Skip to main content
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates
Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 5 years ago

Our View: A contrast in character


Americans should be outraged and hounding Barack Obama relentlessly for his indifferent, disgraceful disdain for the four Americans who died in Benghazi, Libya.

Just read the two-paragraph excerpt in the accompanying box. It is inconceivable that our country’s commander in chief would respond so coldly and contemptibly.

Imagine: How would you respond if, in your job, you learned that four of your employees were under a deadly siege? How would any police chief respond if he knew four of his officers were under lethal attack?
You would be all in, until the final minute.

What makes Obama’s response all the more reprehensible is when you contrast his behavior with that of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

When Gates spoke last week at the Ringling College Library Association Townhall Lecture Series, his chin quivered and he fought back tears of deep emotion when he spoke of the responsibility on his shoulders as secretary of defense. He told the audience he always viewed his top priority as doing whatever he could to equip our soldiers on the battle ground as best as they could possibly be. He said nothing was more satisfying in his job than when a combat serviceman in Afghanistant told thanked him for a piece of equipment saved the serviceman’s life.

What’s more, Gates related how he personally wrote more than 3,000 letters to the families of fallen heroes. Before each letter, he said, he asked his staff to gather news clippings from the soldiers’ local papers and whatever they could find about that soldier’s life so he could read about each one and get to know him or her.

When he wrote his letter, Gates said, he didn’t want any of the fallen men and women to become statistics. He wanted their relatives to know that, to him, they were an important person.

What an outrage that Obama doesn’t show the same characteristics to the men and women who risk their lives for him and us.

+ How to save SHS
Saving the architecture of historic Sarasota High School is back on the public agenda. This time the conflict is focused on preserving the Paul Rudolph-designed interiors of some of the buildings.

Sure, it would be great to preserve all of Rudolph’s designs at the school. It’s the last-standing Rudolph-designed public building in Sarasota. It’s indeed a historic treasure.

But you also can see the dilemma and challenges of the Sarasota County School Board. Its first obligation is to provide safe and functional facilities for students. Yet, how do you fulfill 21st century educational needs for high-schoolers in a building built for 1958? It’s like trying to teach a 55-year-old how to Tweet, join Pinterest and text with one hand while driving. Not a good match.

So the school board is torn as it tries to please everyone — the preservationists and its customers.

Pouring more money into the Rudolph buildings in an attempt to modernize them for today is throwing good money after bad.

There are alternatives. Here’s one: Sell the historic buildings west of School Avenue, and redevelop portions of the campus east of School. That would create an opportunity for the preservationists to have what they want. They could create an office park for architects who revere the Rudolph style; they could create a museum, as Ringling College has done with the original Sarasota High building on Tamiami Trail. In short, preserving one of Rudolph’s masterpieces would become the private sector’s challenge, not the school board. The school board is not in the business of historic preservation; it’s in the business of educating children.

+ North Trail: Forever dead
On the face of it, you have to say to yourself: What? The Sarasota city Planning Board rejected in a 2-2 vote a proposal to allow the development of a dermatology clinic on the forever-beleaguered North Trail?

It’s complicated. The applicant, Reflections Medspa and Drs. Richard and Monica Bedi, alarmed some of the neighbors when they saw a sketch of the spa. As one planning board member told us, its design really didn’t fit in well with the neighborhood. But that can be fixed.

The real problem here is one that is much deeper for the city. In fact, it’s the same one that has hindered the proposed Walmart near Alta Vista. And that is this:

The city’s zoning codes are antiquated, written decades ago for a different time and different uses. They spell out long lists of what is acceptable in certain zones, but then those uses don’t allow for leeway.

Fact is, the city’s codes need to be scrapped and rewritten — simplified and useful for the 21st century. Until then, Sarasota is destined to remain the city of “No,” you can’t build it.”

+ Old spending habits die hard
Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid broached the idea recently that the county should hire 42 employees at a cost of $1,020,000 to handle groundskeeping, mowing and maintenance around the county.

You can tell the economy is improving. Government coffers are growing with increased tax revenues. Why even our conservative Gov. Rick Scott has proposed increasing state spending by $4 billion in the next fiscal year.

This new rush to spend brings to mind the old saw about government: It will spend whatever you give it.
But in the case of Sarasota County wanting to hire landscaping workers, here’s what is puzzling: Reid, we know, is a professed opponent of outsourcing for the most part. But why is it that so many homeowners throughout the county are perfectly happy to outsource the care, maintenance and gardening of their lawns and yards to privately operated landscaping companies, but the county is not?

Commissioners Joe Barbetta, Nora Patterson, Christine Robinson, Charles Hines and Carolyn Mason all know the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector when given the right incentives to perform a job.

Don’t do it, commissioners. Don’t fall back into old, bad habits. Don’t hire; outsource.

“Secretary Panetta said the president left operational details, including determination of what resources were available to help the Americans under siege, “up to us.” We also learned that President Obama did not communicate in any way with Mr. Panetta or Gen. Dempsey the rest of that evening or that night. Indeed, Mr. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey testified they had no further contact at all with anyone in the White House that evening—or, for that matter, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“That’s not all we discovered. We now know that despite Gen. Dempsey having been informed of Ambassador Stevens’s repeated warnings about the rise of terrorist elements in Benghazi, no forces were put in place or made ready nearby to respond to possible trouble. It also seems that during the actual attacks in Benghazi, which the administration followed in real time and which lasted for some eight hours, not a single major military asset was deployed to help rescue Americans under assault.”
William Kristol,
Peter Wehner
Wall Street Journal
Feb. 12, 2013

Related Stories