CLEARWATER - Based on questions asked around the county, most people were under the impression that the review committee looking at the county charter with an eye to some revisions was an independent body, free from any governmental entity.
So when the County Commission allocated $150,000 last week for a public relations campaign that would "educate" (read persuade) voters there was surprise in many quarters.
Cities in the county have already mounted their fight against certain changes the committee recommended in the charter.
The municipalities feel that the revisions would strip them of power. They will be in court beginning today with their lawyers seeking to block a referendum on the changes from appearing on the November ballot.
The County Commission's action was obviously designed to counter the cities' efforts and effectively drew the battle lines.
Of course, the commission is earmarking taxpayer funds for the fight. That means that the taxpayers are paying for both sides in the controversy over the charter changes.
Of course, the long-term goal is to turn the cities in the county into so many eunuchs with the county government wielding all effective power - on the lines of the Miami-Dade set up.
Significantly, County Administrator Steve Spratt worked in Miami-Dade government before he took the Pinellas helm. Informed observers feel he was brought here to pursue that long-term goal.
To their great credit, County Commissioners Karen Seel and Bob Stewart opposed the expenditure. Stewart said it would only inflame tensions between the county and cities.
Tensions are already inflamed between the two with running gun battles over annexations and the fair division of taxing responsibilities.
The $150,000 will pay for a direct mailing campaign to Pinellas voters and public advertising.
By lining up as it has, the County Commission has clearly shown that the review commission was, all along, its own creature designed to upset the balance of power in the county and beef up county government.
The cities are opposed to revisions in the charter that would make it more difficult to annex commercial property and also a provision that would eliminate the dual referendum, a device that allows cities to opt out of some countywide laws and policies if the particular city's voters reject them.
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