Monday, January 22, 2018
Politics

Difficult choices take no holidays

’Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the county — well, let's just say politicians were dealing with plenty.

Getting no holiday from hard choices, the Hillsborough County School Board wrestled this week with whether to put armed guards at its elementary schools in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook, Conn., shootings. Sound idea, or big, expensive overreaction?

And just down the street, Hillsborough County commissioners were deep in debate over a controversial way to deal with the stray cat population by trapping, fixing and releasing them back into the world. Humane, or a horror show in which cats live short, brutal lives?

They were both emotional issues, the kind you hope the people you elect have the smarts and sensibilities to handle without pandering, pontificating or politicking.

Turns out at least some of them did.

School superintendent MaryEllen Elia pushed the plan for armed guards in all 144 elementary schools at a yearly cost that could climb as high as $4.5 million when the plan is fully implemented after four years. And will you look at that, principal after principal showed up to help make the case. Elia is no slouch.

But who could blame principals for wanting an extra layer of protection that could also help deal with angry parents and other potential problems?

For the record, Hillsborough's middle and high schools already have sworn law enforcement officers, and guards are at 19 elementary schools where they were determined to be needed.

And after Sandy Hook, local school districts took sensible security measures like installing locks, buzzers and fences. But none armed all of their schools.

And is adding a hired guard a real solution to stopping a planned and violent attack?

So this discussion gave a pretty good glimpse of some board members and the stuff of which they are made. Newest member Cindy Stuart was unafraid to speak frankly and like a grownup, sans pandering, about the lack of real need for this. April Griffin, who has advocated a larger approach to deal with the underlying issues, said clearly, "I don't want to live in a police state."

And then there was swing vote Stacy White, invoking God and country, throwing in how we need to get back to basics and "stop our relentless pursuit of irrelevant material goods made in China." And no, I did not make that up. And, yes, he is running for the county commission.

And so the first year of an armed guard plan that seems more Band-Aid than solution passed 4-3.

Meanwhile, over at the Hills­borough commission, they were getting an earful on a plan to trap, neuter, vaccinate, microchip and release strays known as "community cats." (Which sounds like a bunch of cats getting together for a neighborhood potluck.) Part of the ambitious "Be The Way Home" program, it's actually a tough-choice option for dealing with strays and working to reduce how many cats are killed at the animal shelter each year.

Commissioners also heard from those opposed, including some veterinarians, who said such cats can spread disease and lead brutal lives, that euthanizing is still the best option.

And the board voted 6-1 to make the tough choice and begin the program, and pandering took a holiday.

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