The true cost of Longboat Key’s idling police cars and policy makers
Editor & Publisher
I am writing this column frenetically — almost stream of consciousness — as if to offset the mind-numbing Commission meeting the community and the Town Manager was subjected to last week.
And I am not being harsh. It was as if the road the Longboat Key’s police cars drive upon was paved by the Town Commission with good intentions; the idea of being fiscal watchdogs and holding the Town Manager accountable.
It was a simple request from arguably the most fiscally conservative and methodical manager Longboat Key has ever known.
Dave Bullock introduced to the Commission the need to fund six police cars that were approved and ordered.
And here is the backdrop: pictures of the cars and the changed color schemes were on the front page of Longboat Key News several weeks ago and the agenda and the supporting material was available last week.
But what happened was the Town leaders bogged down into the minutia of sundry concepts such as questioning the manager’s and the department’s mileage metrics for replacement. And that was before a walk down foggy memory lane. It was as if they were chiseling away at a granite floor for hours with mind-numbing repetitive questions and concerns that resolved themselves into more chiseling.
I want a list of all this!
Bullock said the vehicles on the road are primarily 2010s and 2011s and that this year the Town would replace three 2010s and next year three 2011s.
Commissioner Phill Younger intoned, “You allocated $360,000 for six vehicles; that is almost $60,000 per vehicle!”
Younger was told that $100,00 was for radio equipment and lights.
Then Younger said it still sounds like $60,000 per vehicle.
Next, Younger recalculated the re-rigging costs and said, “But you are still talking about $44,000 per vehicle.”
The finance director told him that it includes computer systems and all the accessory equipment.
Then Younger asked what the base price was per vehicle.
They said it was $36,000, but that includes the light bars and the new radios that have to be replaced.
“I would like to see an itemized list of all of this,” said Younger.
Mayor Jim Brown said, “I do not think we are just throwing money at a vehicle.”
But later Brown asked who picked the color scheme and said he did not like the new colors.
The conversation went back to Younger who said unless the costs are understood, “We are not in a position to make a good decision.”
Bullock explained that the Town tags its bids onto the sheriff’s spec-ed cars that virtually all police agencies use and he would be happy to provide the itemized list.
Commissioner Duncan then spoke at length:
“Mr. Town Manager; when I came on the Commission 2 and 1/2 years ago, we had two or three police vehicles that were sitting behind the facility brand new and were going to be sitting there for like six months. I may be wrong on the numbers — could have been eight months. But the entire process has been very confusing. We are now getting six vehicles and how are we turning them over? What are the mileage variables taken into account and the maintenance variables taken into account? I do not want to nit pick this to death… It is something that is pretty predictable and we should be able to manage this.”
“It is highly predictable,” said Bullock wearily.
Commissioner Pat Zunz asked what determines when they are replaced.
“I mean, Longboat Key is 10 miles long!” she added.
The cost of an hour…
Bullock said cars are measured by miles and hours and “you put them together. The other element is you want your police vehicles under warranty most of their life. My experience is you do not want to buy a police vehicle for much longer than its warranty life. You run it for two or three years and then replace.”
Zunz then asked, “Can we have some idea of the number of miles per year we put on our cars?”
“Yes,” said Bullock, “Let me get a miles and hours table for you.”
Commissioner Lynn Larson offered her recollection and spoke of the Crown Vics being bought in advance a few years ago because she believed the officers liked them and the equipment was compatible.
“But I have a bigger problem with this,” she added. And then the conversation veered off on another tangent not even on the agenda.
Coffee and Cremora survival mode
At this point paid attorneys were sleeping in the audience and townfolk were sneaking into the antechamber devouring sugary cookies and coffee with Cremora only to survive. One man entered a diabetic coma as the conversation lagged on and on.
Why is all of this relevant?
It is relevant because what we have seen over the past three years is a role reversal — a cross-dressing ritual between policy makers and the town manager.
The Commission acts more like mid-level managers, and the Town Manager suggest policy in a diplomatic way and they both enact each other’s wishes.
And in this first meeting of the Commission season— the first workshop after the summer hiatus — we are treated to a majority of the session with the board questioning literally the paint color, the mileage metrics and the faded history of police cruisers.
That is the very thing they hired Bullock to do — strong management and fiscal conservatism.
I submit if they spend their precious time line-iteming the replacement vehicles the list never ends. What temperature are the thermostats kept at? How many liters per flush do the toilets use? How many times does the Town Planner call or email his wife from the office?
They would do much better to study the policies of small coastal communities that have even higher property values than Longboat Key. Art is imitation and theft said Picasso — so is good governance.
Longboat state of mind
Longboat Key is a delicate and upscale destination. It is a state of mind. It has a cachet in the marketplace that cannot be underestimated.
We have cut code enforcement staff, cut police coverage, cut employee benefits and morale.
I thought the Urban Land Institute was coming to help fine tune direction for the Commission. It is looking more and more like they are heaping every policy they cannot arrive at in their hands as if the ULI will hand down some prophetic vision and all the Town has to do is implement the plan.
The instincts of leaders cannot be channeled by consultants or adopted via groupthink.
It reminds of a Commissioner I spoke with outside the Chamber after the meeting. He said he was elected by the people and will do whatever they wish.
I was horrified. I said they elected you, but we are a representative form of government. It should not matter if moneyed interests, feisty residents, attorneys or the mob yells at you, you must find your convictions and follow them. Then, if they do not like your record, they throw you out. At least you stood for something.
He looked at me blankly and we both silently and awkwardly walked away past a police car, which sat idling outside Town Hall — just like a commissioner — waiting for its replacement.
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