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    Letters to the Editors

    Limits put on public comment out of line

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 11, 2002

    Re: Commission limits public comment to 30 minutes, story, Dec. 18.

    It is clear that the train of abuses and usurpations by the Clearwater City Commission in the name of developers knows no bounds, not even the Bill of Rights.

    With a unanimous vote, the commission not only limited public comment to 30 minutes per issue, but also placed restrictions on behavior of the attending public that permit the mayor to eject anyone he believes threatens his agenda.

    This commission isn't content with ceding public beach access to developers; it wants to keep citizens from yelling thief.

    Under the 30-minute limit, if each citizen uses his alloted three minutes, only 10 citizens can state their case on issues that may change the lives of citizens immensely and forever. According to the Times, "Commissioners insist that the intent of the new speaking rules isn't to limit public debate. Rather, it is to encourage people to put together comprehensive presentations that will help the commission make decisions." This "more is better" doublespeak is meant to conceal a blatant suppression of public comment.

    Members of the general public can't be expected to "put together comprehensive presentations" as if they were professional planners with months of time at their disposal. Commissioner Whitney Gray dissembled on her vote, saying, "It's very hard to be effective and make smart decisions when you've been sitting in one spot for three, four and five hours, and we have to kind of balance that." This dog won't hunt. It assumes that issues must be rushed to a vote, but this is just a tactic to make the developers' hands faster than the public eye.

    Mayor Brian Aungst said that "after a half hour, many public comments seem repetitive and aren't very helpful." If there are more citizens present than time permits, he would "get a show of hands." The fallacy of this condescending rationalization is that the commission would never know whether or not one or more unheard citizens had some important information to add, and, more importantly, the viewing public might miss out on information crucial to judging the decisions of the commission come Election Day.

    Incredibly, the commission went even further. It approved a new policy for decorum, requiring people at public meetings to act at all times in a "respectful and civil manner." In connection with this, it gave the mayor the authority to rule out of order anyone making "obscene, profane, impertinent, irrelevant, immaterial, inflammatory statements or inciting violence or fighting."

    Plus, "there will be no more disruptive noises or signs allowed in the audience."

    The description of "respectful and civil manner" would allow the mayor to eject anyone who represented a threat to his agenda. A speaker who disagrees with the planning director, the city manager, or a commissioner could be thrown out as being "impertinent." Someone wearing a T-shirt protesting commission actions could be tossed out for displaying a disruptive sign. Anyone could be ejected on grounds that what they were saying was irrelevant or immaterial. This rule is so vague it fairly begs to be declared unconstitutional.
    -- W.F. and P.A. Vassar, Clearwater

    Dangerous situation on Starkey Road

    We have had another fatality on Starkey Road very near the entrance to East Bay Oaks mobile home community. The traffic we observe is still in excess of the posted speed limit of 45 mph.

    All the efforts of Island in the Sun, East Bay Oaks and Eldorado Village mobile home parks to have a traffic light installed at the entrance to Island in the Sun to regulate the flow of traffic and give our residents the opportunity to gain access north and south, without fearing for our lives, have been put on the back burner.

    It is very difficult to believe that the commissioners, the mayor and the law enforcement agencies do not recognize the very dangerous problem that exists on this heavily traveled road between Ulmerton Road and East Bay Drive.

    Now, to compound the problem, we have a situation at Starkey Road and 20th Avenue SE, the entrance and exit to a sand and gravel company that is located across from Bridges Restaurant and behind Affordable Aluminum. The unpaved road is a race track for the truckers who enter and exit. They pull their rigs onto Starkey Road and, in many instances, do not stop at the stop sign. Motorists must really be on the alert at this very dangerous intersection.

    Also, the dust cloud that forms as the trucks enter Starkey Road is a hazard as far south as Ulmerton Road. A water wagon on the road could cut down on the dust, and a patrol car in the median for a few days may possibly slow down some of the truckers.
    -- William Phillips, Largo

    Tarpon commissioners not indispensable

    Re: Tarpon may vote on term limits, story, Dec. 27.

    What an affront by the Tarpon Springs City Commission to bring back an issue -- term limits -- after the voters rejected it 3-to-1 a year ago.

    New York City will miss Rudy Giuliani due to term limits, but who on the Tarpon City Commission sees himself as indispensable?
    -- Morton L. Isaacs, Tarpon Springs

    Hinesley is a quality administrator

    As a lifetime resident of Pinellas County and a graduate of Largo High School (1956), I am greatly disturbed by the reaction of some people in the county to the renewing of Dr. Howard Hinesley's contract.

    It sounds to me like these people think you can find that quality of administrator walking the street looking for a job. Believe me, several others have come and gone in that position who did not and could never have helped this county's school system the way Dr. Hinesley has.

    I am thankful we have at least four School Board members with the good sense and guts to keep Dr. Hinesley in place during the upcoming four or five years of school-choice and school-building programs that have already been mandated by the courts and are already under way. No one could walk into his position and manage that situation.

    Personally, I think the two School Board members who voted against retaining him have forgotten they were elected to represent the best interests of Pinellas County's finest -- our children -- and have taken up a personal agenda against Dr. Hinesley. I feel sure that if you check their voting record, you will find they have voted against Dr. Hinesley's recommendations more than they have supported them.

    Come Election Day, those two board members should be replaced with people who are much more qualified to lead our school system than they are.
    -- Don Forehand, Largo

    Traffic enforcement needs work

    Re: Traffic driving Largo mad; police respond, story, Jan. 2.

    While I commend the Largo Police Department for stepping up its traffic enforcement, I have just one question regarding the fact that drivers must be going 15 mph over the limit to get a ticket:

    Are you crazy?

    Law enforcement in this area is so lax it's unbelieveable. Congratulations to Largo that people are actually getting ticketed even at the unbelievable required level of speed over the limit. Maybe there wouldn't be a death per month on U.S. 19 or an accident per week on East Lake Road by East Lake High School if there was actually some enforcement of the laws.

    Never in my life have I seen people drive the way they do here in Florida and that includes the law enforcement officers who are supposed to be setting examples. The road is for everyone, not just the loser who thinks he owns it.

    Sheriff Rice, you can be assured you will not get my vote for sheriff next time and the same goes for the commissioners who allow this to continue. How many letters to the editor (and letters to your offices) will it take for you, Sheriff Rice and the commissioners, to listen?
    -- M. Fanello, Tarpon Springs

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