Sarasota News Leader

10/12/12

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Sarasota News Leader October 12, 2012 OPINION CITY PLAGUED BY CHRONIC COGNITIVE DISSONANCE By Kelly Kirschner Guest Columnist GUEST COLUMNIST A few years ago I attended a national con- vention on sales and marketing for consumer products in the digital age. At a time when Google serves you brand ads that are catered to what you're searching for in real time and Amazon knows and tells you what you'd like to read next, the persistent theme and advice of the many expert speakers was precise: Be relevant to your customer or plan for your liq- uidation sale. A series of decisions and actions over the past year by the Sarasota City Commission caps a year of cavalier indifference to citizens, good process and fiscal prudence. Amid the chaos, there are competing proposals to convert the city's government to either a strong city man- ager or strong mayor format. The merits of either proposal at the moment are trivial at best. The most pressing issue is a practical and economic one: If the city is not relevant to her taxpayers, and returns less and less to the community in spite of an increasing tax bur- den, then citizens and property owners will soon rise up and ask, "Why do we pay for this? Do we continue to need a city government that is not responsive to citizen needs?" As a former commissioner and mayor of Sara- sota who grew up here, it pains me to ask these questions. A few commission actions from the past year to contemplate: • Commissioners discarded, on the fly, two years of work and an investment of more than $100,000 in consultants and actuaries who had advised the city to move all nonvested em- ployees into a defined-contribution (401k) re- tirement program that was estimated to save the city up to $227 million over a 30-year pe- riod. • They ousted the past city manager based on an anonymous tip that emails had been delet- ed. A year into the investigation, no proof of criminality has been found in spite of more than $150,000 spent on digital forensic work and another $250,000-plus in severance and paid leave for the city manager and informa- tion technology staff. • Without prior advertised notice, they ordered the removal of all parking meters. While not popular, the meters were generating $60,000 a month for the city — covering the cost of parking enforcement and garage maintenance and generating a fund for financing future parking space in the city. Again, a multiyear public process and $500,000-plus investment Page 74

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