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Was the PDC right to approve the Pine Ridge change?

Finally Friday, thank you for joining. Got a great one for you to send it into the weekend. I am headed into the homestretch in my running for the Key Training Center. I have 27.99 miles logged and going to round out the 31 miles this evening. I also have a 5k race tomorrow morning which I signed up for prior to wanting to get involved with Run for the Money so…we’ll see how that goes. Anyway, I want to thank Clerk of the Court Angela Vick and school board candidate Dale Merrill for their donations to the Key in support of me. It hasn’t been easy, but it is worth it.


Part of me wishes to make today’s main topic a response to Just Wright Citrus irresponsibly speculating that Sheriff Mike Prendergast is up to no good because a CCSO helicopter was sold without much fanfare but there are more important things to talk about. I will say this though, Mike Wright’s limited and horribly biased perspective against the Sheriff is that the action, shrouded in mystery, is for nefarious purposes even though he acknowledges that the Sheriff acted well within the law with the way it was handled. What normal people without the bias would be asking themselves is this: why did CCSO own a helicopter that could still fetch $1million on the market over a half decade into its use? That means it had to be worth significantly more when it was first purchased, under the previous Sheriff Jeff Dawsy administration, which it was.


And when you have that perspective, then the story doesn’t become why didn’t we know about the sale, it becomes why the heck weren’t we more outraged in the absolute disgusting example of government largess from the past? But that has the potential of reflecting negatively on the agency, and Sheriff Mike Prendergast has a duty to lead the agency – one he takes very seriously, so when the opportunity presented itself to absolutely blast the previous Sheriff, the one who endorsed his opponent in the last election and said some truly slanderous things about Prendergast in the press, Sheriff Prendergast still declined to do so. Instead he just did his job to save the taxpayers money and protect the integrity of CCSO. He’s a professional.


And you know what’s not professional? Clinging to any ambiguous detail about the legal ongoings of operations you don’t understand in hopes of getting clicks. But anyway, that’s not our topic for today.


I want to spend another day using what happened at the planning and development commission as a basis for some philosophical views about government – some I haven’t fully comprehended myself. I also need to correct one or two things I said yesterday as we continue to breakdown this situation. So strap in, we have one more trip down the philosophical road before the weekend arrives. And this one is full of twists and turns.


I said in Wednesday’s show about Ken Frink and the City of Crystal River that I was going to be hypocritical, and I’m going to tip toe that line again here. I’m going to argue that the Planning & Development Commission acted correctly in their 6-1 vote to change the Pine Ridge master plan and approve an 85 home single-family housing project on the former golf course property despite the overwhelming show of public resistance to the project.

This is potentially hypocritical to two statements I’ve made in past shows. The first was that I wasn’t a fan of the way the late, great county administrator Randy Oliver led, sometimes leading elected commissioners to his agenda through withholding information like he inarguably did with a staff report reflecting negatively on his leadership or limited the available choices. The reason why I didn’t like this was because his appointed position should not go against the elected voice of the people in the commission.


I said the same thing with county tourism director John Pricher. I said he’s a good guy, but approving a project the commission had denied would be an inexcusable offense because it goes against the will of the people, These two opinions can be true and it can also be true that the PDC acted properly yesterday. It’s going to take some nuance and a lot of mental gymnastics to get there. So let’s start here.


“There go the people,” begins my favorite political saying. “There go the people, and I must follow them, for I am their leader.” It’s satire. But it illustrates a classic governing dilemma. Are elected officials a pure reflection of the voice of the people or are elected, and today’s case some appointed, officials bound by a duty to lead by what they think is right even in the face of public opposition. I think the latter – let leaders lead.


So how then can I criticize Randy Oliver and John Pricher but praise the PDC? Because the PDC is a deliberating body whereas Oliver and Pricher were employees. The two are different. The PDC is meant to take in all information, public opinion being one of many inputs, and make the best recommendation possible to the Board of County Commissioners.


I was against this project but I also was acting on some bad inputs – some bad information. I wrongly said yesterday that the golf course was neighborhood greenspace. It was actually open space and the developer is leaving about 120 acres of the 200 acres as green space and vegetation buffer. That’s over half. Those are hard numbers. Now let’s look at something more abstract.


If you’ve been listening to me for a while, then you know how academic these shows can get, which is going to make this next part seem ridiculous in contrast. But the project passes the outloud test. Say it outloud. Only 85 new single-family homes, all on acre lots, with over 50% greenspace, in a habitat that had already been developed but was without purpose beyond that. The result will ease our growth problem and contribute more to the taxbase, especially since Pine Ridge is commission district 3, which means those new builds will be paying the impact fee which the commission just raised the transportation fee from 50 to 100% so maybe that can help ease some of the impending pain coming with the parkway extension not to mention add to the county taxbase. Pine Ridge has 6,000 homes, this is a planned development for…85. All of that in comparison to demanding that property be kept in a state of undeveloped limbo.


But Bobby! It’s unfair to the residents who bought on the golf course. Their property values are now decreased. This isn’t what they signed up for! It’s true. It’s also true that it looks like the big money outsider is winning while the little guy just trying to live out his retirement is getting screwed. I get that. Yesterday the little guy roared with hundreds of people in attendance and seemingly got ignored. That is at best frustrating and at worst infuriating and it makes you want to put a We the People bumper sticker on your truck.

But there is a broader perspective. Are the few hundred homes, we’ll call it 1,000 although I don’t know the exact number, that will be directly affected and the 6,000 who will be indirectly affected worth denying a project that will benefit the other 150,000 residents who live here? That’s a complicated question. It’s one that reflects a problem for elected officials and deliberative bodies like the PDC.


Let’s take it in this direction real quick. I hear people all the time argue, we need open primaries! Closed primaries disenfranchise Democrats here that would lead to a better reflection of what ALL the community wants. Really? Because that’s just primaries. We have open elections, they’re called general elections, and those are 65-70% for the Republicans. Open primaries would be a better reflection of the people’s choice…who show up to vote in primaries. But if you want the best demonstration of what all the people want then general elections are just that and general elections say things like the Sheriff has a 75% approval rating among residents and other hard truths that some might stretch bad arguments to deny.


The point is that it’s hard for us who are personally affected, like me as a Pine Ridge resident, to see passed out own self-interest and that’s why the board is so important to make independent decisions regardless of what public input says. Were the people overwhelmingly against the project, those who showed up, yes, is that a representative sample of the virtue the project brings to all residents? Absolutely not. Absolutely not.


In my function as a political consultant, I would tell the three commissioners to vote against the project when it arrives before their board. There are enough votes in Pine Ridge to swing an election and this is an issue that they are fired up enough about to be that swing decision. But is that really fair to the rest of the residents to adopt that view? No. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.


I’ll wrap up this week by saying some of this stuff is hard and I don’t have perfect answers, so drop your thoughts in the comments on this, thanks for listening, and have a great weekend.

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