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The value of an opinion on Longboat Key

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

What is the meaning of the free press? What is the value of a newspaper? What is the significance of an opinion, of a human voice?

Not much if you ask a few of our Town Commissioners.

It has become something of a mantra — kind of the way Archie Bunker yelled at Meathead in “All in the Family.”

 

What’s in a name?

At the most recent Commission meeting, Vice Mayor Dave Brenner faulted in strenuous terms the printing of a column by Dan Dowd in Longboat Key News. He faulted it for two reasons — he thought the attack on former Mayor George Spoll was unkind and unbefitting and he criticized the writer — Dan Dowd — for “hiding under or behind a pen name.”

And of course I sat in a near stupor after watching for two hours as our Town Commission weakened the community’s protection against the possibility of a cell tower by relaxing the rules and then next hearing a lengthy report — which the Commission demanded — on how and why and when we replace police cars.

But at the end of the meeting, Brenner decided to hold up the Sept. 27 edition of Longboat Key News and for at least third or fourth time in his career he took exception to its content while he sat in a meeting. (See video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1DqnqV9ja8 ). He did not approach the newspaper in a letter or a phone call, but harangued to the audience and fellow commissioners.

Then Lynn Larson asked what the Civility Policy of the press is: “We operate under a Civility Policy,” she added.

This is strange because it would take thousands of words to recount the lack of civility shown over the past two years by this sitting Commission: Firing Al Hogle as the Acting Town Manager after accusing him of being untruthful; former Mayor George Spoll trying to eliminate the Fire Marshall position after having a run-in and disagreement with him; electing Brad Saivetz to the Planning and Zoning Board and then attempting to remove him when Larson said she did not realize who he was and he should have informed her better of his positions; calling Brad Saivetz a “local gadfly” in a letter by Vice Mayor Brenner to a developer; a sitting Commissioner yelling at Village resident Samir Ragheb to “shut up and sit down;” the numerous insults the Mayor has made at meetings toward Larson — and these are a but few off the top of my head — the list is endless.

 

Unsafe with any creed

But in this case the story is clear and simple.

Dan Dowd is written by an anonymous resident who approached me wanting to write under that condition. And while that is far from my style — I do not mind attacks and will absorb them and see that as my role as an editor — the fact remains I saw the value of his opinion as more important than not allowing his opinion to be heard.

And I understood why.  This member of our town is far in age and does not want to be bullied and cornered in Publix and chastised. My caveat is that he gets his facts straight and beyond that not make personal attacks. And he has not.

What he said in his Sept. 27 column was that although former Mayor George Spoll was one of the community’s most influential members, Spoll has accomplished little of what he set out to accomplish. Then he went on to list what Spoll failed to accomplish and said Spoll is often his own worst enemy.

The reality is George Spoll was a Commissioner, a Mayor and today heads the Redevelopment Task Force among many other boards and positions. Agree with George or not, he is a force to be reckoned with and his positions are strong and he advocates strongly for his own views.

I see the press as having a responsibility, an obligation and an important role in analyzing, critiquing, reacting to and commenting on all our public officials as it sees fit.

There are no party lines in Longboat Key News and we will print any reaction to a column or letter so long as it is not personal and factually off-base.

 

When you assume the position…

I grew up in an agonistic family where you asserted yourself and made your case at the breakfast and dinner table. Milktoast is not Longboat Key News’ style.

And I reminded the Commission that Benjamin Franklin along with dozens of opinion writes have used pen names for reasons ranging from fear of losing their business to the anger and reprisals of a tyrannical government.

Why would our leaders want to have a chilling effect on news and opinion in our small town?

After all, they spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars, fire Key employees and hire Key employees and change the very community we live in. Whether the roads are landscaped, whether the Mar Vista or Key Club expands and whether a cell tower is built is all or in part up to this collection of seven individuals.

Who else but the press and the voters are in a position to comment and affect any position they may take? Where do the residents and the watchers of Town Hall get to vent and express their thoughts?

This is nothing more than words on a page. We do not turn the wheels of the town, the politicians do. I have to admit I take great offense at any move or gesture or push to take away this freedom and this right. We take it for granted.

When I grew up there were many more newspapers and voices in New York City — where I got my news —than exist today. I am saddened every time a consolidation and watering down of content and opinion occurs, anywhere it occurs.

 

Lead from the heart, intellect and instincts

I like tough and harsh debate. I sit through every Commission meeting and workshop always waiting and enjoying most when our Town leaders get to the edge of their intellects and ideas and push themselves into some strong policy making.

