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Our View

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 22, 2009
  • Sarasota
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“Even so, here we are a month into this police fiasco and, from the outside, it appears the urgency and efforts to bring this matter to a decisive conclusion have dissipated. Count on this: This story will drag on for at least six months, if not longer, especially now that there will be a “blue-ribbon” committee involved. We all know what you get from a committee.”
Our View, The Sarasota Observer
July 23, 2009

The prediction was six months. It’s now Oct. 22 — three months into the Sarasota police-beating-payoff scandal, and the City Commission this week completed the selection of 11 Sarasotans to serve on a panel to assess the Sarasota Police Department’s relationship with the community.

The prediction was wrong. We’ll be reading about this ordeal for at least a year.

And that’s not even counting the four-member citizens panel that will review the department’s practices.

It won’t be long before the City Commission will be calling for a citywide seance on the police department.

If you have served on a committee or board, you know how this will go. The group must now organize — select a chairman and leader, which is a process in itself; yickity-yack about its mission, vision and scope, another laborious process; delegate to committees who is going to do what; and on and on.

Meantime, Rome burns.

Commissioner Terry Turner was right. Let the city manager do his job.

Robert Bartolotta was hired to lead and manage the operations of city government, which includes the police department. The commissioners were voted into office to set policy, not to form committees to decide how and whether the police department is doing its job.

This reminds us of the story of Ralph Hunter, founder of The Longboat Observer. Before he started Longboat Key’s weekly newspaper in 1978, he started a radio station on Cape Cod. To fund it, he raised money from about a dozen investors. As Hunter tells it, not until after the radio station began operating did he realize that having that many owners would be as problematic as it had become.

“I didn’t have 12 partners,” Hunter said. “I had 24 partners — all of my partners’ spouses, too. And they all told me how to run the radio station.”

Hunter solved the problem: He sold the radio station.

It seems elementary. The board of directors (i.e. City Commission) hires a chief executive (i.e. city manager) to run the company, add value to shareholders’ stock and carry out the vision and mission of the organization. The chief executive in turn hires the people (police chief, finance director, public works director, etc.) he believes are suited to execute what he has been charged to do.

Then everyone is measured, scored and held accountable. If there’s a breakdown in the operations, the chief executive is responsible for correcting the breakdown and holding his managers accountable.

If the breakdown is serious, you’d expect the CEO to inform the board and convey how he plans to correct the problem. The board members’ job, in this instance, is to question the CEO, offer suggestions, advice and counsel. Assure themselves that the CEO is taking appropriate action but stay out of the day-to-day operations. Don’t meddle like the husbands and wives of Hunter’s radio station.

In Sarasota, that’s a dream.

The ensuing morass soon will consume hours of unproductive time. And this all stems from the top — from the five-headed body, of which only one head (Commissioner Turner) knows what should be done.

+ Fire the regulators
The revelation by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last week that Bill Griffin was ostensibly the owner of the now-failed American Keystone Insurance Co. was, quite simply, extraordinary.

First: Griffin’s impudence. It’s beyond comprehension how, after the humiliation of serving prison time for illegal campaign contributions and being banned for life from the insurance industry by the court, he would even entertain the idea of going back into the insurance business.

You would think he at least would have queried authorities beforehand on the possibility of having the ban overturned.

Second: What’s the point of having insurance regulators?

In the case of American Keystone, state insurance regulators missed Griffin’s connections to the ownership of the company (his son-in-law was an owner and one of the operating officers). And then the regulators missed the American Keystone’s fatally flawed financial condition.

We’ll be shocked if we read a future news story reporting the firing of state regulators for not doing their jobs. We won’t be shocked if state legislators adopt new laws and regulations for regulators to enforce to prevent what they were supposed to be regulating in the first place. Regulators rule.