Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Daniel Ruth: Another campaign promise bites the dust in Clearwater

This doomed exercise in democracy probably falls into category of no good deed goes unignored.

It was with the best of intentions that Clearwater City Council member Bob Cundiff ran for office promising he would be more accessible to the public than a sidewalk.

Cundiff promised he would spearhead a communitywide effort to conduct "listening tours" of the city. Council members would appear at libraries, recreational centers and other public spaces to meet and greet and take in the opinions, suggestions and advice of the residents.

Think of this as Mr. Cundiff goes to council. It was all so Yankee Doodle of the man.

And sure enough, Cundiff rode into office in March with 53 percent of the vote. Might this be the start of a political dynasty?

But six months after ascending to the all-powerful post of Clearwater City Council, Cundiff has yet to stage a single "listening tour." What he has heard is one giant raspberry from his fellow council members, including that grizzled veteran of public life, Mayor George Cretekos, who has essentially conveyed to the rookie that — alas — warm and fuzzy stuff like "listening tours" are a waste of time.

At first blush, you might jump to the conclusion Cretekos is being condescending toward the new guy on council. And that might be true. But Cretekos is also right. And Cundiff is learning a harsh reality about civics and public service.

Twice Cundiff has proposed a town hall meeting. And twice he has been told to take a hike.

As Cretekos explained to the Tampa Bay Times' Tracey McManus, organizing a town hall meeting or a "listening tour" isn't like one of those old Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy movies, where on a whim everyone decides to put on a "show" and within minutes all the music has been written, the dancing choreographed and everything will be "great!"

To pull off a town hall meeting with multiple council members in attendance first requires public notice of the gathering. City Hall staffers have to be involved in setting up the event. There might also be a need to have one or two police officers on hand in case a member of the public gets feisty.

And there is this cruel reality. Unless there is some pressing issue on the agenda hardly anyone shows up at these staged events. It is one of the dirty little secrets of local government — be it a school board, or a county commission, or a city council — that basically the same 10 or 15 people bother to show for the public comment portion of the meeting to spend their three minutes of time reminding the assembled elected officials that they are complete morons.

These are not Algonquin Round Table moments. "That's why I felt it was a good idea to see new faces," Cundiff said.

Aside from the usual suspects of grumps who attend government meetings, most members of the public have other things to do with their time than spend an evening with Bob Cundiff as he waxes poetic about potholes. People work. They have families. They have lives. And Cundiff was elected to help run the city. Don't worry, Mr. Cundiff. If you manage to do stupid things, you'll more than hear from your constituents.

Besides, there is absolutely nothing preventing Cundiff from hanging around coffee shops, or roaming public parks, or knocking on neighborhood doors, or attending civic association meeting to ask the fine people of Clearwater what concerns them.

And that's what Cundiff said he intends to do, noting he only sees his fellow council colleagues out and about "at ribbon cuttings and other events."

Council member Hoyt Hamilton told McManus there was precious little need for town halls and "listening tours" because "99 percent of the people I talk to say we're doing a great job and things are moving well."

There's at least one Clearwater City Council member who does probably need to get out and about more often.


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