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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas County officials grapple with perception of bloated government



CLEARWATER -- During the first few hours of a series of strategic planning meetings, Pinellas County commissioners and County Administrator Bob LaSala have wrestled with how to mesh a public that perceives government as bloated after making tens of millions in spending cuts each of the past few years.

The sessions, led by consultant John Streitmatter, have focused on how the members work together before they lay out top ideas for budgeting and running the county. (Streitmatter is being paid no more than $60,000 under a county contract.)

"A lot of people kind of think government is bloated. So we come in an make the cuts, and people don't feel them," Commissioner Neil Brickfield said. "So therefore government is bloated."

The board viewed a PowerPoint presentation that showed their general fund spending dropping below 2002 levels while other officeholders hadn't fallen as much, although it left out parts such as utilities spending and other programs that also are part of the budget.

LaSala partially blamed it the disconnect between the federal spending angst and what actually happens at the local level on people's expectations for quick information in a "Sesame Street society" used to getting information in 60-second bites.

Several commissioners blamed distrust of the federal government for trickling down to them, and the fact that emergency and mandatory services haven't been cut. But Commissioner Ken Welch made another point: A lot of the people who rely on health care aren't apt to call and complain.

Other parts of the meeting have been less weighty. Each official had to tell the others what makes them go and what ticks them off. LaSala said passive-aggressive behavior -- "hiding the ball," not disclosing all info -- bothers him the most.

"What about when you do it?" Brickfield replied.

"Call me on it," LaSala said.


[Last modified: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 5:02pm]


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