Officials need to be both prepared and accountable

A Times Editorial
Published August 25, 2006

It pays to be prepared.

So Pinellas County officials have contacted Wal-Mart to let the company know that if it ever decides to abandon a proposed plan for a supercenter in Tarpon Springs, the county might want to bid for the land.

Wal-Mart isn't thinking of throwing in the towel, despite continuing community opposition to the supercenter.

However, it is having to redesign an entry road into the 74-acre property, which is on U.S. 19 along the south bank of the Anclote River, to avoid a small patch of wetlands.

Wal-Mart previously had received permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to destroy the wetlands, but the corps took the rare move of withdrawing that permit after learning from local supercenter opponents that Wal-Mart didn't meet all the criteria for that type of permit.

The Army Corps or Engineers didn't know - and why didn't it? - that the wetlands bordered a protected aquatic preserve, which made the project ineligible for the permit.

This victory by the opponents has given them new adrenaline to continue their fight against the Wal-Mart project. It also has persuaded the county government to speak up about its interest in the property, just in case this or future victories by the opposition persuade Wal-Mart to go away.

The county has long had an interest in the land, which has wetlands, hundreds of mature trees and direct river access. The county had even expressed that interest to Tarpon Springs officials long before Wal-Mart came along.

However, the county was rebuffed in a letter from then-Tarpon Springs Mayor Frank DiDonato, who wrote that the City Commission wanted to see the site developed for the economic benefits that would accrue to the community.

The county should continue to whisper its interest in Wal-Mart's ear as the battle proceeds.

Being accountable

This is refreshing.

A Largo police officer didn't take all the steps that should have been taken while investigating a hit-and-run accident that injured three people.

The Largo Police Department investigated the officer's performance, and Largo police Chief Lester Aradi suspended the officer for 40 hours - a significant punishment.

Aradi didn't try to soft-pedal the situation when he spoke to the Times: "This was a serious case that was seriously mishandled," he said.

And the guilty officer took full responsibility. "There's no excuse for not doing this job absolutely perfect every time," he said.

No excuses. No arguing over whether punishment was warranted.

That kind of accountability leads to a well-disciplined police force.