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Misusing power to hurt the people

Honestly, at this late date we should be resigned to the usual doings at St. Petersburg City Hall — the secrecy, the deal-making, and a weak City Council that does precisely what the mayor and his staff instruct it to do.

But when the city government of St. Petersburg sets on a deliberate course to hurt thousands of people, if not the entire region — to do damage to them on purpose — it seems to me to be the duty of all citizens, no matter where they live, to rise up.

On Friday, the City Council will take up Mayor Rick Baker's plan to reach outside his compact city limits, to run a figurative snorkel across water and bridge alike, to reach into the heart of the neighboring community of Tierra Verde, and to annex it.

No, wait. Not to annex "it."

To annex parcels of land totaling 18 acres inside Tierra Verde so the developer-owners can get a deal from St. Petersburg on what they can build.

This dirty finger of annexation, this ugly and noncompact appendix, is a bad deal for everybody except the well-connected few who will profit.

It's devastating to Tierra Verde, which will be forever torn apart, an outside power in control of its heart, no matter whether Tierra Verde ever seeks to become a city itself one day.

Let's not talk about the increased traffic, the visual pollution, the stress on intersections already dangerous, the effects on the only road to the countywide treasure of Fort De Soto Park — why should St. Petersburg care?

Yet it's also a bad deal for the people of St. Petersburg, who have, through their Council of Neighborhood Associations, voted unanimously to oppose this bizarre incursion. We will pay the price in legal bills, in the ill will of our neighbors, and in increased pressure on public services, even if the city predicts there won't be any, as if by magic.

It's bad for the greater community of Pinellas County, which is trying to restore some order to prevent the "annexation wars" of the past.

It's bad for the taxpayers on all sides, who will be on the hook for any legal battle.

It's suspect, given the ham-fisted efforts to run off those few marina residents who might have had a say in this matter —voters who now, conveniently, are simply excluded by the cynical stroke of a pen on a map.

And all of this for what?

So that the mayor can reach across the bridge and establish a beachhead for future expansion?

So that the City Council can show who's the real boss to all those uppity citizens who came to speak?

For pride? For ego? For empire? For sheer mule-headedness and spite?

The city has only one, puny justification — that the annexation will increase St. Petersburg's tax take by $132,000. But that incremental gain is not worth the damage. We might spend more on lawyers.

They are our friends and neighbors on the council. I love Chairman Jamie Bennett and will love him still. But this is simply wrong, wrong in every sense of that word except for one — only when the word "right" is defined as whatever can be dictated by unilateral power.

The St. Petersburg City Council still has a day left to decide whether to act with statesmanship, which even now would be acknowledged gratefully by thousands, or to place the power of government and the oath of office itself into the unseemly service of private gain.

Misusing power to hurt the people 11/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 23, 2008 8:03am]
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