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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2012 5 years ago

Our View: Make a decision


It’s good the Longboat Key Town Commission appears ready to take away the “interim” from Interim Town Manager David Bullock’s title. Offering him a three-year contract is the right move for everyone involved.
Indeed, it didn’t take Bullock long to show his bosses on the commission, as well as show Longboat Key residents and businesses, that he is the right candidate for the job.

We hope for everyone’s sake the commission will craft the contract and — how should we say this politely? — make a decision.

Don’t discuss it anymore. Hire Bullock and be done with it.

That would be a big step for this commission — making a decision.

It’s not our intent to be critical or hypercritical of our current sitting commissioners. After years of observing one succeeding class of commissioners after another, we get it: Government moves at a far slower pace than the private-sector business world, and there is good reason for that.

When someone lobs a proposal on the dais to, say, change the town’s rules, if you’re in one of those commission chairs, you want to make sure you take the time to do the right thing. You want to hear what your constituents have to say — pro and con. You want the facts. You want context. And you want to think through the intended and potential unintended consequences before you vote to make it law.

You try your best to follow Edward Deming’s first rule of total quality manufacturing: Do it right the first time.

On that process, give our sitting commissioners an “A.”

But there also comes a time: Make a decision.

For a commission that recognized the need for a lot of changes at Town Hall, making decisions appears to be an issue. That came more into focus with last week’s front-page headlines in the Longboat Observer:

• “Overlay discussion delayed.” That’s the Whitney Beach Plaza issue.

• “On Hold: Cellular talk comes down to the wire.” The report said the commission is unlikely to address the cell-tower issue until the fall.

Imagine being cell-tower applicant Jim Eatrides. If we were he, we probably would have pulled out of Longboat Key years ago. Likewise, former Longboat Key Mayor Jeremy Whatmough must be tired of keeping that sign — “No 150 Ft. Cell Tower — in his front yard. It’s probably starting to take root.

Go down the list:

Pending decisions
• Cell tower
• Whitney Beach overlay district
• Dogs on the beach
• Community center committee
• Town-employee pension plans
• Zoning-code and comprehensive-plan reviews

• Fate of the former planning, zoning and building director.
• Approving the Publix-Avenue of the Flowers redevelopment.
• Seeking the resignation of former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis and the hiring of Interim Town Manager David Bullock.

All but the hiring of Bullock, mind you, came with a level of drawn-out drama. With Publix, for instance, the developer of the project essentially told commissioners last fall that he couldn’t tolerate any more discussions. Make a decision, he told them, or we’re out.

Hey, it’s not easy. With most of the commission’s decisions, there are always losers whose concerns frequently are as valid as those of the winners. It’s difficult to disappoint them.

At the same time, a lack of forthright decision making creates an air of uncertainty. And uncertainty is costly. Look at what tax uncertainty in Washington does to consumers, business and the economy. Publix held off from making a decision to redevelop while it watched for more than two years to see how the Town Commission would respond to the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed redevelopment. Or look at what is happening to residential real-estate sales on the north end of Longboat Key. Buyers have trepidation, Realtors say, because they’re uncertain about the fate of the cell-tower issue. This uncertainty creates costs that ripple through the local economy.

We would not profess to be a better decision maker on the issues town commissioners face. But the unfinished to-do list reminds us of the advice that business coaches and military leaders frequently dispense: Make your list of to-do’s; prioritize them. Make decisions the best you can — and be prepared to live with the results. You won’t always be right. But at least you made a decision. That’s what leaders are expected to do.

The subject of signage is always a ticklish one on Longboat Key.

Ask any business owner what he thinks of the town’s sign codes, and he’s likely to launch into orbit about how overly restrictive and anti-business they are.

In contrast, residents will say one of the features they like about Longboat Key is that Gulf of Mexico Drive doesn’t look like Tamiami Trail. Visitors are in between. We often have heard them rave about the looks of the Key, but they say they can’t find anything — there’s so little signage.

Well aware of the signage challenges for businesses, the developer of the new CVS and Publix stores, Avenue of the Flowers Acquisition Co. LLC, was hoping members of the Longboat Key Zoning Board of Adjustment just might grant it a hadrship variance and allow two red, lighted CVS signs on its new building. Town codes only allow one.

As originally proposed, the single, permitted lighted sign would be erected on the store’s east wall — facing the new Publix store. But the developer wanted passersby on Bay Isles Parkway and, to some extent, on Gulf of Mexico Drive to be able to identify the store by having a second sign erected on the wall near the front door, which faces southwest.

Noting such facts as the CVS will have its name on the marquee on Gulf of Mexico Drive; that the town codes require factual proof of a hardship; and town staff recommended denial, the zoning board rejected the request. The law clearly is on the side of the zoning board — even though the second sign hardly would have been a nuisance. The law is the law.

Based on the new elevation of the Publix and CVS stores, our bet is most everyone still will be able to find CVS without the second sign.

Here is something else CVS and the developer will find out, just as all Longboat Key businesses have:
In spite of how annoying the sign code is, you learn to live with it. It’s detrimental to business, yes, but it is what it is. It’s one of the prices of being on Longboat Key.

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