town prepare for them? i.e.: Market and regional forces, demographics, changes in resident and visitor expectations and recreational and lifestyle trends.
• What innovations or creative approaches should Longboat Key be developing to address challenges in community infrastructure that could be applied on Longboat Key? i.e. natural systems, technology/communications, waterfront/water-related, arts and culture, island-based medical services and transportation.
• What are Longboat Key’s most important assets? How should we protect, enhance and leverage those to make a better community in the future? What might we gain or give up when leveraging those assets?
• How important is the concept of a town center to Longboat Key? If important, what would be the best attributes of a Longboat Key town center and where would be the best location for it to be successful?
• Should Longboat Key have a community center and, if yes, what attributes should it include and where should it be located?
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