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Longboat Key Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013 4 years ago

Our View: The new normal: vigilance


It can happen here.

It did happen here. Terrorists were here.

The story has been told many times since Sept. 11, 2001, that Mohammed Atta, one of the infamous World Trade Center murderers, lived in Venice and trained with one of his colleagues on how to pilot a jet.
This newspaper reported a few days after the 9-11 attacks that Atta had been seen at meetings at the restaurant at the Longboat Key Holiday Inn, now the Positano luxury condominium.

And we continue to stand by the report from a former Longboat Key fire inspector — who denied he told us — that a van with several men of Middle Eastern descent tried to get into the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort the morning of the attack to see President Bush but were thwarted at the guard gate and sped off.

It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to become complacent. We complain about the TSA putting us through its torment.

But last week’s Boston Marathon bombings and terrorist manhunt are vivid reminders that this War on Terror — and that’s what it is, Mr. President, accept it! — is continuing and growing increasingly prevalent on our soil. It’s here all right, and has been.

To wit: Since 1990, there have been 19 Islamic terrorist-related attacks — single-person assassinations, shootings and bombings — in the United States, according to a Texas-based researcher. In addition, in the same period, law enforcement officials have thwarted more than 30 Islamic terrorist plottings and attempts in the United States and aimed at the United States.

Terrorism is not going away. Especially when those who plot it see the United States in retreat (pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan and cutting military spending). They are emboldened by what the Tsarnaev brothers inflicted on Boston.

Our fellow Americans in Boston responded as we would expect of Americans — with conviction, competence and compassion. And the lesson they are sending to everyone is that all of us are now charged with living in a state of heightened vigilance.

Don’t ever think it can’t happen here.

+ The best board in town
“I’m not in favor of more meetings, but I question the use of this board if it’s never going to meet.”
Joel Mangel
Longboat Key Code Enforcement Board

Isn’t that good news — that the last eight meetings of the town’s property watchdog have been canceled for lack of code violations to address?

Former Mayor George Spoll attests it’s not that Longboat Key is code-violation free. But there has been a change at Town Hall, and it appears to be for the better.

The way Robin Meyer, director of the Planning, Zoning and Building Department, explains it, the town staff has become particularly efficient at resolving a lot of code violations without the Code Enforcement Board intervening. Which might be another way of saying the relations between Longboat Key citizens and the code-enforcement staff have become more cordial and less confrontational. More sugar and less vinegar.

This is indeed good news. Many Longboat Key commissioners and citizens have long advocated an approach in the planning, zoning and building department that emphasized an attitude of trying to find a way to say “yes,” rather than always a cold, flat “no.”

While Longboaters would expect and want code-enforcement officers to follow and enforce the law, they believe that can be achieved respectfully. Likewise, we would hope Longboat citizens would afford the code enforcers the same respect.

Code-enforcement board members shouldn’t fret if there aren’t meetings. Indeed, there is nothing in the town’s codes requiring a set number of meetings. In fact, board members might even consider themselves lucky to be on the best board in town — one that rarely meets and is rarely needed.

Perhaps we have reached the point when the code board is called together only when it’s necessary. If so, that says a lot about the character of the town and the competence of the town staff.

+ Panhandlers gone!
At last. A reprieve.

Perhaps even elimination.

Thanks to the crafty law drafting of Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier, the Sarasota City Commission outlawed panhandling Tuesday on many of the city’s busiest streets and roadways.

As of April 30, Longboaters and visitors to Longboat Key driving over the John Ringling-Gil Waters Bridge won’t have to endure the panhandlers trudging by their cars.

No doubt the American Civil Liberties Union will find some way to challenge this ordinance. But Fournier sounded confident with city commissioners that he crafted the ordinance as a public-safety issue and not one of infringing on the right of free speech, of which panhandling qualifies.

The city’s new law prohibits individuals from soliciting for “donations, contributions, employment, business or sales or exchanges of any kind” from an occupant of a motor vehicle who is “on the traveled portion of the public roadway.” By extension, the ordinance would prohibit soliciting by standing on medians.

The ordinance does not prohibit people from standing on the sides of streets or on sidewalks with signs advertising businesses or urging voters to support particular candidates.

This was step one for the city in addressing one of the most vexing and high-profile issues affecting the entire region. While panhandling on busy streets is indeed a public-safety issue, it’s also an economic issue. It certainly doesn’t boost tourism and real-estate sales.

The next challenge is controlling it downtown.

To be sure, panhandling is a fact of life. Beggars have walked the streets since the beginning of time. And they come in all varieties — some truly down on their luck, some mentally ill, some addicted to drugs, some lazy and some troublemakers. A panoply of society.

Like most people, though, they, too, respond to incentives. If a panhandler isn’t able to fill his pockets, he’s likely to go elsewhere. The simple answer: Don’t give them anything.

+ RIP: Jim Greer
Condolences to the family of Jim Greer, who died April 19.

Greer was another of Longboat Key’s beloved characters and dedicated citizens. If there was an event on Longboat Key, Greer was there — at the many art-show openings at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts; at everything held at St. Mary, Star of the Sea; and often at Town Commission meetings. He was sometimes colorful with his comments to the commissioners, but far more than that, he was always quick with a compliment.

+ Correction
In last week’s editorial on the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, we incorrectly stated the positions of two slates of candidates vying for seats on the Colony unit owners board. The candidates on each slate do not unanimously support redevelopment or renovation.

We heard the sound on the video again and again — the rapid-fire pop, pop, pop of gunfire that occurred between Watertown, Mass., law enforcement officers and Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In a residential neighborhood, no less.

We heard the Watertown police chief describe the horrifying gun battle between the brothers and six Watertown officers.

The two sides exchanged more than 300 rounds of bullets in furious barrage. The brothers threw bombs at his officers. And in his apparent final, desperate assault, the elder, wounded Tsarnaev charged a Watertown officer with rage, coming within 10 feet of him.

We heard commentators talk about the Chechnyan terrorists being among the most ruthless killers of their lot.

We heard how Massachusetts gun laws did nothing to stop the Tsarnaevs from obtaining their arsenal.

And then on Sunday, U.S. Sen. Diane Feingold continued to argue in favor of banning “assault weapons” in America.

Use a shotgun, she said.

Yeah, shoot it in the air from your porch. That’ll stop ’em.

Get a grip, anti-gunners. This is real.

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