Longboat employees win, parking lot melanoma, Colony Resort, Dan Dowd and the Generation of Fools

Editor & Publisher

The Medieval idea of spontaneous generation — that rats are born from hay — has a corollary in local politicians.

But before we make hay with poor decisions, indecisions and the amazing maze of emotional rhetoric at the latest Commission meeting, let’s talk about something positive our group of seven leaders accomplished. And while positives in our commission is usually an implied negative — in that we can be sure they do their best work when they accomplish nothing — in the case of retaining two employee benefits for 44 general town employees, their support is deserved.

Here is a snapshot of what our Town Commission accomplished this year to date with the general employees:


 Financial bleeding stopped

In an effort to control spiraling pension costs, all the general employees will be moved on September 30 from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan where the Town will pay a maximum of 9% of salary (if employees contribute 6%) into a 401A retirement account.

The employees had little to no negotiating ability since they opted not to unionize, which the Fire and Police departments had done previously. This led to the employees pleading emotionally for two benefits that have been in place for many, many years — early retirement and a DROP benefit. (see news story on homepage)


House divided

The Commission was completely divided at the thought of adding these two benefits back into the frozen plan with Phill Younger and Lynn Larson and Dave Brenner opposing the idea and voting against the measure and Terry Gans, Jim Brown, Pat Zunz and Jack Duncan supporting the program.

For some it was a matter of fairness and evenhandedness since Fire has a DROP in its contract. Others saw it as a promise kept — something that has been in place in the case of early retirement since the dawn of the community. They objected to the idea that many have worked for the Town for decades only to now face being forbidden early retirement.

Those opposed argued the cost to taxpayers — a possible $10,000 per year in the case of early retirement — was egregious and yet another unnecessary expense.

But for a group of workers who have had their pensions ended and reconstituted as far less generous with no raises, no pay steps for years and even their birthday cakes taken away, the option of early retirement seemed like an alternative to the more Kevorkian solution of quitting, as many have done over the past year.


Scintilla of appreciation

The meeting was long, emotional and a nail-biter for the employees. In the end, kudos is deserved for the four Commissioners who did something right by not changing what has been in place — the early retirement and DROP programs.

The DROP will sunset when the last of eight eligible employees finishes and the early retirement is essentially a wash financially and allows 37 of 44 general employees to find a scintilla of appreciation in Town Hall.

And during the discussion the usual mode prevailed: Younger spoke earnestly and philosophically and rationally about how we cannot keep adding to the unfunded liability.

Lynn Larson was a bit more emotional, and that is generous, and spoke of how it was a sad day for taxpayers. I suppose she forgets that all of the employees do nothing else than serve the taxpayers and the theory of “You need to do more for less” fails to motivate after it is said year after year.


Fairness and eloquence

Another problem is Larson used the moral equivalent of a reverse Oresteia trilogy. She went from legislatively considering an issue last month to personal vendetta. Behind the scenes Larson was busy making public record requests of decade-long employee Steve Shield’s email and phone records to try and bolster her rationale for voting and arguing against general employee benefits. The good news is the records revealed no improper use of email or phone calls or waste of staff time.

All of Larson’s actions belie an intrusion and intimidation of staff by a Town leader. In essence, it is Town Manager Dave Bullock’s job to monitor and evaluate employees. To have a Commissioner impose this kind of hostile approach during the middle of a debate on this issue smacks less of clear policy-making and more of a small town Lady Macbeth trying to win her day by any means necessary.

Pat Zunz spoke clearly about the fairness of offering the same programs that Fire enjoys and that the cost is finite and will sunset.

Terry Gans spoke eloquently about the need for fairness and keeping the expectations of what was in place in the workplace and reminding Commissioner Younger that we are not in Detroit and we must not diminish morale by financially whipping every staffer until the janitor must be called with a mop.

In the end, we should be proud that 4 of 7 of our leaders did the right thing for the employees and the community at large.


Brave New World

The rest of the meeting was something bordering on Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice — another reminder that if property owners do not pay careful attention to who is running our Town and what policies they are inflicting, the Longboat Key you love will erode faster than any damage from a storm surge.


Government in the sunshine at Publix

The good news is Town Manager Dave Bullock said the demolition of the old and final remaining section of the previous Publix store ought commence in September. This marks the end of the final piece of that aging and ugly yellow structure.

But I got into a strange discussion with a current Commissioner who was shocked that I found that the Commission made an egregious error in its consideration of the Publix site plan and we will forever pay for their lack of oversight.


