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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 24, 2009 10 years ago

Our View


It must be a genetic mutation. That may be an explanation for the often well-intentioned but common-senseless decisions that come out of government offices.

Sarasota City Hall seems particularly prone to this. Maybe it’s in the water.

Two recent examples:
• The request for proposal on the city’s Palm Avenue garage.
• The city’s announcement last week that it hired a $50,000-a-year environmental specialist.

What were they thinking?

When the city issued its RFP for the parking garage, as reported in The Sarasota Observer last week, its requirements for the contractor were so restrictive that they would have excluded most of Sarasota County’s contractors from the bidding process.

The stipulations:
• A minimum of having designed and constructed five similar projects, two with a government agency, during the past 10 years;
• The architect and engineer must have worked on three different parking structures, two of which must be of similar scope and size in Florida;
• A minimum of three design/build projects involving concrete parking structures in Florida.

Sure, we all get that the city wants to hire a qualified contractor. But is it too much of a stretch to think that in contemplating the qualifications for a city-owned, taxpayer-funded project deliberate thought and consideration might be given to these two fundamental ideas:

1) The unemployment rate in Sarasota County exceeds 10%. Let’s do what we can to give as many local contractors as possible an opportunity to bid.

2) Let’s do the most we can to patronize our local employers. If it makes economic sense, buy local.
You would think those two thoughts would be automatic.

Thanks to the doggedness of Kerry Kirschner, executive director of the Argus Foundation, the city last week revised the RFP.

In the case of the city’s hiring an environmental specialist, this is a real lulu. A classic make-work, government job in an area that isn’t even close to a pressing, high-priority item.

In the city’s announcement of this new position, city officials said the specialist “will coordinate” (there’s a key word) “the city’s sustainability efforts, with an emphasis on developing an action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase recycling within the community.”


Are they serious?

To a large extent, this is not surprising. This kind of overreactive, environmental wacko-ism has spread far and wide in governmental circles. But here again, as with the parking garage RFP, there appears to be a lack of contextual thinking.

Two weeks ago at the City Commission meeting, two groups — one representing organizers of an ecumenical music festival and the other representing the property owners and merchants of St. Armands Circle — appealed to city commissioners not to impose new park-usage fees on special events.

The fees, these two groups argued, would be highly detrimental to community activities that draw the participation of many taxpayers and tourists.

The justification for the fees was to generate additional revenue — estimated to total $40,000 a year — to help offset the increased time city employees were devoting to processing permitting fees for public events in the city. Commissioners also were told the new fees would help the city avoid laying off more employees in this tough, recessionary period.

Now put the two together — a new, niggling tax that irritates and annoys residents, the very people who pay their share of taxes and then some, in part to protect city jobs, followed by the hiring of a $50,000 city employee in a non-essential position.

No wonder we’re cynical.

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