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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 9 years ago

OUR VIEW: Horse by committee


Can you imagine how the Ten Commandments would read today if God had formed a committee to write them? Oh my.

They would not be Ten Commandments. To get consensus from the committe members, the commandments no doubt would end up as the 10 Recommendations, probably even the 25 Recommendations.

Everyone knows the cliches about committees: A camel is a horse built by committee. Too many cooks in a kitchen make a mess. Or this lesser-known one: A Volvo is a Porsche designed by a committee.

All of a sudden committee-itis is spreading. On Longboat Key, we have two new “subcommittees,” one to review the operations of Town Hall and another to review (or revive) the famous (or is that “infamous”) town “Vision Plan.”

Meanwhile, on the mainland, the city of Sarasota has been wrestling for a year with a colossal committee fiasco with its Police Advisory Panel.

And if you want to know what the outcome of Longboat Key’s two subcommittees are likely to be, just look at the Sarasota Police Advisory Panel. About a month ago, it presented the City Commission with 62 primary recommendations and 49 sub-recommendations on how the police department’s operations and policies should be changed to improve its relations with the community.

Seriously, 111 recommendations. And the debates surrounding their implementation is far from over.
Longboat Key should take a lesson.

In the cases of Sarasota’s police department and Longboat Key’s Town Hall operations, neither of these committees should have been appointed. When you cut through all of the bureaucratic decision making, these committees came about because there was an abdication of leadership.

In Sarasota, primarily the mayor, Kelly Kirschner, and to a lesser extent his fellow city commissioners, abdicated the trust in City Manager Robert Bartolotta. Rather than stand behind their CEO and guide him to carry out his job, in this case letting Bartolotta deal with leadership and management issues inside the Sarasota Police Department, which he is hired to do, the City Commission leaped over Bartolotta and appointed the police committee.

The results were predictable — a year-long political fiasco and mess that has created what will be long-lasting divisions throughut the city.

On Longboat Key, the abdication of leadership occurred on two levels — a failure of the town manager to do his jobs; and a lack of courage in the commissioners to push the town manager to do the jobs he is paid to do.

You may recall, when budget discussions commenced last April, Commissioner David Brenner challenged Town Manager Bruce St. Denis to be as aggressive as he could scrutinizing how Town Hall operations could become more efficient and less costly. As Brenner correctly noted, based on his business experience, economic downturns give business managers the best opportunity to slice away plaque and inefficiencies that inevitably build up during prosperous periods.

Unfortunately, St. Denis did not present any dramatic changes or suggestions to his board of directors, the Town Commission.

Rather than stand firm as a board, the commission majority, as it has in the past, didn’t press St. Denis.

Instead, it opted to create a subcommittee of citizens that will examine Town Hall’s operations.

This process is just beginning to unfold into its own cocoon of bureaucracy — committee members need to be evaluated and appointed; ground rules established; reporting procedures specified and so on. By the time this evaluation is completed, the Town Commission will be ready for the next budget hearing.
Everyone means well. Even in the appointing of a subcommittee to address Longboat Key’s Vision Plan.

But that, too, is starting to devolve into committee quicksand. One of the debates at a recent subcommittee meeting, for instance, was: Should the Vision Plan be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan? That debate could go on forever.

We have always maintained a skepticism of vision plans and state-mandated comprehensive plans. These plans inevitably result in exactly what we have — a vision plan that sits on a shelf and is periodically debated and a comprehensive plan that is as complicated as computer code and as clear as mud.

We know a democratic republic will never be as efficient as an entrepreneur-owned business. And we know a lot of smart people say government can never operate like a business.

But we’re not so sure it seriously has been tried. A good place to start: Municipal governments with strong, elected CEO mayors. When cities have one strong leader, there’s accountability, efficiencies and performance. There’s no need for a committee.

Members of Longboat Key Turtle Watch Inc. will conduct an excavation of a turtle nest at 8 p.m. Friday on the beach opposite 6417 Gulfside Drive.

The Turtle Watchers are inviting the public, rain or shine (unless there’s lightning).

The group says parking is available at the rear of the ResortQuest and Longboat Key Financial Group building at 6350 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

But a word of caution if you attend: Be aware of private property.  

Casa del Mar Beach Resort General Manager D.M. Williams reported that when a similar excavation was conducted recently near his resort, hard rains and wind interrupted the event. To take shelter, some of the attendees apparently used some of Casa del Mar’s beach umbrellas, with some of them ending up broken in the process.

It never changes. They just can’t help themselves. In fact, you can say it is as American as apple pie, albeit rotten apple pie. That is, the mudslinging, truth-bending, lying, distorting, sleazy political campaign advertising that bombards us.

Florida’s Republican gubernatorial candidates, Bill McCullom and Rick Scott, are becoming masters of it, or rather their “527” organizations are.

These organizations, thanks to the slimy, self-preserving political do-dos in Washington, can claim tax-exempt status as “political organizations” under section 527 of the federal tax code and are not subject to the same disclosure and contribution restrictions as candidates.

As such, all of the big-time candidates use these stealth organizations and often say they know nothing about them, i.e. McCullom. Scott is open about his; it carries the same name as his campaign slogan, “Let’s Get to Work.”

McCullom’s 527 groups, primarily Florida First Initiative and the Alliance for America’s Future, are clearly the worst of the bunch when it comes to twisting the truth.

You’ve heard the ads. They say one of Scott’s hospitals, when he was CEO of Columbia/HCA, “even turned away a poor man and left him to die outside their door.”

Thanks to, the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald website that operates what it calls a political “truth-o-meter,” its researchers determined the patient “was not turned away, as the ad claims. He received some care before he was shown the door. Also, court records state Anguiano wasn’t intentionally left to die.”

Likewise, determined Scott tried to really stretch the truth in a mail piece that alleges McCullom has accepted thousands from lobbyists for Planned Parenthood.

The statement is true. It’s a fact. McCullom did receive a few thousand dollars from a law firm that represented Planned Parenthood. But at the time the firm contributed to McCullom’s campaign, it was not a registered lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, according to

Tit-for-tat. Mud ball here, mud ball there.

And it’s going to go on and on and on.

We poor voters. To some extent we can thank for ferreting out what’s true or false. But even has its biases. You can detect them in the article’s word selection. Still, it’s about the best political truth-o-meter out there.

Much of this sliminess can be avoided. At one time, the nation’s media companies had standards. They would not print or air advertisements that were false or misleading. After all, that goes to the heart of their chief asset — credibility. Some companies even went to the trouble of requiring ads to be fact-checked or proven true before they were aired or printed.

But these days, broadcast media have fallen into the pop-culture ditches. They have become the primary purveyors of the problem.

The ultimate fix? Push the “off” button and turn them off.

POLITIFACT.COM, a website created and maintained by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, rates candidates’ statements for their truth. Here’s the scoring so far on the statements it has tracked for Florida’s two Republican gubernatorial candidates, Bill McCullom and Rick Scott. To see more, go to

                         McCullom    Scott
True                  2                 1      
Mostly True      0                  3     
Half True          1                  2     
Barely True      0                  2     
False                1                  1     
Pants on Fire   0                   1       


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