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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 11 years ago

Our View


Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard recently reminded his readers of Wriston’s Law of capital. Wriston is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Citicorp, back then it was a decently run bank.

Wriston’s Law: Capital (money and ideas) “will go where it is wanted and stay where it is well treated.”

This immutable law came to mind again this week when the Sarasota City Commission voted 4-1 to have parking meters installed downtown.

Talk about being unfriendly to capital. For that matter, talk about being unfriendly to everyone — business owners, taxpayers, tourists, downtown and the Sarasota city economy.

The four commissioners who voted for the meters clearly proved, once again, their economic incompetence and lack of business and common sense.

This is a tax. A shopper’s and Main Street business owner’s tax in the midst of a devastating recession.

To an extent, the four votes are not surprising. Voting for the meters were the Feckless Foursome — Mayor Dick Clapp, Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioners Fredd Atkins and Suzanne Atwell. The only commissioner with any economic and business sense in the bunch is Terry Turner, the Ph.D. in economics, who voted not to install meters at this time.

Atkins’ vote demonstrated again his one-track mind. If the issue provides free money to Newtown, he votes favorably. If the issue punishes the city’s white residents (ignoring the fact the same issues will also punish black residents), he votes to punish. Atkins increasingly is proving to be an embarrassment for the position and a disservice to the Sarasota taxpayers.

The other “A” on the commission, Atwell, one of the new commissioners, so far has shown that being an analyzer of minds (she’s a psychologist) doesn’t mean she’s an astute analyzer of public policy, human action or the economy. Explaining her vote, Atwell said: “I’m not prepared to face the cost of doing nothing.
We need to get the infrastructure in. We can tweak it.”

Huh? And what about the cost of doing something? Presumably, she is prepared to face the cost of an increasingly vacant Main Street. Apparently that doesn’t register.

As for the other two in the foursome — Kirschner and Clapp — evident since the day their anti-growth constituents elected them, they appear not to have a clue of the value of a vibrant economy, of population growth or of a friendly business climate. Clueless.

When the issue of parking meters came up Monday at the City Commission meeting, downtown business people and merchants marched before the commissioners in unison to urge them: “Not now.” Indeed, it goes beyond comprehension why the Feckless Foursome did not heed the message of Larry Fineberg, chairman of the Downtown Improvement District, which represents the very taxpayers who pay the downtown property taxes and generate the sales taxes that city commissioners are determined to squelch and drive away. Said Fineberg: “You’ve got a lot of business hanging by a thread. We don’t see any reasonable way that it doesn’t hurt businesses.”

Indeed, who will this new tax benefit? The only thing that comes to mind is one of Kirschner’s more remarkable comments — that the city needs to figure out how to make its parking department profitable.

John Simon, chief executive of the Pineapple Square development, has it right. As do the members of the Downtown Improvement District. Now is not the time to install parking meters — not when a shopping district is struggling to attract patrons. The time for meters is when there is a high demand for parking spaces — when the value of close-by parking rises. And this can only occur after Main Street is teeming with shoppers and diners.

Unfortunately for Sarasotans, the Feckless Foursome can’t quite grasp that common sense.

+ Police horse by committee
Safe prediction: The city’s new blue-ribbon committee of community leaders charged with re-examining the state of the Sarasota Police Department will be a waste of time and money and will result in no remarkable improvements in the police department.

The Sarasota City Commission’s vote to create the committee is a cop-out, an evasion. It’s a cover for City Manager Bob Bartolotta to avoid doing what’s expected of chief executive officers — facing controversy and making tough, uncomfortable decisions. And at the top of the decision-making pyramid is the responsibility for a CEO to hold his managers accountable for their actions and their employees’ actions. In this instance, of course, Bartolotta should be the one holding accountable Sarasota police Chief Peter Abbott and everyone else associated with the kicking incident of Juan Perez.

To be sure, there are important nuances involved. Thanks to a mealy Legislature that caves to the law enforcement unions, Bartolotta (and the city) must tiptoe through Chapter 112 of the Florida statutes, also known as the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. This creates an unreasonable bureaucratic process for investigating alleged police wrongdoing, thus explaining Bartolotta’s efforts to bring in investigators from Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department and the state attorney’s office.

Even so, here we are a month into this police fiasco and, from the outside, it appears the urgency and efforts to bring this matter to a decisive conclusion have dissipated. Count on this: This story will drag on for at least six months, if not longer, especially now that there will be a “blue-ribbon” committee involved.

We all know what you get from a committee.

Sure, fairness and a thorough investigation are imperative to reaching a proper judgment. But also imperative are expediency and decisiveness. The longer the investigations drag on, the more and longer police department morale will wane. When bad events occur in any organization, it’s crucial that they be confronted and resolved as quickly as possible. Move forward, get it behind you.

When you look back at the events that occurred — an officer kicking a suspect, a commander not reporting the event, the police chief authorizing a payoff — it’s all pretty definitive. If you’re the CEO of the company or organization that did all of that, the steps to be taken seem straightforward: Evaluate whether the actions were part of a growing pattern of unacceptable behavior and whether there’s a cancer. If it’s cancer, cut it out — quickly — before it spreads.

Bartolotta doesn’t need a public committee to right the police department. He just needs the endorsement and support from his bosses — the city commissioners — to do his job: Be a leader, and do what’s right, however difficult that is.

+ The politics of insurance
Ah, politics.

As the summer-fall storm season begins to churn, the thoughts and fears of one of those monsters roaring through our homes and streets becomes more palpable. Get ready.

But while the Gulf waters churn, there are two hurricane-related depressions brewing in Tallahassee that should be dealt with but aren’t. At least not yet.

Those are the firing of Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty and the override of Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto earlier this summer on insurance deregulation.

One is connected to the other. In McCarty’s case, earlier this year he touted to state lawmakers that more than 45 insurance companies had started up in the state since 2007 and brought $4.9 billion in new capital into the state to write homeowners insurance and make the state’s bedeviled insurance market more competitive.

Turns out McCarty has overstated the real amount — by a lot. Our sister paper, the Gulf Coast Business Review, reported last month that the real amount of new capital going into the homeowners insurance market totals only $166.5 million — kind of like an ant on an elephant’s rear.

But when Crist was given legislation this summer that would have deregulated insurance pricing for homeowners insurance, which would have spawned more supply and more competition, he vetoed the bill. Crist used McCarty’s bogus $4.9 billion in new capital as evidence that Florida’s insurance market is doing just fine.

It isn’t, not at all.

After Crist’s veto, Florida House and Senate leaders talked briefly of calling a special session to override the veto. But they didn’t do it.

Here’s where the politics come into play. There’s no question Florida needs more insurers and a more competitive market, and the legislation that was vetoed would have provided a mechanism to help that. But it appears our legislative leaders don’t have the stomach to take on the governor. After all, they have to deal with him for one more session.

Who suffers? Florida consumers and taxpayers. Ah, politics.

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