County leader snips at red tape
By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
For years, even holiday weeks like this one have contained a chore for Pinellas County commissioners.
When their regular Tuesday meeting was canceled, commissioners would have to gather at the Clearwater courthouse sometime during the week for the sole purpose of voting to pay the county's weekly bills.
One of new Administrator Steve Spratt's first changes was to decide those meeting weren't legally necessary.
Now he's on the lookout for more red tape to trim. Spratt has appointed a task force to streamline the way the county does business.
So far, Spratt's efforts have met with approval.
"It was a ceremonious kind of thing," Spratt said. "I don't see anybody traumatized by losing control over bill paying."
Commissioners aren't exactly crying either.
"I do miss that 50-minute drive," joked Commissioner Ken Welch, who lives in St. Petersburg. "I used that to clear my head."
Spratt said he's not trying to let anybody shirk real work. But too many county business procedures require approval by the commission, or by other staff members, bogging down county purchases and projects in paperwork, he said.
For example, Spratt said, county staff members now go to commissioners to get approval to advertise that they need architects on a construction project. They do so even though commissioners already have approved starting the project and will have to give more approvals later.
"Why take the time of preparing memos and resolutions and making copies and putting it on a commission agenda?" Spratt asked. "Why not just have the staff advertise?"
Spratt is also looking at cutting the commission's weekly meetings to every other week. Right now, that could result in daylong marathon meetings -- but they could be shorter if Spratt's time-saving ideas work.
Commissioner John Morroni said he would want to make the change gradually, to make sure that taxpayers know about it. But he said commissioners would welcome the chance to spend time with people other than commissioners.
"It's going to give us an opportunity to get out of the office," he said. "It keeps us closer to the people."
Of course, to enact all these changes, Spratt's task force has formed subcommittees and agreed to study what can be cut and what can't.
So for the county staff, that means just one thing.
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