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Let’s all get along; let’s all be trite

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Given the intense passion and intelligence of our island’s residents and business people, we are always going to have feisty debates, bitter differences of opinion and misunderstandings — it’s the Longboat way.

I submit that the measure of a community, just like any organization, is the amount of civil disagreement and tolerance that is allowed to take place. That is why we have Commission meetings — to debate spending, to decide if we should have public tennis, to pick what color wayfinding signs we should have.  What we cannot do is let these differences get the best of us and divide our community.

Take the latest witch trials wherein the witch under review is Planning and Zoning Board member Brad Saivetz who appears guilty of speaking against the Key Club approval.

In essence, P & Z board Chair BJ Webb and former Mayor Ron Johnson are so bothered by an op ed piece board member Brad Saivetz penned last week in Longboat Key News that they are calling for him to step down, or as Webb says, “the board will discuss the issue at its Sept. 17 meeting.”
And while Saivetz is a study in being opposed to the Key Club, their attempts and attempts by others to purge him from the Town Board is not only misguided, it borders on harassment.

Saivetz has an immense amount of engineering experience and likes to craft technical arguments and analysis of issues. He was against the Key Club plan because he felt it was not in compliance with the Town Comprehensive Plan and zoning codes. Perhaps he personally does not like the development plan — I am not sure. The reality is the plan is facing a challenge in court and that challenge hinges on the issues that Saivetz raised, so his opinion and message to the community is timely and relevant.

More importantly, Saivetz is fully in his right to submit guest opinion columns and letters to the editor and should be able to without a former Mayor and the chairman of the board he sits on questioning his integrity and ability to serve and scouring the rule books to find a way to remove him from his post. In short, they have not developed basic table manners. If Brad Saivetz’s column causes distress like bad gas for any reader— they should let it pass and not say things like, “He is unfit to sit at our table.”

Remember college? Remember those exciting dinner table discussions? That is what editorial pages are for. In fact, whether it is Tom Burgum, Al Green, Dan Dowd, Brad Saivetz or any other feisty Longboat luminary, it is a privilege to live where debate is vibrant.

Ron Johnson served as Mayor in this town. He knows what it is like to be embroiled in these issues and to try and make your point while everyone makes demands. I hope he can see some value in Saivetz’s efforts, even though he disagrees. As for Webb, it is puzzling. Webb is the chair of the Planning and Zoning board and one would think she would want the smartest, most diverse-thinking group she can gather. Maybe Saivetz’s interpretations are not always in line with the majority, but certainly he is no threat to the process.

One would hope that Webb took offense out of loyalty to the Town and its process and not personal animosity. I hope that Webb is highly professional and only wants to ensure someone on her board does not act inappropriately or perhaps jeopardize a process. The Town attorney will likely remind Webb and others that freedom of speech is held on a higher constitutional plane than the freedom to stamp out dissent.

After all, this is group dynamics 101. Saivetz is the token minority opinion. And that has value. As Lyndon Johnson said about J. Edgar Hoover, “It is probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

If the Key Club approval gives Saivetz indigestion, so be it. Let’s move on, respect his right to a point of view and leave him in the tent.

Click here for all of Reid’s columns.

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