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Sarasota Thursday, May. 6, 2010 7 years ago

Our View


One of the tenets of Jack Welch, retired chief executive officer of General Electric, was this: If GE was to compete in a business, he wanted it to be No. 1 or No. 2 in that industry or segment.

To be No. 4 or No. 5 meant you always would be scrambling and struggling to become bigger, better, faster or less expensive than your competitors.

Apply that thinking to government, specifically, to the city of Sarasota, and you’re likely to “tsk” once again at the news this past week of the snafus at the city mooring field.

Surprise, surprise.

The city used nearly $500,000 of taxpayer money to hire engineers to figure out how to anchor and then deploy 109 anchors in Sarasota Bay near Marina Jack. The city’s intention is to lease these anchors to boaters for a price and eliminate all of the squatters who moor their boats in city water for free.

But alas, the anchors apparently didn’t work. So the engineering firm and contractor hired by the city blamed each other for the failure.

So now the city commissioners are all twisted over what to do. Start over? Change engineers? Change contractors?

This much is sure, taxpayers will pour more money into this project; the city has $600,000 in more tax money already earmarked for this.

This — the mooring field — is an old, recurring issue at City Hall, kind of like dead fish floating on the shore.

Which brings us back to Jack Welch and GE. Why would the City Commission or City Manager Bob Bartolotta want to be in the mooring field business? Or the parking garage/retail rental business? Or the stadium and performing-arts hall management businesses? Or the tennis court and golf course businesses?

City government isn’t an expert at any of these. When Welch was CEO at GE, if any of his operating units weren’t at the top or near the top in their category, he sold them. He exited the business.

Here is a business bromide that is as time tested as Methuselah’s biblical age (he lived to be 969): Stick to your knitting; do what you know how to do best.

The City Commission should sell or lease the mooring field to a private enterprise. Turn the mooring field into private property or privately managed property, much like an office-building owner operates his property.

Figure out the value of the water and submerged land on the basis of comparable enterprises and lease them, with the stipulation, of course, that the area be used only for boat mooring and maintained to the standards the public would expect. Leave it up to the lessee to figure out what kind of anchors will work and how to make it profitable.

Get rid of this leaden anchor. Quit proving again and again and again what we all know: Government can’t — and shouldn’t — run a business.


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