Clock Tower Site Project Raises Many Questions, But None From Largo Commission
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The long and tiresome history of bringing to fruition an upgrading, or fixing, or whatever to the northwest corner of Central Park raises many questions, in the eyes of those who follow closely developments in Largo.
One aspect seems clear - somebody in the city administration very avidly wants what is now there on the southeast corner of Bay Drive and Seminole Boulevard demolished, the symbolic clock removed and some new spiffing up done.
The project began with Recreation and Parks. It went through a Public Works Department phase for maneuvering purposes with the City Commission and the bean counters buried in the bowels of City Hall.
Above it all stands (or sits or naps) the city manager, Mac Craig, who has played no visible role in all these machinations and, as far as anyone knows, has played no role in any way, leaving the struggle, evidently, to subordinates.
Members of the City Commission routinely sit there and listen to the latest chapter in the history of the project, never asking questions, never blinking - even when a tree costing $10,000 is mentioned.
Go back to September of 2008 and you find the project, then pegged at $300,000 in cost, first brought up.
Initially, no price tag was on the project as it was presented to the commission. What came out in some questioning at that time was the $300,000 figure then, on top of that, it was discovered that there was going to be an extra $68,900 earmarked for trees.
This nearly blew Commissioner Mary Black away as she discovered it on some questioning that bordered on cross examination. Had Black not persisted in her avid questioning, the deal might have been successfully snuck by the commission.
Later in September, discussion of the project came up again, but this time with Brian Usher of the PWD the point man on explaining potential costs to the commission.
Joan Byrne, boss of the Parks and Recreation Department, was now taking a back seat, although she had always been the advocate for the project before.
At that meeting, late in September last year, Mayor Pat Gerard opposed any idea of a fountain in connection with the re-done plaza, calling such a thing more trouble than it was worth.
The discussion went on at length, interminably (while the $27 million Rec and Parks was about to spend didn't even get a slight once over). At that point, the project was left up in the air.
As an eminent piece of demonstrable evidence that the bobbleheads on the City Commission are not a niggardly group, last November (when the clock tower plaza project went into hibernation) there came the proposition to spend $345,000 on 69 trees.
"I kid you not," one observer recalled. "They were going to okay that huge amount for sixty-nine trees at five thousand dollars each."
It gets rather tedious, true, but the project then seems to have arisen again in March when the administration claimed that $300,000 had been budgeted and that there was a contract "not to exceed" $295,950 but that $100,000 had been set aside for a new clock. That adds up to $395,950, within spitting distance of half a million dollars.
Come April, just two months ago, and the price was now given as $230,000. Confused? Most observers are, but no member of the commission, because as yet no questions raised, just heads going up and down in a vertical move.
Some sort of clarification seems to have emerged on May 19, less than a month ago, when it was explained that the contractor had agreed to the $230,000 price.
The money, it was explained was to be financed this way - $210,000 from the ever diminishing Penny for Pinellas fund, $20,000 from the swollen tree fund . . . but then, utter confusion as Usher, the PWD boss, mentioned an additional $17,000 for bushes and shrubbery or something like that.
So that puts the cost back at something like $250,000.
And no questions from the City Commission.
But plenty from observers.
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