Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Heat is Rising

Recent headlines:

Bilyeu pledges to continue efforts to unseat McNees

Compromised city manager signals need for change

The clash over McNees

Question of McNees' departure has not been put to rest

McNees botched message to planners

Commissioners back out of costly garage deal

More warts sprout on Burns Court deal

There has been lots of news stories and columns recently about communication or maybe more accurately mis-communication. The common element is our City Manager, Mike McNees. He has managed to remain at the center of attention ever since the "quicky" announcement about the Orange Dolphin deal and the subsequent CRA vote to seal the deal - which later fell through.

Because of that incident, the focus of the public eye shifted again on McNees’ communications ability. With two commissioners publicly saying it is time for a change, the split commission is likely headed for some rough times. The questioning from columnists, editorial calls for a change and the news stories have brought more attention and resulted in strained relationships. This makes for a tough work environment in City Hall these days.

All of this comes at a time when two very critical issues about the future of downtown Sarasota are to be discussed: what to do about the "Plaza Verdi" site and what to do with the Pineapple Square proposal. With a gun shy City Manager and Commission, and strained relationships, if there isn’t community buy-in on these proposals, the heat will just get higher and higher. It may even spill over to some of the commissioners.

We would urge the commissioners to take a deep breath, slow down and thoroughly look at these proposals before jumping to a decision - particularly the Pineapple Square proposal. This has some of the very same pitfalls that the Orange Dolphin deal had. A developer/owner is telling the city that time is of the essence and that they must act rapidly because competition is knocking at the door. We would urge a deliberative look at the options. For example, what are the options for the State Street parking lot, other than as part of the Pineapple Square proposal? Why not issue the RFP to solicit ideas from other potential developers. Jumping to a quick conclusion on the Pineapple Square proposal could prove to create quite a few hot seats.

Community buy-in without communication will be tough. If another quick decision is made, there will be many more questions. The prudent path is to ask all the right questions, make sure the community is behind you, then make a deliberative decision that is best for the entire community for the long term.

Communication of every aspect of these decisions is critical.

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