The Doors of Longboat Key’s Perception
Editor & Publisher
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
How safe are you? Do we have enough police on the street? Will your property be intact when after you hop on Southwest to Illinois, Michigan or New York?
Do the Longboat Key Police have extra time on their hands and could they be doing other tasks such as code enforcement?
Can you be sure Longboat is, as it once was, virtually crime free?
How good is the fire department? Are response times faster than Siesta Key, Bird Key or Sarasota? What skill set will the paramedic/ EMT have when he shows up? How will they find your home? Do they use they latest GPS or use an old mapping system?
Do we pay too much for the sprawling finger of beach that sustains our economy and helps buffer our homes? Is it worth paying extra for white sand?
Do we need groins? Have we abandoned a beach policy that worked — no structural losses and a beach tourists could brag about — and replaced it with a beach caulking exercise where we try and chink up the worn holes and paint over the problem using the least funds possible?
Is Beer Can Island an appendix of sand or the treasured north end of our island? Should we be its steward or encourage Manatee County to increase its presence and ownership responsibilities?
And what about code enforcement? Are our codes — the various laws keeping construction safe and up-to-date and the laws that maintain the physical appearance — are they being adhered to, enforced? Or, are we using the minimalist and reactive approach of hiring less staff and trying to redefine perception?
And what about our new Town Manager, Dave Bullock? Is he a welcome replacement to Bruce St. Denis — the man who ran the helm and steered the community through good economic times and much of the bad?
Had St. Denis grown into a typical government fixture stuck in his ways, unwilling to address pension issues head-on and unwilling to alter his belief that the beach needed to be approached on a cyclical holistic schedule? Was that better for residents?
Or, is Bullock — trained to act and enact and willing to take the Town in what could be called a path of economic responsibility by some — the answer?
The road more travelled
Others may see the same path undermining the very foundation of what we have come to see as Longboat Key.
To elaborate: Longboat Key always has paid extra for the luxury of having a police and a fire department. I say that because the entire experiment — if you will — of having our own municipality was to allow the community to control its own destiny.
And for years that meant fostering police and fire departments that hired the most qualified, paying more for the employees and a Commission focused on making sure the equipment and services rendered were not perceived as adequate— but the best available on the market.
And it seemed axiomatic to have to pay an extra $50 to $100 per year per resident on tax bills to ensure that Longboat became a premier destination to live as well as a destination of desire for employees. That is rapidly changing.
In the midst of the pension negotiations, I asked the Firefighters and Chief what piece of technology is lacking or what equipment is available that would make their job more effective for residents?
They looked at me as if I was at best Socrates and at worst Mephistopheles leading them where no man wants to go.
“What do you mean,” they asked?
“I mean is there a way to improve the level of service?”
After a few nervous looks — after all they are trying to hold on to their benefits — they said, “Absolutely, we still use the age-old mapping system. When we get a 9-1-1 call, we use a map address book of every residence on the Key instead of I-Mobile. The County uses I-Mobile, but only one of our four vehicles has that technology. We asked for it, but…”
And my perception is the stewards of our island should be concerned with those kinds of things first and foremost.
The Market is the Massage
The financial hysteria surrounding the urge to hack at every foundation of service and benefits on Longboat Key comes from the spirit of micro-management and lack of appreciation for what Longboat Key’s earlier Commissions worked so hard to put in place.
Who among the residents has ever called for en erosion of police service or a reduction in the number of code enforcement employees? Who ever campaigned on that platform; as if that is what they hoped to achieve.
I heard talk from a very intelligent commissioner on using objective measurements and long-range planning.
But if I go to Euphemia Haye and Denny’s is snuck in the back door and put on a pretty plate — please do not tell me I am getting Euphemia Haye at a new, discounted price.
And in this era of marketing and perception-forming — in a world where the actual temperature is abandoned with a straight face by meteorologists for a ‘feel-like’ temperature — we ought not let the basics of building the strongest of communities evade our direction.
Longboat Key always had the most high profile police department of any municipality in the area. We had the reputation as the finest place to work and we paid a tad more — not slavishly more — to achieve those ends. We trained our fire personnel and required a level of expertise rarely seen elsewhere in the country.
That allowed Realtors and residents to say, “Crime is virtually non-existent on Longboat Key.”
We have in the past five years abandoned all the rhetoric and goals of greatness. We are happy to force our firefighters and Police to accept a 401A plan and be the only municipality in the state to do so. And to what end? So the pension funds, which were mismanaged through not keeping them fully funded through the good years, can now be called unsustainable with their mountain of irresponsible debt.
And now the push is to freeze those pensions and the real risk of damaging what works — the departments themselves — is placed on residents.
Back to perception — the perception that cutting a budget and laying off employees and diminishing all that serves Longboat Key so well will sail us into a gilded future — is a mistaken notion.
Jefferson or Jefferson Place?
We are on the fast track to ordinary. And the Commissions of the 1980s and early 1990s look like America’s Founding Fathers in comparison. The Founding Fathers wanted to self-define a world and give it the right and authority to create a strong and independent nation. And our earlier Commissions were willing to pay for that right and that privilege and attracted the same kinds of homebuyers.
And just as the Founding Fathers got sick of sending taxes where they were of little value, the joy of paying a local government to literally serve oneself had a noble ring. Taxes paid on Longboat Key through its millage directly benefit our island, our community.
But in the early part of this century, the Commission and arguably St. Denis, coasted along the coattails of land-use laws, strict codes and a friendly, yet militant and aggressively patrolled police presence. This continued until about 2006.
Then the money worriers came along. It started with Bob Dawson and then the sky-is-falling demeanor of some of our current and more recent incarnations.
And that is not to diminish the economic crisis — this is written by a father of six who works in his sleep and has had to stop arguing with his wife to create even more time to work and earn a living.
But in that decline in Longboat’s leadership, which mirrors the decline of American leadership, we have lost the aristocratic values of stewards of a paradise that is fragile and worth protecting.
We now are in the land of the penny wise; we have lost the ability to assert ourselves legally in court; we have lost the ability to shape a development with a developer to the betterment of our Key and we have lost the edict of making Longboat Key the finest community in Florida.
That is the goal that must be instinctively understood by commissioners. To try and get by with less; to ask our police to become code enforcement workers; to diminish our land-use codes and get rid of ordinances that stand in the way of progress at the expense of aesthetics and protection — these are all signs of the slow collapse.
We no longer talk of having the finest police and fire; I hear our Commissioners say behind-the-scenes that they are spoiled, overpaid and question what they do all day?
And those are their perceptions and they are often wrong ones. Leaders must take pride and show pride in the community they represent or they become a goalless cancer eroding the body they are here to protect.
There is a reason Yeats followed Blake in the evolution of English language Poetry.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Let’s us not make the mistake of working with passionate intensity to change many fundamentals of our Key and alter many of the institutions that have served our lives and property values for decades.
Longboat Key, like life, cannot be done over.