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If I'm gone, the column ideas flow more freely


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 2000

Say what you will, but to quote George Carlin, "If people are really out to get you, paranoia is just good thinking."

I personally think that all Pasco County government and portions of other area governmental bodies are involved in a massive conspiracy to have fun things -- or at least things that would make good column material -- happen when I'm not in town. It's worse in Pasco, though.

I thoroughly believe that memoranda go out from County Administrator John Gallagher's office announcing my departure and arrival times and inviting departments to screw up NOW.

I can be in town for months at a time and everything runs relatively smoothly, but let me get somewhere where I can't use a computer to get the Times' online editions, and the bad stuff, sometimes almost literally, hits the fan.

The time before last, I left town only to return and realize that a sizeable number of county officials had been caught in their inability to recognize a nine-story building and had approved it for construction without knowing that teeny-tiny little fact in growth-choked Pasco.

But last time was a pip.

In fact, a couple of pips (in the context of seeds, not Motown backup singers) might well have been involved.

This time out, the county just sort of accidentally allowed 25,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater (a nice word for sewage) to be pumped through the sprinklers of three subdivisions of nice homes owned by people willing to do the ecologically sound thing and pay $5 or $6 a month to use "gray water" or, as it's called in the nicer neighborhoods, "reclaimed water" on their lawns.

(You remember lawns, don't you? They were the green stuff that used to be out there in front of your house, which is now landscaped in "earth tones." Take a look if you think I'm kidding. One friend of mine complains that even her weeds are dying.)

Imagine their chagrin (a nice term for being really angry and no ... I'm not going for the cheap eliminative joke here) when they found their sprinklers clogged with, and I quote, "corn, sesame seeds, hair and toilet paper."

They were not, I'm told, happy campers.

The county managed to blame it on the DOT, an easy target because everyone knows the DOT is a wholly owned subsidiary of barricade companies and is only responsible for hauling large pieces of earth-moving equipment to busy intersections so eight guys can lean on it all day.

Actually, in this case, the blame is being placed on a DOT contractor, which means that pretty soon it will be harder to trace responsibility for this than for Democratic campaign contributions at the national level.

And some homeowners in those subdivisions are less than thrilled at the county's decision to reimburse them for cleanup costs with credit on their water bills.

That amounts to the homeowners bearing the cost and, in effect, granting the county an interest-free loan with time payments to reimburse them.

Anybody who has ever had to pay a reconnection fee knows how unforgiving government and private utilities can be if you decide to take an interest-free loan and pay them at your leisure.

It's probably just as well that I was out of town when all this took place.

Otherwise I would have been forced to make what seems to me to be an obvious connection between the wastewater problem and the vandal or vandals who urinated through the book-deposit slot at the Land O'Lakes Library, doing an estimated $5,000 worth of damage to books, videotapes and casettes in the box.

Library vandalism is a serious problem in Land O'Lakes, and I don't mean to make light of a situation that may require security cameras to protect the slot.

Nobody should ever do that to any public building.

But, I have to admit, if I were one of the residents who had been ignored when they complained about a foul odor every time they used the sprinkler system, and if the county office that collected my payments had an easy-access drop-off slot. ...

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