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Meritocracy at Town Hall

Longboat Key Town Manager David Bullock is implementing a private-sector, pay-for-performance system at Town Hall. He’s proving once again he’s not your ordinary government guy.


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It was extraordinary news. And it made the front page — at least it did in the Longboat Observer, as it should have. We only can imagine the kind of national “play” it would have received had the same news been announced by the mayors or city managers of, say, New York City, Boston or Washington, D.C. Or, for that matter, by Florida Gov. Rick Scott or the cabinet members of the 15 executive departments of the federal government.

It would have rocked the national media (at least the political media, not the dumbed-down celebrity sycophants).

Major kudos to Longboat Key Town Manager David Bullock. In a move that disrupts entrenched government thinking, Bullock has adopted a merit-based, incentive-based pay plan for the town’s general employees. 

Rather than gift everyone the standard, socialistic, government-style, one-size-fits-all, equal raise for every employee regardless of his contribution, Bullock has adopted the private-sector approach of pay for performance.

Town Manager David Bullock
Town Manager David Bullock

We cheered his comment to Senior Editor Kurt Schultheis: “I’m a firm believer in giving raises to those employees who stand out and not just to those who show up for work each day to collect a paycheck.” 

The sweet sound of a meritocracy and capitalist at heart.

That is the way it should be at every level of government. Incentives. Objectives to achieve. Accountability. Every private-sector employer knows that crafting compensation plans customized to affect individual employees’ behavior will raise the organization’s overall level of performance. That same approach also is often applied to teams within an organization — rewarding team performance as well as individual performance.

The positive effects of this approach are palpable and tangible. They create an energized culture that flows from within the organization to the outside. Motivated, upbeat employees in turn translate their enthusiasm to the way they interact with customers. Everybody wins.

To be sure, it will take commitment and persistence for Bullock to transform Town Hall’s culture to one focused on achieving objectives and measuring performance. But if he sticks with it, Bullock will have proven what so many government officials and politicians deny is possible: that you can run government like a business.

We hope he succeeds. At the very least, Bullock deserves credit for trying. David Bullock is demonstrating once again he is not your everyday, stereotypical government bureaucrat.    

PRIVATE SECTOR SHOULD BUILD IT

It’s back. The call for a downtown Sarasota conference center.

Here we go again.

You would be hard pressed to disagree with the idea that Sarasota would make a great place for out-of-town business groups and associations to have their annual conferences. We have it all here — weather, physical beauty, beaches, restaurants, cultural events and, to an increasing extent, shopping.

And we know: It’s not exaggerating to say people who come here for the first time from out of town become smitten with the Sarasota area. To be sure, Sarasota would be a great place for a conference center. And having a downtown conference center that hosts out-of-town guests year-round would be great for the local economy. 

That kind of tourism is a wonderful export. We sell our goods and services to outsiders, and they bring in new dollars to the community, boosting the wealth of the local economy. What’s more, one of the great things is, like snowbirds, conference center attendees go back home.

Long-time Sarasota businessman/entrepreneur Charles Githler has been making these arguments for more than 20 years. As noted recently in a  Sarasota Observer report, Githler is at it again — trying with his senior vice president at Githler Development, Andy Dorr, to rally public and political support for a tax-revenue-subsidized conference center.

Not a convention center, mind you. A conference center, a smaller venue. 

Apparently, Sarasota County commissioners are warming up to the idea. As the Sarasota Observer reported, county Commissioners Carolyn Mason, Paul Caragiulo and Alan Maio have expressed support for such a venue.

Great idea. Sure. But what about the funding?

Githler, Dorr and former county Commissioner Joe Barbetta spoke of a partnership of a private developer and conference center taxing authority that would issue, say, $10 million to $20 million in bonds, which would be repaid from the county’s tourist-tax revenues. Dorr estimated such a center might require, say, $500,000 to $1 million a year in public funding for operations.

Dorr told the Sarasota Observer a conference center with 80 meetings a year could generate $60 million a year in economic impact.

It’s sounds appealing and tempting.

But the story hasn’t changed. Economic textbooks and think-tank studies are full of data and narratives showing public-funded sports stadia, convention centers, aquaria, high-speed rail systems and conference centers never live up to their economic predictions and expectations.

To be blunt, if a downtown conference center is such a profitable idea, then why aren’t Githler and Dorr developing one themselves? Why aren’t hotel, resort and meeting operators pooling their private investment capital to build and operate a private conference center?

One of the ironies is that Githler pretty much falls into the category of a laissez-faire, free-market economics libertarian. But on this subject, that of a conference center, he has had an Achilles heel. Sorry, Charlie, we can’t help but think of the late Milton Friedman’s great book, “Free to Choose” in this instance. In it, Friedman notes that one of the peculiarities of many titans of American business has always been this: When it comes to seeking government subsidies, business is almost always the first in line.

For years, we have lamented the no-growth, anti-business policies of the Sarasota City Commission and, to a lesser extent, the Sarasota County Commission. Their land-use and regulatory regimes make it difficult for business and economic development. What’s more, Sarasota taxpayers have made it known over the years they don’t cotton much to the idea of subsidizing the tourism industry.

Sure, conference-center proponents can make the argument that local taxpayers would not be subsidizing a conference center; bond repayment would come from tourists paying the bed tax. But even that is a thin argument. Steve Forbes of Forbes magazine, and a friend of Githler, often notes raising prices on any good or service virtually guarantees less demand. Raising tourist-taxes — an inevitable step to cover increased spending demands from a conference center, beach maintenance and tourism promotion — would result in less tourism spending than might otherwise occur. Tax rates matter.

We would cheer the addition of more conference space in Sarasota. It’s needed, and there is demand for it. But we would cheer louder if it came from the private sector.

R.B. Chips Shore
R.B. Chips Shore

A LEGENDARY PUBLIC SERVANT 

R.B. “Chips” Shore, the Manatee County Clerk of Courts for the past 38 years, died unexpectedly last week. He was 74.

Probably unbeknown to most  Manatee residents, Shore was a living legend in his field — nationally and statewide.

Shore pioneered giving the public access to public records online. He was the first in Florida to do so. He was among the first in the country to establish electronic court records. And whenever there were any advancements in the field of court clerks, Shore was at the forefront, forging new paths.

While Shore was a visionary in his field, Shore’s best attribute by far was his integrity. It would be difficult to find a more honest, trustworthy public servant than R.B. “Chips” Shore.

Nicknamed “Chips” because of his squirrel-like cheeks when he was a baby, Shore was the antithesis of a slick, ego-centric politician. He was one of the few elected officials over the past four decades whom voters happily re-elected because of his humility, integrity, likability and competence.   

 

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