Friday, December 15, 2017
Opinion

Bill Foster: public servant as secret agent

To you maybe, Bill Foster is just the mayor of St. Petersburg. Little do you know that in surreality, hizzoner awakens every morning, stares into the mirror and sees, Foster, Bill Foster — International Man of Mystery — gazing back at him.

How else to explain the mayor's "For Your Eyes Only" preoccupation with treating so many issues facing the city as bigger secrets than the Social Security numbers of SEAL Team 6?

First it was Foster's ultra-uber-secret plan to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in town. The scheme was so hush-hush, so "Loose Lips Sink Ships," so covert, that one side of the mayor's mouth had no idea what the other side knew about the deal.

The M of City Hall was at it again this week, when Foster refused to discuss why the hamlet's effort to install security cameras is more dead than plans for "Heaven's Gate — The Sequel." He also would not even murmur an opinion regarding the Police Department's chase policy.

The mayor's oath of omerta occurred during a meeting with the St. Petersburg City Council, which is supposed to sort of help run the city when it comes to things like paying for installing cameras and funding the Police Department. In case anyone has forgotten, the mayor isn't the only elected official in City Hall who gets questions from voters about what's going on in the city.

It probably would have surprised no one had the mayor insisted he appear behind a screen to protect his identity during the council meeting or have his voice electronically altered. After all, when you are carrying around the nuclear codes, as Foster seems to think he is, one can't be too careful.

About the only other person in town with less to say might be radio's Bubba the Love Sponge, co-owner of the Scene Premium Night Club, where two habitues were injured in a shooting the other evening. No word on whether you have to pay an extra cover charge for that kind of service.

The normally loquacious Mr. Sponge was remarkably tight-lipped in talking about owning an establishment where the hail fellow well met customers need to be issued Kevlar vests to enjoy all the good cheer amid all the marijuana haze. That's odd, especially for a chap who claims to be such a pal of law enforcement.

But we digress.

Foster clammed up tighter than a cloistered nun when the subject turned to a January crash after a rush-hour police chase that injured several motorists and killed the suspected purse-snatcher.

The mayor, reading the municipal version of the Miranda Rule to himself, begged off commenting on the incident on the grounds a legal claim had been filed in the matter. Council members and reporters would have had an easier time getting Thomas Pynchon to get all chatty.

Same thing with the surveillance cameras, which the most interesting man in the world had campaigned on providing, only to — altogether now — secretly abandon once he got past all the Get Smart security doors to the mayor's office.

Asked repeatedly to provide details about the security camera program, Foster simply refused. When you are the man who rules over St. Petersburgstan, you can pretty much do what you want.

There is an itsy-bitsy problem, of course, with treating the mayor's office like something out of The Bourne Ultimatum and regarding the City Council as one collective black spot.

If Foster is going to decline to discuss public issues in public because he fears a lawsuit will be filed, then nothing — from zoning, to land use, to taxes, to vendor contracts, to construction projects — will ever be the subject of a discussion.

As it turned out, no legal claim has been filed in the January crash incident. So either Foster was clueless or obfuscating his way out of his responsibility for public accountability.

Eventually City Hall's "Reilly: Ace of Spies" argued even if the city hadn't been sued yet it could be, so there, and returned to holding his breath.

This could get ridiculous.

What happens when Mrs. Foster asks the most quiet man in the world to pass the salt and he responds with: "I'm sorry, my little bunchkin pie, but as mayor if I do that I could get sued because salt isn't good for you"?

Is it happy hour at Bubba's place yet?

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