By Leo Coughlin
This week's discussion is going to examine the courage of a man in blue in Largo and the ugga bugga boo ugga boo boo ugga approach to public policy by some in Belleair Bluffs.
Which to take up first?
Well, because of its very nature, let's go with the subject of courage and good sense and leave the adventures of the obtuse for later.
Courage is needed in Largo, especially when you are a significant official going against what could be described as the official grain.
One must be strong of heart in that leaderless atmosphere of one screw-up after another under the unsteady hand of an inexperienced city manager who literally is all at sea.
As is the case with every element in this life, it's all about money.
And Largo has the shorts, just like everyone else.
So to cure its money woes which were pushed up against contractual obligations to unions representing city workers and police, the money mavens thought they would be real clever and grant the required 3 percent raises and then take them away by "furloughing" folks.
It didn't work, a cockamamie piece of advice from a labor lawyer to the contrary. Maybe his view carried weight with the desperate money crunchers in City Hall, but the betting is that it wouldn't have carried the day in court.
A close reading and rational interpretation of the statute that might have remotely applied revealed that it would take more than that lawyer's opinion to upset the constitutional bar on the impairing the of the obligation of contracts.
But to the point - Chief Lester Aradi defied the city manager and high ranking city officialdom as far as budget constraints on his Police Department were concerned.
He pointed out the inherent danger of cutbacks in the ability of the police to do their job. At the same time, he recognized and said publicly that he was probably putting his job on the line for speaking out.
Any time a leader is putting his or her job on the line, I want to be in the company of that person. That is where it counts.
With Aradi, such a stance is no surprise. This man never seeks controversy, accommodates, leads with quiet certitude and dignity.
But he knows when the powers to be are wrong and he speaks out.
P.S. - To the credit of a Largo City Commission, too often complacent and mere putty in the hands of the administration, it upended the "furlough" idea.
Money to pay for what the city said it couldn't afford will come out of reserves. It amounts to a million bucks, and the stingy city has about $14 million in the vault.
Over in Belleair Bluffs, and this is the ugga bugga boo, etc., part of today's discussion, Mayor Chris Arbutine and his more experienced colleagues on the City Commission are all agog at the amateur show that keeps cropping up.
A while ago, Arbutine had to get rid of a fire chief who thought that he could run city affairs and saw to it that a fire chief in another city got dumped for overstepping his bounds.
That's the only way to deal with amateurs who don't know a whit, obviously, about how government works.
A key issue in the Bluffs signing up with the Largo Fire & Rescue was the pension status of Bluffs firefighters who are going to be subsumed into the Largo department.
Arbutine dutifully met with Largo officials to discuss the idea of merging the current Belleair Bluffs fire fighters pension plan with that of Largo.
Largo turned the idea down based on sound logic and good financial sense. On the money end, it would be a huge liability; on the thinking end, pensions are payments for service to an employer and no Bluffs fire fighter has worked for Largo.
Ipso facto, no inclusion.
And then, Joe Barkley, rookie member of the Bluffs commission (who seems to want to outdo his fellow rookie, Suzy Sofer, in amateur ideas) came up with the notion of giving each of the fire fighters $60,000 to $80,000 based on sick pay.
(When it ain't your money, it's fun to give it away, right?)
Bottom line - Arbutine says Belleair Bluffs will make good to the fire fighters on an equitable basis.
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