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Our View: Destined to mediocrity?

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 23, 2012
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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Congratulations to the citizens of Pensacola. They had the courage to recognize and admit their city was going nowhere, and that it needed a leader, a champion, to raise it up. The status quo was not working.
We’re referring to the story on this week’s front page about Pensacola’s adoption in 2009 of an elected CEO mayor. Sarasotans: Take note.

It seems so elementary, that everyone would get this — that any enterprise, organization, army, school, classroom, sports team or government needs a leader. Sun Tzu spelled this out in 500 B.C. in his “Art of War.” The “commander” was one of his five constant factors in determining how to execute the objective, in determining how to get from point A to B.

You would think everyone would understand this and accept it as a given. But obviously not, not in the city of Sarasota.

We have the likes of former Mayor Mollie Cardamone, who chastised Commissioner Paul Caragiulo Monday night for having the audacity to present a charter amendment proposal that would have sought the wishes of city voters on what type of government they want. Isn’t that government by the people? Doesn’t he have the responsibility to propose what he believes to be right?

But no, Cardamone looked at Caragiulo at the City Commission meeting and said: “I did not vote to elect any commissioner to change our form of government. I feel duped and ashamed I didn’t see through you …”

Oh, puleez. And why didn’t she slap Commissioner Terry Turner, architect of another charter amendment that proposes to change the city’s government — extracting responsibilities from the city auditor and creating a “strong” city manager?

Sadly, Cardamone, Turner, Commissioner Shannon Snyder and Vice Mayor Willie Shaw are part of the contingent of Sarasota naysayers who apparently believe the commission-city manager form of government is working just fine and has worked just fine.

Are you kidding?

As is always the case in the city of Sarasota, the Nabobs of Negativity like to throw darts at anyone who suggests moving the city’s cheese, taking a risk or doing something outside the boundaries of historical mediocrity. (Remember the Ringling Bridge?)

They’re quick to shoot: “The timing is wrong” … “It’s poorly crafted” … “It will disenfranchise” … “Why do this? The strong mayor idea has gone down to defeat three prevous times” … Waaa, waaa, waaa.

It’s never a good time for those whose are happy with the status quo. They seem to live to keep doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the results.

Surely, though, they can see what so many in this community plainly see: The City Commission, its decisions and the management of City Hall are dismissed as embarrassments. Bring up the subject of the City Commission and City Hall in any conversation, and it triggers a diatribe resuscitation of boneheaded decision making. Indeed, think long and hard for the last time you heard anyone praise the commission or City Hall.

Doesn’t that concern you?

Of course, everyone likes to criticize his local politicians and government. But the degree to which Sarasota residents and business owners dismiss the City Commission is such that if it were a for-profit business, shareholders would be revolting — canning the CEO and every director. It’s a crisis.

Where is the vision? What is the vision? Who is in charge? Who is the commander to lead the army?
There is no vision. There is no commander. There is a committee. And we all know what we get from a committee: Perpetual mediocrity — at best.

To think the new city manager, Thomas Barwin, is going to work miracles and magically fix all that is amiss at City Hall and be the commander to lead the city to the mountaintop is delusional. No matter who the manager is or how skilled he may be, he will encounter the same dysfunction that has existed the past 20 years — an elected group of directors/commissioners who bend to the nabobs who want to keep Sarasota stuck in the past.

OK, so maybe Caragiulo’s proposal wasn’t perfect and, as he said, was “a work in process.” So what. Life is always a work in process. But at least Caragiulo has the vision to see — living it daily — that what exists is a disaster and has the courage to try to make things better.

The nabobs’ response — including Commission Turner in that bunch — was typical. Rather than embrace an idea and try to discuss a way to make it work, it’s dismissed with disdain. An alternative might have been an adult discussion along this approach: What about postponing Turner’s charter amendment until March and placing both proposals on the ballot at once? Have a healthy, public debate about both, and let the people speak.

Caragiulo is not giving up. And he shouldn’t. He’ll obtain the required voter signatures in a petition, and it will end up on a future ballot. Perhaps it is better this way.

Sarasotans will have time to see how the vision-less, leaderless City Commission will remain an obstacle for an effective City Hall and city manager. And the elected-mayor proponents will have the time to shape their case. They have a model in Pensacola.

The nabobs, in the meantime, will have their usual choice — remain part of the problem or be part of the solution. One day we hope they face up to what the voters of Pensacola clearly realized: No matter how many mid-size cities use the commission-manager form of government, it is a recipe for guaranteed mediocrity — a condition everyone should refuse to accept.

By now, everyone knows if Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is to win the presidency, he must carry Florida’s 29 electoral college votes.
Florida is one of the swing states. And indeed Florida is considered a “swinger” because of recent history:
• 1996: Bill Clinton won 48% and Bob Dole won 42.3%
• 2000: George W. Bush and Al Gore each received 48.8% of the vote, with Bush winning by 537 votes.
• 2004: Bush won 52% of the vote to John Kerry’s 47.1%.
• 2008: Obama won 51% to John McCain’s 48.2%
Now consider the registered-voter breakdown: Democrats: 40%; Republicans: 36.1%; NPA (non-party affiliates): 20.8%
Clearly, the non-party affiliates, or independents, will be crucial to the outcome. And this brings us to one of the most important factors, according to Dr. Susan McManus, Florida’s political science expert at the University of South Florida: Voter turnout.
McManus told us recently that turnout is everything. Whichever party is most effective getting their people to the polls will determine the winner.
By that criterion, the Republicans have the advantage. In the last two presidential elections, Republicans outvoted Democrats in terms of having a higher percentage of their party’s registered voters vote — by 9 and 18 percentage points.
What’s more, McManus says, in this year’s election she is expecting the conservative, white soccer moms to turn out, whereas in 2008 many didn’t vote because of Sarah Palin. Add to this Obama’s approval among suburban whites in Florida is dropping precipitously.
In the end, though, as it often does, the vote is going to come down to the I-4 corridor — who wins Orange (Orlando), Osceola (Disney workers), Hillsborough (Tampa), Pinellas and Volusia (Daytona Beach) counties.
Osceola, Hillsborough and Pinellas each voted for Bush in 2004, Obama in 2008. Volusia voted Democratic in 2004 and 2008, but voted for Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2010. Orange is always Democratic, but its margins have been shrinking.

The website, an interactive site that predicts electoral college votes, estimates the following if the election were held today:
• Obama — 201
• Romney — 191
Needed to win — 270

Colorado 9
Ohio 18
Florida 29
Pennsylvania 20
Iowa 6
Virginia 13
Nevada 6
Wisconsin 10
N. Carolina 15


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