Monday, February 19, 2018
News Roundup

Romano: Explain to me again why this powerful board shouldn't answer to someone?

We can't trust educators.

At least not in the minds of state lawmakers, who have done a fair job of mutilating our public school curriculum in the name of accountability.

We can't trust our local elected officials, either.

Lawmakers don't want cities passing gun ordinances, so they've made local officials subject to fines and removal from office. In the name of accountability, naturally.

We can't trust pediatricians to discuss safety with parents, we can't trust women to make their own health decisions and we can't trust judges to hand down the proper sentences to criminals. That's why our legislators passed laws to stick their noses in the middle of all those situations.

As for building contractors?

Apparently, they're the most trustworthy people in the state.

That seems to be the message from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who says major changes are not needed at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

In other words, no accountability needed there.

In case you missed it, Times reporter Mark Puente uncovered a pile of abuses at the agency, leading to the resignation of executive director Rodney Fischer. That's fine. If there are major problems in an organization, then the boss often pays the price.

But, to anyone paying attention, the problem did not begin with Fischer. It began with the way the board was set up by the state in 1973.

It has no accountability. No safety net. No government official with the authority to make sure contractors aren't playing favorites or fast and loose with the rules.

And while contractors might run their own private businesses, the licensing board performs a government-like function. It has the power to settle disputes between contractors and citizens. It collects money through licenses, fees and fines. It is, essentially, a government proxy.

And that means it needs to have proper oversight.

"It's the only board in the state set up this way,'' said Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long. "That ought to be your No. 1 clue that something is wrong here.''

Pinellas commissioners, and at least some area legislators, seemed to be leaning toward a setup, used elsewhere in the state, that would have the board answer to the county government. Yet Latvala, who is the head of the Pinellas legislative delegation, declared he would not even entertain that option.

Latvala seems to think that changing personnel can make everything better. And maybe it will in the short term. But to suggest oversight isn't necessary is practically begging for more abuse down the line.

This isn't an insult to contractors or current licensing board members. It's simply an acknowledgment that government works best with checks and balances. No one should be able to run a public agency without someone else looking over their shoulder.

"If you're having a problem with the agency, who do you go to for help?'' asked County Commissioner Charlie Justice.

It's even more outrageous when you consider how Florida lawmakers have needlessly insinuated themselves, time and again, into the operation of education, local government, health matters and the judiciary, all in the name of accountability.

And now we're supposed to simply trust a regulatory agency with zero oversight?

To put it kindly, it's disingenuous. To put it bluntly, it's ridiculous.

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