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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 15, 2009
  • Sarasota
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Seriously. Anyone who understands the importance of economic vitality in a community must be thinking: What more needs to happen before the citizens and voters of Sarasota solve their mayoral leadership vacuum with an elected CEO mayor?

Just read the city news stories in this week’s Sarasota Observer:

Page 1:
A city employee recommends against holiday lights in the trees at Five Points Park because they’ll be a lightning risk and will stunt the trees’ growth. Never mind that Americans have been doing this every year since … when? — since the mid-1800s!

Page 3: A small citizens group, whose leaders include Sarasota Mayor Dick Clapp and Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, protested and stopped (at least for now) a new restuarant’s efforts to replace a scruffy patch of dirt and cigarette butts on Main Street with pavers and landscaping so he could accommodate outdoor dining.

Forget the fact Sarasota’s unemployment rate is double digits, that Main Street businesses have been closing and gasping through the recession. Big deal. Protecting a 110-foot patch of “greenspace” is more important.

Indeed, instead of taking demonstrative steps to help businesses that can improve Main Street and generate tax dollars and instead of putting economic growth and vitality at the top of his agenda, Mayor Clapp is part of the secretive Save-Our-Sarasota squad (a misnomer of a name, by the way) that uses the full force of the city’s bureaucracy to snuff out entrepreneurism and economic growth.

Instead of becoming an ambassador and leader determined to do what he can to revive his city’s ailing economy, Sarasota residents have watched Clapp take stands on such vital issues as wanting the City Commission to vote a show of support for whacko-Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s efforts to create a national Department of Peace and, more recently, to take a stand against offshore drilling.

With every passing of the mayoral gavel, this is what Sarasota always gets — a continuation of slow, littoral drift; bowls of cold, pasty oatmeal; no sense of decisiveness or forward progress.
Here’s a suggestion for Mayor Clapp: Walk both sides of Main Street, the full distance. Do the same on St. Armands Circle, the Rosemary District and Burns Square. Ask the business owners and property owners what they would appreciate from their city government that would improve the business climate and make it easier for them to thrive and grow. Take the comments to heart.

These streets are the city’s economic engines. If you and your commission colleagues want to quit cutting the budget because of declining revenues, focus on an agenda that addresses how City Hall can ease businesses’ bureaucratic burdens.

This is supply-side economics. If your city’s businesses grow, so will the city’s tax collections.
Quit focusing on 110-foot patches of dirt.

+ Get the facts on drilling
It’s the “PC” thing du juor for City Commissions (Sarasota), Town Commissions (Longboat Key) and City Councils on Florida’s Gulf Coast. They’re all adopting resolutions opposing offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in state and federal waters.

And it’s the same old, tired blather: Oil drilling will destroy Florida’s tourism industry! … The oil is so minimal that its drilling is not worth the environmental risk involved … We need to abandon oil and shift to green energy sources. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Here’s one aspect that is hugely disappointing in all of this: Nowhere, to our knowledge, has any of these official votes been conducted with the least bit of factual data about the risks involved to the environment and the tourism economy. Each of these bodies simply makes an immediate emotional leap of hysteria: Oil drilling! OMG. No way!

Who cares about facts.

To that end, have we missed the national news stories about the residents of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and California rioting, protesting and demanding that the offshore oil rigs be shut down and dismantled because of the horrible economic and environmental atrocities they have rendered? That the rigs have destroyed those states’ tourism economies and massacred sea turtles and other sea-going urchins?

Not one. Never. Nada.

In that vein, we’re sharing with you two letters to the editor written by an extraordinarily knowledgeable petroleum geologist who lives on Longboat Key, who also happens to be just as much of an environmentalist as anyone else. His letters will enlighten you on the risks of offshore drilling.

He forwarded the letters to us because his efforts to respond to anti-drilling editorials in two of the region’s daily newspapers apparently were ignored. They did not publish the letters. We will. See box below.