LARGO - A former member of the Largo City Commission, saying that he can remain silent no longer, has blasted the operations of the city administration and implied that the City Commission is a "captive" body.
Charlie Harper, who did not seek re-election in 2005, made the latest project of the city pushing development of the former Winn Dixie story site one of his targets.
"The new project is designed to take the heat off the failed 'super block' development," Harper said.
He was referring to the plans to develop the huge block on the southeast corner of U.S. 19 and Roosevelt Boulevard.
Fred Thomas was planning to move his successful business into that site and Bob Schmidt, a Belleair Shore official and developer, had plans through his Boulder Venture company for a mixed use development.
That whole project, that was beset with petty politics and bitter encounters between City Manager Steve Stanton and Bob Jackson, the former mayor, seems to have fallen by the wayside. It was supposed to have been the best thing since the invention of printed currency.
Referring to that failed effort, Harper said, "The redevelopment of the old grocery store site is now the 'future,'" Harper said.
The site is on East Bay and Highland Avenue, just a block from the city hall.
A restaurant, homes, recreation center, shops and offices are planned on the site which the City Commission first officially heard about last week.
Largo's administration seldom gives advance notice to the commission of its plans, but usually presents ideas as a fait accompli.
The commission agreed to allow the city to pursue development in partnership with the property owner on the 8 ½ acre site.
Harper sees a cost to taxpayers for this project. "Funny thing," he says, "but everything the city gets involved in costs the taxpayers plenty. The old city hall property was sold for far less than its value and the same goes for where the old police station was."
Harper admitted that the hotel built on the old police station site was good but "that it cost the city big time."
He continued, "Now the old library building comes down, and we could have a world renowned medical education facility there."
Harper was referring to St. Petersburg College's idea of having a school for prosthetics there. That idea was summarily turned down by the commission in favor, at the time, of promoting a go-nowhere art center there.
Harper says, "I still ask the question, where is the money coming from for the development on the Winn Dixie site? Only (Commissioner) Mary Black asked about costs when it was brought before the commission last week, but she was pushed aside."
He pointed out that recreation fees in the city went up this year, that sewer taxes "are about to sky rocket, but the only cautionary voices come from a pair of citizens, Curtis Holmes and John Atanasio."
Harper praised the Clearwate Gazette for its coverage and pointed out that the county's only daily newspaper is "hiding the news and will do nothing to slow down the 'progressive' force that has taken over the Largo government."
"So what is going on in Largo?" Harper asks. "For years this city did not raise tax levels, we lived well on the yearly property increases. Now we are raising revenue from every available resource.
"If poor planning over the previous 10 to 15 years was at fault, why does the administration just say so, and provide evidence of that. If that was not the case, and I suspect it was not, we must ask the question now, 'What is going on with the constant need to raise tax revenue?' Inflation cannot be blamed, growth, especially the way Largo does it, should add revenue with not a great deal more of expense. So why the need?"
Harper warned that the current commission "better start asking hard questions of the administration. I was a commissioner, I had a part in some of this so I am not pointing blame at any one person, but it is time that the elected officials stand up and do the job they were elected to do."
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