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    Leaders put focus on vision for future

    On a retreat, county commissioners get to know one another and their hopes for Pinellas.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


    People just don't trust government anymore.

    State lawmakers keep telling counties to do more without helping to pay for it.

    And nobody wants to raise taxes or other fees.

    Those are among the obstacles Pinellas County commissioners see themselves facing. They discussed them Thursday during an informal retreat to map the county's future.

    With three new commissioners, a larger board and the retirement of former Administrator Fred Marquis after 22 years, the county's leaders have started a new era. They need to get to know one another and know where the county is heading, they said.

    "The county has had direction," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "But it was somebody else's. We all need to be on the same page."

    Even so, that may be a more colorful page than in the past. The old, five-member commission was known for its unanimous votes and lack of debate. With seven members, Commissioner John Morroni said, those days are over.

    "It's not a unanimous vote on every issue anymore," he said.

    But Latvala said voting differently on specific issues doesn't mean board members won't get along.

    "I don't think we're fractured on big decisions," she said.

    Working well together is important to Latvala. During another exercise, when commissioners were asked to envision what they wanted to avoid in the future, Latvala chimed in: a commission that "looks and acts like Hillsborough County," where commissioners often are criticized for their divisions.

    Commission Chairman Calvin Harris said he hopes commissioners leave the retreat this afternoon with a better expectation of what they want to look for in a new county administrator.

    In a survey before the retreat, commissioners gave themselves the lowest marks on anticipating issues. One of them referred to the recent problems the county has had in planning how to use Penny for Pinellas money. The county failed to track spending of its penny sales tax money as it planned new projects and spent more on others. Now it must cut some projects off its list.

    But most of the group's discussions Thursday didn't touch on specific issues. Instead, commissioners worked with a facilitator to chart the county's past, talk about their hopes for the future and even how their work styles differ. They trooped back and forth across the room under posters identifying them as spontaneous or structured, confronters or diplomats.

    For the record: Commissioners Ken Welch and Karen Seel see themselves as "detail-oriented," while the others focus on the big picture. And all the commissioners described themselves as team players more than individual achievers.

    The commissioners also detailed some of the county's benefits, including tourism, a healthy economy, the county's penny sales tax and a tradition of commissioners who get along.

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