Melanoma maker

In short, you can blame the Town Commission if you have no hair on your head and you develop melanoma shopping at Publix. The reason is they were told over and over by resident and engineer Brad Saivetz that the new parking lot was grossly under-shaded and would never develop into the magnificent parking oasis we had previously.

Of course the new Publix is an improvement as is the layout of the center. But we had one thing that was unique to Longboat and made our store a far better shopping experience — namely most every parking spot was full of shade.

And that is sacrosanct in strong planning. The spacing of the trees and the type of trees — a high proportion of palms instead of live oaks — means shoppers must now let their expensive cars bake in the sun and return and watch their gelato turn into soup as it rolls around the trunk.

It was avoidable, but the Commission refused to address the issue and instead chastised Saivetz off and on over the years. They looked at shade values for the overall site and opted to impose the Viet Cong buffer of jungle between the CVS and Gulf of Mexico Drive rather than create a refreshing and park-like parking area. At least it will be pleasant on cloudy days in January and during the occasional solar eclipse.


Tirade over Dan Dowd

Of final interest was the tirade by Commissioner Jack Duncan at the most recent meeting over his objection to Dan Dowd, a columnist who writes under a penname in Longboat Key News on occasion.

Duncan ripped with volatility at what he thought were warrantless and unsupported criticisms of the Commission. Then he defended Dave Brenner who Dowd criticized as being overly concerned with commercial interests at the expense of residential residents and their values.

Duncan intoned that neither he nor Brenner want a Pharmaceutical company or Wal-Mart on Longboat Key, etc, etc. That droned on for about 5 minutes.

Here is what Dowd actually wrote about Brenner:

“David Brenner rubs me the wrong way.  He is so enamored with business and growth for the Key that he has lost the approval of a great many citizens.  I don’t think the residents of Longboat want more business than they have now.  Most are satisfied with the residential beauty of Longboat.  They don’t want to ruin it by Miamization of the area.  I think most people love what they have.”

If that brings hostility and defensiveness, I suggest four feet fill the same shoes. In fact, I would argue that while Brenner has been an extremely hardworking and public figure, it is completely and almost wholeheartedly as an advocate for the business interests and of the commercial interests of the Key and mainland.

Brenner supported the parking and development excesses at the Key Club, the Mar Vista and has weakened Longboat Key’s regulations regarding cell phone towers and was instrumental in the support of all the code rewriting that was found illegal and cost the resident group IPOC about $1 million dollars to overturn and fight in court. This all in a fairly brief career. Not to mention the vote to weaken the vegetative buffers between commercial and residential zones as well as finding maintenance codes intrusive.

All of the above frightens many and most residents and part-time residents who are more concerned with maintaining our status as premier residential community then finding a fast track to ordinary.


Density under assault

Realize this: the policies that have made Longboat Key the destination it is today and have endured numerous assaults on its pristine and highly regulated construction environment are now and have been under assault by many on this sitting Commission.

In short, what makes us unique and allows us to control our destiny are the laws that preserve Longboat Key. They have been challenged, weakened and that weakening has been through less-than-balanced policies.

So where does this lead us? Unfortunately, the Commission is teeing up to undermine the most important control this community has  — the one that has made Longboat, Longboat.

In short, a majority of Commissioners said this week they want to end the density cap that voters wanted and overwhelmingly supported in 1984. That is the cap that downzoned Longboat Key from 85,000 planned residents to 25,000.

Mayor Jim Brown and Brenner and others said they want to handle density issues at the Commission level and it appears they want to use the passage of House Bill 537 as a means to that end. That is for another editorial in the near future.

But make no mistake; Brown said those who fear the Commission making density decisions smacks of “paranoia.” I disagree. Paranoia is unfounded fear and concern.

This Commission flubbed the Key Club — and cost the Club a more rational approval by our leaders over-accommodation and contortions to grant approval. The Commission flubbed at the Mar Vista and the Commission almost or still may flub at The Colony.


Colony dilemma

The Commission, spurred by the Redevelopment Task Force, talks of taking the density away from the Colony if the owners do not get their act together by a series of arbitrarily set deadlines  — the next one set for this December 31.

If that happens, the Town will be drawn into lawsuits that will make all of the weeds and debris at the Colony not spontaneously generate into rats, but even more egregious —a plague of land use attorneys will rise from the morass. And then the unit owners, Murf Klauber and the Colony Lender can finally reach profitability — yet another payday at the Colony due to poor decisions at the expense of Longboat Key taxpayers.

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1 Response for “Longboat employees win, parking lot melanoma, Colony Resort, Dan Dowd and the Generation of Fools”

  1. spencer ross says:

    Its time to replace this misfit group. Their geriatric misadventures have cost this Town alot of wasted time and money!

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