I want them to stop worrying about how they are portrayed in the latest column or who wobbles up to the podium to complain and I wish they would lead from their heart, their intellect and their instincts. We want leaders, not a bunch of poll-taking mirror-watching reactionistas.

I harbor no anger or ill will toward George Spoll or Dave Brenner or anyone on the Commission. Some days I agree with what they do and many days I do not. But I show my respect by being anything but indifferent. I only wish they worried more about what they are doing as policy makers than how they appear in the press and in the town emails and on the town video.

And as much as I respect our community leaders on any given day, on every given day I respect and cherish the fact that we live in a time and place and a very small part of this world where we can say what we think and feel and believe might make a difference. That to me is worth more than all of the other options.

After all, the world is full of places — the majority of the world in fact — where writers live in fear of contradicting what the government wants to hear. It all starts to erode when we lose sight of this. Let’s never allow Longboat Key to become one of those places.

 

 

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5 Responses for “The value of an opinion on Longboat Key”

  1. Nito Incog says:

    Well said, Mr. Reid. In particular, the civility aspect. This is probably one of the most accurate depictions of this Commission. They speak of civility and then act with the greatest lack of civility ever seen on LBK. In particular, the Fire Marshal comment. Show us any other municipality with a large life-loss potential per square foot in regards to multi-story residential buildings as Longboat, that has a part-time Fire Marshal.. you won’t find one anywhere. Fire Prevention should be a #1 priority for any city commission; out here, it’s a punchline….What Spoll did is try and use his official position as a Commissioner for personal revenge just because the FM was following state-law. But, then again, when has Longboat ever cared about that? Citizens should be outraged for a couple thousand dollars a year in savings, their safety might be in jeopardy. Is that really how much this commission cares? The Fire Marshal position should be immediately returned to full-time status. The current setup is ridiculous.

  2. ghostrider says:

    Indeed, Mr. Ryan

    “a community then populated by retired and highly respected men and women of corporate renown in America”

    There lies the problem. Highly respected by whom? Renown?

    Richard Feyman was highly respected and renown. Of course, unlike Jamie Dimon, he never traded silver with the outcome of creating insane losses that will ultimately be passed onto the public. Nor did Feyman ever claim to do God’s work like Mr.Blanfein of Goldman Sachs’ fame.
    Your corporate heroes, however, did create corporate SOVEREIGN nations—-Exxon, Goldman Sachs….
    Their allegiance, and this was not expected, was SOLELY to themselves. (And do read about why International Telephone and Telegraph, of old, chose Belgium as their head-quarters. That was my moment of business enlightenment.)

    We live in interesting times. On this we can agree.

  3. William Kary says:

    Small Town politics, even smaller thinking on the Commission’s behalf. It’s a shame, but you get what you pay for.

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    Why doesn’t Mr. Brenner or Mr. Spoll “step up to the plate” and tell us what part of Dan Dowd’s reportage is inaccurate. Please list the accomplishments and/or successes of Mr. Spolls tenure.

  5. Thomas Fortune Ryan says:

    Dear Steve:

    I’ve been, generally, a passive observer of Long Boat Key since I first visited there in 1971; while
    on my last visit (March, 2013) I noticed a distinctive animosity and rancor present within your community.
    Your current observations validate my view.

    [Additionally, I’m a frequent (yet not always faithful) reader of your paper.]

    It seems to me, a west cost loyalist to the County and City of San Diego (we’ve had some recent political “malfeasance” at city hall) that your community has suffered from an influx of De jure carpet baggers who, much like other world wide entities, seek to destroy and tear down the good things people have done over the years simply because they are mean, nasty and generally unwanted characters who may well have a “sequestered” agenda for other peoples wealth?

    In my history of quiet visitations (in concert with many family members) I can remember Long Boat Key being equitable directed and managed by professional government folks who most always had the full support and backing of the community; a community then populated by retired and highly respected men and women of corporate renown in America, i.e. AT&T, IBM, GE, JPMorgan, Goodyear, GM, Ford along with others.

    Where did all that class go?

    It seems that your community has now been saddled with what American has been saddled with, immature, self gratifying, under-achievers who appear to hate everything they didn’t think of or get credit for!

    The snarky, snide and condescending utterances by the present crop of elected entities will soon be identified by the working voters who have become fed up with bad manners, bad deportment, lewd and vile sexual deviations and they will find themselves Deposed (some via possible Indictment) upon their own man made dung heap…history may be slow but it eventually flushes out the mess inside the Augean Halls of Government.

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