By Leo Coughlin
The responsibilities of elected officials include asking questions, alertly safeguarding public funds, informing themselves to the greatest extent possible of all the operations of those they supervise.
Beyond that, elected folks have a fiduciary duty - a legal duty - to the public. Fiduciary comes from a word that means faith. That is, they must exercise good faith, trust.
Elected positions are positions of trust.
Now consider the Largo City Commission.
It appears to be an adjunct of the city's administration. That is, whatever the city staff comes up with gets nodding approval, bobbleheads style, with no question and no alarms.
No alarms - even when a new fact comes bouncing off the wall, never heard before and one that raises eyebrows among observers but seems not to faze any commission member.
An example occurred at the commission's last regular meeting, June 2. Brian Usher, the public works boss, was citing how the project to upgrade the corner where the clock tower will be removed will be paid for.
He noted $210,000 would come from Penny from Pinellas funds, another $20,000 from the city's bloated tree fund and "an additional" $17,000 from the general fund.
Well, that was brand new. A figure never mentioned before in a project that was pared down from $295,000 to what the staff was congratulating itself on to a "sensible" $230,000.
Usher's mention of the extra $17,000 drew not one question from the blank faced members of the commission. It drew not even a blink from any of them. Yet it was a figure that had never been mentioned before.
All along, there seems to have been something very funny - in the meaning of odd - about the whole idea of removing the clock tower and re-doing the northwest corner of Central Park.
The project has been around for nine months now and in this gestation period has undergone enough changes, modifications, touch ups that would challenge a world class contortionist. Something just doesn't seem right.
Nevertheless, none of it, no aspect of the project, draws any question from the commission.
On top of that, commission members sit there and blithefully sign off on a multi-million dollar community center and a very expensive upgrading of Highland Avenue - the idea is to transform it from a very adequate road at present to a Largo version of the Champs Elysee or Unter den Linden.
All this at a time of the greatest financial crush in memory. Given the aleatory nature of elections - one impends in November - the three on the commission up for review by voters could be in possible jeopardy.
The voters of Largo, usually in deep drowsy apathy, just might wake up and learn that their mayor, Pat Gerard, and Commissioners Gigi Arntzen and Rodney Woods are doing no more than collecting pay checks. Those voters just might turn to new blood.
Take a look at what's going into the rehab of the Clock Tower corner and the costs thereof - questions spring up like mushrooms in a soggy bog.
Design and general conditions - $38,000 (what in tarnation are "general conditions"?); contractor profit and labor cost - $25,000; hardscape installation - $81,000; landscape installation - $37,000; demolition costs - $8,000; commemorative bricks - $25,000 (do donations accompany these? Isn't this part of the "hardscape installation"?); project contingency - $16,000 (read "automatic overrun" or synonym for more profit).
As given by the city - "Total Project Costs = $230,000." "Less Tree Fund Contribution = $20,000." "Total from LOST Fund = $210,000."
So where does this extra $17,000 cited by Herr Usher come in, to pose just one question.
No one on the commission asks.
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