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Courtesy photo. Sarasota Ballet Artistic Director Iain Webb welcomed Cuban defector Edward Gonzalez to the ballet and freedom in March.
Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 3 years ago

Our View


Mark Twain popularized Benjamin Disraeli’s famous line about three types of lies — “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

We can imagine Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino wanting to invoke Twain and Disraeli last week when she sent a letter to Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin, the Sarasota city commissioners and her entire police department staff.

DiPino wrote to those parties after the Sarasota Observer reported FBI crime statistics showing the city of Sarasota having higher crime rates per 100,000 population than such crime-havens as Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. The stats even said it’s worse in Sarasota than in Bradenton and North Port.

Sarasota? How can that be?

The data for total crimes per 100,000 were so startlingly high — 6,261 in Sarasota versus 5,806 in Washington, D.C. — that Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder couldn’t resist. He popped off once again on Chief DiPino, telling our County News Editor Nolan Peterson: “I have no confidence in DiPino’s leadership … Crime downtown isn’t going to change until we get a new city manager and (Sheriff) Tom Knight takes over law enforcement for the city of Sarasota.”

To invoke another wise commentator, radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, Mayor Snyder should have taken into account “the rest of the story” before huffing and puffing Chief DiPino’s house down.

Yes, it’s true: Reported total crime, property crime, burglaries and thefts per 100,000 population are extraordinarily high in the city of Sarasota comparatively.

But don’t blame that on DiPino’s competence or lack thereof.

If Mayor Snyder had looked at the rest of the statistics, he would be, or should be, pleased to see the city’s crime rate and the number of incidents have been falling steadily for the past five years. More remarkable is the precipitous decline in 2012. Check out the table above.

DiPino can’t take any credit for those statistics; she started her job this year. Which is all the more reason Mayor Snyder shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

While many Sarasotans know that Snyder’s call for consolidating the city’s police department and the sheriff’s department would make fiscal sense for taxpayers, consolidation is a long way off.

But if Snyder wants that agenda to move forward, a better approach than denigrating DiPino would be to give her more time (and support) to do her job.

If the trend of declining crime rates reverse and go back up under DiPino’s watch, then there may be a legitimate cause to put the blame on the chief.

But for now, it’s no time for lies or damned lies. The challenge for DiPino and her department is to continue to find ways to reduce the crimes per capita. In the end, those numbers won’t lie.

+ Hudgins for administrator
When things go wrong — and it doesn’t matter what field it is … the military, a business, a school, a hospital, a manufacturing plant, in sports, you name it — responsible leaders and managers always stop and evaluate after the errant event and look for answers to the following questions:

• What went wrong?

• Where did it first go wrong?

• How did it happen?

• Why did it happen?

• What should be done differently to avoid that bad event from occurring again?

Let’s hope Sarasota County commissioners use that checklist as a starting point for hiring the next county administrator.

In the case of Randall Reid, whom commissioners dismissed last week as Sarasota County’s administrator, the “what went wrong” may have been the buildup of a series of actions and inaction that reached a tipping point. But from our perspective, the “what went wrong” began with Reid’s selection from the start.

As most county and city commissions are wont to do, Sarasota County commissioners defaulted to standard government hiring practices when they hired Reid. They conducted a national search, largely among experienced bureaucrats who had previously served as a county administator or city manager. In effect, trading one professional government man for another.

The outcome is almost always the same. They run a government like a government. And their bosses eventually get frustrated at the slow pace of improvement or lack of business sense. Inevitably, the administrators or managers get fired. It’s just a matter of time.

So perhaps Sarasota County commissioners will quit the insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Perhaps they’ll recognize that professional government administrators and managers, to use the cliche, are overwhelmingly cut from the same bureaucratic cloth.

In contrast, we have often advocated that elected commissioners show some guts and shatter the mold.

Hire a business leader. Hire a proven business executive or entrepreneur. You can bet such an administrator would understand what we all wish government would understand:

• The need for speed;

• Time is money;

• Customer service is the be-all, end-all;

• Increasing productivity and cutting costs are daily habits;

• Competition makes you better;

• Accountability is essential;

• There’s no such thing as job security;

• And, if you don’t produce, if you don’t make your goals, eventually you get fired.

We have just the guy in mind. Sarasota banker Jody Hudgins. Some Sarasota city commissioners are sorry they didn’t hire him when they had the chance.

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 Cuba 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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