Friday, August 24, 2012

Foster- Flip Flopping or just Desperate?

Mayor Foster is now trying to gain some support for the sagging fire fee by asking City Council to exempt non-profits. I don't know if this one qualifies as a genuine flip flop but it sure shows some serious desperation on the part of the administration.

Foster has also said he wants to lower both of the components of the fire fee. Either you have budget problem or you don't. If you're going to reduce the base and lower the amount of the fee it sounds like the true budget detail may not support the fire fee at all.

If you want some detail, Mark Puente has an informative piece in the Tampa Bay Times: "Mayor Foster now says nonprofits shouldn't have to pay the fire fee"

Foster has done a good job of keeping Council off point on the Budget with the fire fee. It appeals to the base instinct of a politician, because it raises revenue but is not really a tax. Most of the discussion has been about raising revenue not really looking at costs.

Council rolled over and voted for the fire fee to "get a balanced budget" when what they should have done is reject the fee, send the budget back to Foster, specified no cuts in public safety and directed him to bring back a balanced budget. Put the pressure where it is supposed to be - on the Administration. That is what the Charter amendment voted in during the last election allows them to do.

It is hard to imagine that in a $200 million plus budget, with a shortfall of around $10 million, that another 5% cut would as the Mayor said, "lead to the deterioration of our city and the deconstruction of what we have built up over the last 20 years." It might if the Mayor let that happen, but if he would just lead instead of waffle, things would not deteriorate.

Proving once again it is easier to grandstand than fix the problems.

Council has one more opportunity to kill this really regressive fee/tax. No talking, debating, over thinking, legal mumbo-jumbo from the lawyers on the Council, just vote it down.
It is time for the Mayor to look at all of the departments and do some more cutting. There is room and he knows it.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Unanswered Questions = More Fees and Taxes

City Council and the Mayor are pretty good about starting things but not to good at following up.
Here are some lingering questions that need answers:
Several months back Chief Harmon told the PS&I City Council Subcommittee that the Armored Video Surveillance Unit to be built in a vehicle donated over 9 months ago would be available in July. Where is it?

Well part of the problem is the PD decided to have a "naming" contest so they can figure out what to call the thing. Good idea or just a delaying tactic. I'll let you decide.

While we're on the subject of video surveillance cameras, the PD was supposed to come up with a policy on where they would be located, who would monitor them and so on. Never mind the fact they have had a draft policy for over a year, no report yet.

What about the $250,000 or so in cameras from the RNC? Did anyone ever really figured out what they are going to do with those after the party?

Sticking with the PD, did anyone ever call or e-mail the Sheriff and ask him how much it would cost to have the Sheriff's call center dispatch the PD? Last time Wengay ask the question they all just ignored him. But the amount you're going to pay the City to cover the PD budget overage of $9 million or so is real. Either you'll pay a regressive fee/tax or a property tax increase, but no real serious effort to reduce cost.

While we're on a roll with the PD, that new building will have $2 to$4 million or more in costs associated with the communications center. Last time Mike Connors was asked for a cost estimate on that part of the project he said he didn't have the number but would get it. Anybody seen the figure?
Foster was supposed to bring a balanced budget to City Council in accordance with the last Charter amendments but he really didn't do that. He used the Police budget overage as a lever to get a fee/tax increase.
Mayor Foster should ring a few bells and get some answers. Good luck.
Council should throw out the fire fee/tax, forget any mileage increase hand the budget back to Mayor Foster and tell him to bring it back with no operational cuts at the PD.
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Gateway Project - Who Knew What When

The Gateway Project - Who Knew What When?

Mayor Foster put on his innocent look. Council Chair Curran shrieked secrecy and back door deals. City Council ran for cover.

Then there is an interesting name, Rick Musset, that surfaced.

It is no stretch to say that Rick Musset is probably as close to a genius as anyone on the City staff. Beginning with the Dome and Bay Plaza right up to Bay Walk, Beach Drive, the downtown condo renaissance and the Shops at Bay Walk you will find Rick Musset's finger prints on virtually every major City development project in the last three plus decades.

Musset has an insatiable work ethic. A former City manager once told me, "Rick is my kind of guy. He is here when I get here, here when I leave, and usually answers his office phone on Saturday if I call". Musset was deeply trusted by two other notable deal makers: Rick Dodge and Rick Baker.

Serving City Mangers, strong Mayors and Councils since the 80s, save a brief stint up north, Musset has always been the consummate behind the scenes planner, problem solver and deal maker. In my experience the only people who knew what was going on are the people Mussett wanted to know and they only knew what Rick wanted them to know.

What is going on?

City staff is hobbled with a lack luster Mayor and a dysfunctional City Council. Right now my bet is most of the serious work is being done way behind the scenes. Staff can't trust the Mayor to keep his mouth shut about the deals in work, City Council is suffering from a serious case of talking too much, doing too little and ignoring the constituency. Curran, Council Chair, has lost any shred of public respect and provides no leadership. It is not particularly surprising they are not in the loop on anything big.

The fact that the entire elected City administration is not respected or trusted is evidenced by the fact the Darryl LeClair went to the County Commission about the Gateway project before coming to the St. Pete elected body.

It would be hard to believe that Musset would not be involved in something as big as this since the project would ultimately need a lot of City support. Musset is the principle deal maker and can string together a series seemingly impossible situations to make a deal work.

Musset plays Chess not Checkers. Curran has been around long enough to know that. When Rick Musset asks you to change something like a formal request from the Council Chair there is always more on the table than there is on the plate. Ask a few questions.

Just maybe if City Council and the Mayor listened to the people, paid more attention to the details and postured a little less, the serious people in the City with the ability to make things happen would include them.

They call that confidence.

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