“Goodism” on the Pinellas County Commission

This is the first ever Tampa Bay Guardian editorial, and we hope it’s our last. But we believe we must comment on the recent botched Pinellas County ordinance banning “fracking” that actually allows the very thing it sought to ban. The commission’s huge blunder, worthy of a solid facepalm, is a sign of deeper problems.

Commissioner Janet Long first said such a ban was “laughable” because “we’re not going to have fracking in Florida.” Ms. Long should’ve known that the salient issue is not whether there is going to be fracking in Florida, but whether there could be any fracking in Pinellas County. Long was elected county-wide, not state-wide.

Ban or no ban, fracking will not happen in Pinellas County because the county doesn’t have the kinds of geological formations that would make fracking even a remote possibility. The fracking ban passed on Tuesday can be compared to to banning snowmobiling on the streets of Key West. Yet such stupid local laws are routinely passed for reasons of “public safety” and “for the children.”

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Long and her fellow commissioners nonetheless expended significant taxpayer resources and staff time pursuing a meaningless ban that is truly laughable – and impotent. The botched fracking ban makes Long and her colleagues the laughing stock of the county. Now why would they work so hard to pass a meaningless local law?

The answers lies in the desire to appear to be good, or “goodism” (to coin a phrase). Goodism is a powerful tool for politicians seeking re-election and we would not comment on such posturing and prancing if taxpayer dollars were not used to advance the political careers of these county commissioners.

Already 500 years ago, famed writer Machiavelli said that it was more important for a ruler to “appear to” have certain “good qualities” than to actually have them (see above). Human nature has not changed appreciably since that time, so we should not be surprised by the actions of seven goodist commissioners who voted for this meaningless ban.

BCC_group_photo_aThe ordinance should embarrass all county commissioners (pictured right), and the staff who worked on it. But it likely won’t embarrass politicians whose county commission meetings have become depraved Consent Fests which fail to critically examine issues.

Proclamations and awards? Yes, and let’s have a lot more of them! Asking tough questions and wanting to hear from policy critics in an effort to get better public policy outcomes? Heck no, let’s ban that! Write up the ordinance, Jim!  County attorney Jim Bennett is asked to do things that no municipal attorney should be asked to do.

The commissioners also failed to pick up on several other problems in the ordinance, e.g. its mischaracterization of the 2015 draft EPA report on fracking and the potential impacts on groundwater. The EPA does not cite one example where fracking fluids where shown to have affected groundwater, yet the ordinance flatly claims that fracking “adversely impacts the quality of groundwater”. Did they even read the ordinance or the EPA report?

The commissioners seem to think that if any risk is involved in any activity, it should be banned. By this line of logic, they should not drive their own cars and instead take the bus to 305 Court Street. After all, the data shows that PSTA buses are much safer per passenger mile than driving.

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County attorney Jim Bennett receives an update on the status of the county commission he TRIES to serve

In 2013 for the Greenlight Pinellas referendum, four of the current commissioners (Long, Morroni, Welch and Seel) selected the ballot language proposed by PSTA’s general counsel over that proposed by their own county attorney. Presumably, these commissioners “forgot” who their agency’s attorney was in their goodist headlong rush to please their campaign donors.  Then the voters spoke, and 62% said NO to their light rail fantasies.

Our county commissioners are as befuddled by the current anger among the electorate as they are by fracking itself. Are they even aware that median income in the county has risen less than 1% total in the last 5 years while they ramped up the spending 28%? Have they become completely blind to the real needs of the citizens?

The fact that the average citizens don’t benefit from the decisions of these politicians, whereas campaign donors do, should be a big hint to them as to why people all across the political spectrum feel anger. Although we here at the Guardian editorial board feel no anger, at least we see its causes clearly.

Fraying on Walsingham Road, as captured by Google Earth in April, 2016.
Above: frayed edge of Walsingham Road, as captured by Google Earth in April, 2016. This hazard to cyclists was reported in Pinellas County’s “See Click Fix” system on April 6th, but still has not been fixed.

The commission must focus on real issues that actually affect citizens, such as our potholed, rippled and cracked roads, which are now literally fraying at the edges. Another issue is the unacceptable and repeated spills of raw sewage into the waters of Tampa Bay perpetrated by incompetent city government in St. Pete led by mayor Rick Kriseman.

What solution do our commissioners propose to these problems? Maybe they will pass even more meaningless ordinances, this time banning potholes and spills of raw sewage. Enough with the goodism, already.

Commissioners Janet Long, Charlie Justice, John Morroni, Karen Seel, Pat Gerard, Ken Welch and Dave Eggers – it’s high time to ban your own fan dances and focus only on issues that impact ordinary county residents.

Tackling real issues is hard – it involves really hard work, and there is a risk of failure. However, by tackling fake issues the commissioners themselves become the failure, and the voters can see that quite clearly.

As always, the Guardian reports (or opines) and the readers decide.

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