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Perhaps 'Tomorrow Matters!' matters

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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


Imagine a Tampa Bay in which things other than boobs and booze are important.

Talk about your impossible dreams.

Some people don't think so.

They've formed a group called Tomorrow Matters!

The exclamation point is all I would change. It suggests they're afraid nobody will take them seriously so they added the ! to draw extra attention to themselves.

Kind of like Jeb!

But it sure worked for him.

Tomorrow Matters! organized quietly last fall to tackle the problems that plague Tampa Bay.

The Uglies, I call them.

Roads you survive when you drive them only by grace of a miracle.

Social values that put more emphasis on stadiums than on how healthy we are, how educated.

Economic competition over which mall is bigger, and not on whether the companies that relocate here bring with them innovation, decent salaries and a chance for ordinary men and women to move up.

Tomorrow Matters! was begun by Dena Leavengood, president of the Hillsborough County League of Women Voters. She has been joined by the usual crowd of do-gooders, like the Sierra Club.

Leavengood's goal was grand, maybe too grand: to educate the public and politicians that when public decisions are made, the impact on economics, social issues and the environment have to be considered.

Their impact has already been felt. When members of the Hillsborough County Commission tried recently to take a whack out of the county's health insurance program for the working poor, members of Tomorrow Matters! showed up at the meeting and helped push the commission into a compromise decision.

Otherwise, they're not entirely sure where they're headed.

They want to try to find a way, for instance, to get the public to understand, as the Sierra Club's Denise Layne says, "It's not enough ... to scream and say, 'My roads are crowded and I hate it!' "

I wouldn't be taking this group so seriously if it weren't for Ron Weaver. He's a guy the do-gooders long regarded as Darth Vader in a good suit, and he too is in Tomorrow Matters!

Weaver is a lawyer in Tampa who represents developers. He knows how to go before a county commission or city council and get what he wants when he wants it.

It may be a case of wanting to know what your enemies are up to, but I choose to think that Weaver's involvement in Tomorrow Matters! is real.

After talking to him, I am taking a leap of faith. I believe him when he says that people who make decisions in the bay area are beginning to accept the idea that if they "don't get a buy in from the public, what they do is worthless."

Too good to be true?

Maybe. Maybe not.

If it's hard to believe Weaver is part of this, it's harder still to believe that Pinellas County has taken notice. Tomorrow Matters! often meets in St. Petersburg. One of its big backers is former Pinellas County Commissioner Sallie Parks.

"If we sit and wait around for the next developer to come in and say, 'Boy, have I got a deal for you,' then we haven't thought through what we want to become," she said.

It may be too late for some things. Nobody is about to plow under Ulmerton Road.

It's also true that Tomorrow Matters! could collapse under the weight of its own earnestness. It's easy to talk problems to death, and much harder to turn ideas into action.

Some readers of this column regularly accuse me of being a naysayer. This time I'll be knocked for behaving like a cheerleader.

Tomorrow Matters! is a Good Thing.

The question is whether it's The Real Thing.

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