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Abundance of arrogance sits poorly with voters

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published March 18, 2004

Notes from all over, namely Clearwater, Pasco, Hernando, Tampa, Treasure Island and Dunedin:

There's a broader message in the result of last Tuesday's referendums in Clearwater. Voters killed six of the 11 items on the ballot, the headliner being grander hopes for the downtown waterfront. (Clearwater voters frequently are skeptical of grand downtown hopes, but City Hall keeps tryin'.)

A common theme of the rejected items was whether the government should get a longer leash. City officials wanted more leeway to change the waterfront, and to sell or lease public land. City commissioners also wanted longer terms - don't they always?

But voters are sort of ornery about more government power. So, on a larger point: Do you really think the Florida Legislature is going to be able to trick voters into giving up their petition power to amend the Constitution? Nah.

Also big news Tuesday was the decision of Pasco voters to pass a 1-cent sales tax, to be split among schools, county government and cities. It took moving the election to March, and campaigning with tax dollars, but it was a minor miracle nonetheless.

Again, here's the larger moral: It was schools that sold it. Floridians are casting off their old no-tax reflex and demanding better schools than our political system can produce. Look at the class-size amendment. Schools, not county government, won that election in Pasco. You can find further evidence in Hernando, where a school tax passed, but a separate county tax failed.

(P.S., advice to the Hernando County Commission: Next time you're trying to sell a tax to the voters, you probably shouldn't include the promise of "more government facilities" in your ads.)

In Tampa, Mayor Pam Iorio continues to do exactly what she wants. Flying smack in the face of the controversy over same-sex marriage, she signed an executive order extending employment benefits to same-sex couples and unmarried domestic partners.

Did I say, flying in the face of? Maybe she used the marriage debate as cover for doing what, by comparison, seems reasonable. Perpetual decency crusader David Caton said it was "offensive ... to extend special benefits to employees based on how they have sex." I agree with Caton 100 percent - job benefits should not depend on that - which is exactly why Iorio did the right thing.

Also in Tampa, here's more unsolicited advice for HARTline, the county bus agency: When you get a critical audit, you are not going to get any sympathy by attacking the auditor personally.

Let's see here: The draft report says your agency ran up bills without board approval, diverted federal funds and awarded contracts without the proper procedure. Your spokesman's defense that the county's auditor is on a "witch hunt" gets you zip.

Actually, it makes you look kinda stupid.

Over in the Pinellas beach community of Treasure Island, remember the bitter fight over the beach's future? The old beach bars and mom-and-pop hotels were to be swept away by a new generation of high-rise hotels. Even as voters were petitioning to stop it, the City Commission rammed through an ordinance to trump the voters.

Arrogance has its price. The voters completed their revenge Tuesday, throwing out longtime commissioners Irving "Butch" Ellsworth and Barbara Blush. To quote a whole bunch of French guys, not to mention Les Miz: liberty, equality, fraternity!

Lastly, in Dunedin, here's a good word for City Commissioner Bob Hackworth, who recently realized that he and his colleagues had helped guzzle down $900 worth of free wine at a party last year for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Citizens with good memories will recall that Dunedin officials already had been on the hot seat for freebies. So they passed a policy cracking down on gifts. However, in this case, they claimed a loophole: The $900 worth of wine was a gift to "the city," and not the individual politicians doing the drinkin'.

I hope "the city" didn't have a hangover the next day.

Anyhow, Hackworth found this out after the fact, calculated his share of the tab, and sent a $50 check. I say, send this man to Tallahassee. No, wait, let's don't. It would be a shame to ruin him.

[Last modified March 18, 2004, 01:20:35]


Times columns today
Howard Troxler: Abundance of arrogance sits poorly with voters
Gary Shelton: An inconvenient Cinderella
Ernest Hooper: City shows Latin flavor; Rock in role treats troops
Shannon Colavecchio-van Sickler and Chris Goffard: Award is for bravery, not weapon fired

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