By Leo Coughlin
All Largo was abuzz over the past week with the revelation that the city was running a shuttle bus to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa for those who love to gamble.
Of course, some taxpayer funds have had to be spent on this questionable program, notwithstanding city officials "butter wouldn't melt in my mouth" assertions that it "costs the city nothing."
What was the amazing spike-up in the revelation was that Norton Craig, the city manager, knew nothing about the city provided transportation to those halls of iniquity.
That put a focus on something that appears in Craig's weekly "Manager's Report."
It says, "The City of Largo would like to thank all of our excellent, dedicated employees who help . . . in providing superior services that enhance the quality of life and community pride . . ."
That came in for some rich chortling and snickers among folks at breakfasts and lunches wondering if the bus service for the gambling came under this category.
How do we know that Craig knew nothing about the gamboling gambling trips? Because he said it without a flicker of doubt in his voice at last week's commission meeting when the subject came up - "I know nothing about it." It would have done that kraut sergeant in "Hogan's Heroes" justice.
The information was elicited by Commissioner Curtis Holmes who is taking a stronger and stronger role of leadership on what has been a lackluster commission for years.
There is another subject no doubt even more important than the transportation provided to card games and wheels of chance (did it ever occur to Parks and Recreation, i.e., the Entertainment Committee, that some taxpayers belong to religions that consider gambling very immoral).
What is of high importance is the function of advisory boards in Largo. And more importantly and accurately, the criteria for selection to these boards.
If these boards' recommendations are taken seriously by the commission then they play a crucial, make or break role for citizens, particularly those petitioning for changes in pursuit of development.
That is what emerged last week.
Largo's City Commission had before it the first reading of an ordinance that would have amended the future land use map with the most immediate effect being a designation change in property along Highland Avenue.
The case had a long and tortuous path. Both city staff and the Planning Board had recommended against the change.
What is significant and to the point in this exercise today is what happened at one Planning Board meeting. According to a reliable citizen who was present and witnessed what happened one of the members of the board was busy texting or on a hand held video game or some such thing while the issue was being discussed.
The time came for a vote and this individual said words to the effect, "Oh, I really don't understand what this is all about. I vote no."
What a colossal disservice to the parties, to the board itself, to the City Commission and a total mis and malfeasance of office.
That is the point. What are the criteria for the members of boards whose recommendations are supposedly taken seriously by the City Commission?
It would behoove members of the City Commission to insist that proposed members of these boards be vetted and scrutinized to see if they are competent to perform within the mission of the particular board.
The interesting question last week was what turned the commission around, with a 6-1 vote granting the change, in the face of Planning Board and staff opposition?
As far as can be determined it was the performance of John Hixenbaugh, a lawyer and former city planner, who was representing Dr. Allen Finkelstein and his developer, John Hopengarten.
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