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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
It normally isn't a bad idea for elected officials to seek their constituents' ideas on the business of government. After all, more input and more debate often lead to better decisions.
But the Largo City Commission probably was right last week when it declined to create a citizen task force that would come up with possible uses for the old City Hall site downtown.
Mayor Bob Jackson had suggested the task force as a way to help the city move forward on the issue of what to do with the 8-acre property. You can hardly blame him for grasping at straws. This one parcel sure has caused the city a lot of heartburn.
The city has sought a developer for the site for almost two years. Its first effort, early last year, resulted in formal concept plans from only two developers, and one of those pulled out after getting insulted about a city memo that seemed to favor the other developer's proposal. City officials decided to regroup and try again.
The process was restarted this spring, and at first, lots of potential developers seemed interested. But at the end of the day, the City Commission was left with one plan on the table: a proposal for a rental apartment complex with a bit of retail space. The commissioners initially agreed to work with that developer, but then changed their minds and said the development did not meet their goals for the site.
Some frustrated local business people and commission-watchers have accused Largo's elected officials of sending mixed signals about what they want on the downtown property. It is not an unfounded accusation.
Various Largo officials have talked about the property and what should be built there for years. The discussion heated up once the city decided to move City Hall to Highland Avenue and vacated the downtown offices. Yet today, city commissioners seem no closer to clearing the clouds from the issue and attracting viable proposals.
Forming a task force would have further delayed the process. And besides, this subject has had plenty of resident input over the years as commissioners fretted and debated in public meetings.
The ball is in the City Commission's court, as some commissioners noted last week in turning down the task force idea.
The commission has not provided leadership on this issue, and should not try to transfer the job to citizen members of a task force. If further debate about this site is needed, let it commence among members of the commission as soon as possible. Then it is time for the commission to take a deep breath and make some decisions.