Sometimes it’s just so easy to be cynical on Longboat Key. You can’t help it.
Town commissioners have this uncanny habit of doing things that seem like they’re putting up big watermelon pinatas just for taxpayers’ enjoyment of splatting them to smithereens for the fun of it.
Take, for instance, the recent visit by the experts from the Urban Land Institute and their preliminary list of recommendations (see box below and story on page 1).
Really? Taxpayers paid $125,000 for that? As we told one resident, we would have gladly accepted $25,000 — and saved the town $100,000 — just by clipping past editorials from years-old Longboat Observers and putting them in binders for the commissioners.
Tell us something new.
Actually, we didn’t expect revelations. Indeed, there’s a Madison Avenue truism about convening focus groups, which is what last week resembled. In most focus groups, roughly 90% of what you hear validates what you already knew and felt in your gut. Every now and then you get a brilliant idea. But it’s reassuring to hear people — especially expensive experts — say what you’ve been thinking or what your instincts are telling you.
That’s what the ULI panelists did.
So, here we are again — with yet another study full of sensible recommendations. The hard part is bringing them to fruition.
It’s really hard. And here’s why:
As we have written many times before, it is highly unrealistic to think anyone or any one idea can unify 6,900 individuals (the town’s population), plus the 9,000 or so part-time residents and property owners — each of whom has a free will and opinions of how life should be on Longboat Key.
Think about it. Just look what occurred with the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed expansion plans. Or look at the battles up in Longbeach Village between residents and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub owner Ed Chiles over his desire to expand the restaurant. Look how difficult it is to enact change.
Compounding the challenge of “building the community together,” as the ULI-ers recommend, is the structure of our town government — the weak mayor, commission-manager form. Having a ceremonial mayor, whose primary job is to keep order at Town Commission meetings, means there really isn’t a town champion who can set a course and lead the charge.
Many commissioners view themselves as equals, and if, say, the sitting mayor tries to exert his leadership by pushing an agenda, he or she typically ruffles his colleagues’ egos and gets his ears flicked. As a result, taxpayers end up with a commission that is all about kumbaya and building consensus. Which means building a horse by committee that comes out looking like a camel.
It’s not quite that bad, but the fact the commission hasn’t undertaken a major rewriting of the town codes pretty much illustrates the point. Many residents may not remember this, but a decade ago, a Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce committee, commissioned by the Town Commission, conducted its own study to come up with recommendations that could help businesses’ survival rates and encourage redevelopment of deteriorating commercial properties.
Two of its chief recommendations were: 1) a complete rewriting of the town’s zoning codes; and 2) relaxing the 30-day rental rule in the summer. Well, those two items are still on the agenda, stuck in limbo awaiting a champion who will lead and drive the process.
Oh for a strong, elected mayor. In the end, that’s what’s needed. It’s fun to dream.
Meantime, there is indeed reason for hope. Unlike a decade ago, there is a big difference now. There is a growing momentum, desire and belief among more and more Longboat Key residents to change for a better future. This is encouraging — with an exclamation point.
In a few weeks, the ULI team will give the town a book on how residents might go about implementing the panel’s recommendations. We look forward to reading the blueprint and helping push forward the process for change.
Like an enrollee of Alcoholics Anonymous, Longboat Key residents appear to be taking the first and most important steps — recognizing the problem and making a commitment to change.
With the right attitudes and leadership, that $125,000 ULI money can be the best $125,000 Longboat Key taxpayers have ever spent. It’s time.
WHAT LBK SHOULD DO
ULI panelists presented preliminary recommendations to the Longboat Key Town Commission:
• Build the community together
• Adapt to a changing market
• Focus on the future
• Relax rental restrictions
• Împlement early actions
• Complete the town center
• Locate the community/cultural center at the town center
• Improve mobility
+ Tea Party is not radical
It’s probably safe to assume all American citizens subscribe to the ideals that Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence — “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.” And most Americans probaby subscribe to the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly spells out limited powers of the federal government.
And yet, when Sens. Ted Cruz, Tom Lee and Marco Rubio espouse these tenets, they are castigated and pilloried as Tea Party extremists, anarchists and radicals.
Indeed, anyone who allies himself or herself with any type of Tea Party affiliation is viewed as an extremist nut case.
But what is extreme about not wanting the federal government to dictate that you must buy health insurance? What is extreme about advocating that the federal government must quit spending more than it takes in? What is extreme about saying the federal government should stop subsidizing farmers and solar-panel makers and oil companies and people who won’t go find a job even though they are able bodied? This is extreme? Radical?
Here is radical: A leviathan government dictating your every move, confiscating your wealth and redistributing unearned benefits to their friends.
Members of the Tea Party are nothing close to radical. They are traditionalists. They believe in freedom for the individual, low taxation and limited government — the cornerstones on which this nation was built.
FIRST DANCE OF FREEDOM
When you’re born free, most likely, you take it for granted.
When you’re born in bondage, freedom is profound.
Last weekend, when Sarasota Ballet began its 2013-14 season, 23-year-old Edward Gonzalez, who defected from Cuba only six months ago, danced in his first ballet for the company.
He was cast in one of the lead roles in “Gitano Galop,” a piece choreographed by Sarasota Ballet principal Kate Honea.
After Gonzalez’s first performance Friday night, Gonzalez took the occasion to ask Javier Dubrocq, a former Sarasota Ballet company member who also defected from Cuban nearly 20 years ago, to deliver an important message to Honea. Gonzalez is in the early stages of learning English.
The message: He thanked Honea for casting him in her ballet, and he thanked her for “allowing him to dance his first dance of freedom.”
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In its Sept. 18 issue, the Longboat Observer featured Plymouth Harbor resident George Heitler, a lifelong tennis player who has played tennis for most of his 99 years and is a regular at the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center.