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Goat rodeo

GENE JAESKI
Contributing Columnist
jaleski@lbknews.com

Goat rodeo: a chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what’s going on; a situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, to instill any sense or order into the process.

Goat rodeo: a situation that has all the risks and none of the rewards. In a real rodeo, cowboys risk their necks, but they get to look cool. If the cowboys rode goats, they’d have just as much risk of injury and wouldn’t look cool. Such a situation has two possible outcomes: really bad or slightly less bad.

The last Town Commission meeting demonstrated once again the disconnect between the commissioners and the residents. Once again the commission had unfulfilled expectations of a small town government having levels of expertise affordable only by much larger government bodies. Our commissioners appear not to realize that a two- or three-person department does not have the resources and capabilities of county-level agencies. By now the town manager has most likely become cognizant of the problems that arise because of a disconnect between the capabilities of the town’s planning department and Planning and Zoning Board, and the commission’s blithe willingness to accept what plans are placed before them, without discussion or much consideration.

Last Monday’s commission meeting was a goat rodeo when it came to the sweeping and poorly developed 2012-6 ordinance. As the commission meeting began, one commissioner looked out at the packed to over-capacity commission chamber, with dozens of residents backed up into the halls and anti chamber, and mused as to why all those people were attending a commission meeting. He actually admonished the residents for wasting their time.

It was the 2012-6 Ordinance and the north end commercial overlay that activated so many residents. After being besieged by a dozen concerned taxpayers, the commission dropped the north end overlay part of the ordinance, passing the much more drastic parts or 2012-6 virtually without discussion. How can they do that? This ordinance removes all land use protections and opens our community to political exploitation by any developer who can suck-up to enough commissioners to create a purely political majority.

I believe that the commissioners are hard working, dedicated residents with the best of intentions. I also know that they are hanging out there all on their own since the town staff has no ability to give them expert guidance in some areas. In 27 years, I have never heard of the planning department coming before the commission to state that they know little to nothing about a particular area of zoning. Ordinance 2012-6 is a perfect example where the commission is unwittingly performing what should be brain surgery using a bulldozer instead of a scalpel.

The Key Club hearings were focused mainly on doing what Ordinance 2012-6 is now trying to legalize, without having to create and process any changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan. Instead the Key Club lawyers created Ordinance 2010-16. Ordinance 2010-16 was narrowly passed and then found to be illegal by a state judge. The result was a wasted two-and-a-half years.

Anyway, early on in the initial commission hearings, it became clear to me that what was being proposed by the Key Club, and tacitly supported by the town’s legal staff, was a suspension of extremely important land use protections on Longboat Key. I remarked then that what was being proposed would allow my neighbor to construct a nuclear reactor in their back yard if four mostly unelected commissioners agreed. It got a laugh, but that is exactly what is happening. Ordinance 2012-6 does just that. Welcome to the new frontier of land use on Longboat Key.

Back to goat rodeos. The previous planning director, and a very small planning department, created the north end commercial overlay and presented it to a commission-appointed Planning and Zoning Board. The north end overlay looks as though it was actually created by a hotel developer. The PZB, in the view of many residents, has all the problems and challenges of a politically appointed body. Both the planning department and the Planning and Zoning Board lack the depth and resources to craft complex zoning proposals. The problem appears to be that the commissioners find it easier to ignore this problem and act on the recommendations presented to them, as if the planning department and the Planning and Zoning Board recommendations invariably best serve the community.

We expect too much from our town staff, as was demonstrated by the recent TE Connectivity communications study that exposed the deficiencies of the previous planning director, and her small staff, in the area of modern-day communications.

The commission needs to stop blindly following the advice of our hard-working staff when we ask them to perform work beyond their expertise. We need to stop believing that a few small town staff workers can possibly be experts on everything. Yet experts are exactly what are required.

The cell tower issue was misguided from the beginning by the previous planning director, and staff, who repeatedly assured the commissioners that not only was a cell tower needed badly by a majority of the residents, but that a cell tower was the only solution. Since the commissioners rightly relied on staff to give the town a well researched and complete sets of choices, the commission was left hanging in a seemingly illogical situation with the planning director telling them they must build a cell tower despite a large community dislike for inappropriate structures on Longboat Key. Fortunately, one of our commissioners, along with the new town manager, finally gave the commission a clear understanding of the technical and community impact implications of a cell tower. The previous commissions never questioned the ability of the previous planning director to present a competent and unbiased report to the commission. The current commissioners are much less apt to accept staff positions at face value. The cell tower process was a veritable goat rodeo that went on for years.

We need to stop playing ‘pin the land use ordinance on the goat.’ We need to stop and seek professional informed advice.

Longboat Key can afford to hire specialized professionals when specialized and/or complex solutions are required. When faced with challenges beyond the reach and training of our staff, the town needs to look outside local town government. The problem seems to be that the commission sometimes lacks the knowledge to realize the need for qualified professional advice. Hopefully, this is beginning to change.

 

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