Thursday, April 19, 2018
Opinion

What will St. Petersburg mayor fight for if not police station?

This is what a bureaucrat does:

Works within the system. Says please and thank you. Follows rules, avoids independent thinking and, above all else, protects the status quo.

This is what a leader does:

Leads. All the time. No matter the consequences.

Which brings us to the embarrassment that is the St. Petersburg Police Department's headquarters. The place is a dump. It is too small, too antiquated, too dangerous.

Almost everyone who has been inside the station recognizes that it needs to be replaced. Not refurbished, revamped or reorganized, but replaced.

And it needs a leader to step up and get it done.

Once upon a time, Mayor Bill Foster appeared to be that leader. That time has apparently passed.

Foster acknowledged the need for a new station and was working proper channels to get it done, but seemingly gave up when a few doors were slammed in his face.

Meanwhile, the city is beginning to look like Florida's version of Mayberry.

So what's the problem? Money, naturally. Tax revenues are way down, and funds once earmarked for construction will not cover costs for a new station.

The shortfall, at this point, is roughly half of the $64 million the chief of police says he needs. That is not insignificant, but nor should it be insurmountable.

Look at it this way:

The need for the station already has been established in the mayor's office. And not many issues trump public safety when it comes to governmental duties.

So if you're not going to fight for this cause, what will you fight for?

Talking about it at workshops and council meetings is not enough. Asking the county if it has $20 million lying around is not enough. Occasional sound bites are not enough.

Someone needs to stand front and center on this issue, and be willing to create waves.

They need to tell police Chief Chuck Harmon to revisit the blueprints and start whacking nonessential amenities. They need to put public pressure on county officials and the City Council to explain why they're not willing to invest in public safety.

And they need to start explaining to residents why this is so important.

Voters, for the most part, are not going to be happy about the city spending tens of millions of dollars in this economy. And they'll be even less happy when they find out that a temporary tax of some kind will probably be necessary.

But a leader has to trust in his ability to get his point across. And he has to trust in the intelligence of his constituents to understand.

Mostly he has to be willing to get in front of an issue he believes in, rather than worrying about what people are saying behind him.

St. Petersburg has problems. Programs are being cut, and budgets are coming up short. The city is stuck between what it once was, and what it still might be.

Shrugging our shoulders at these problems is not going to help. Neither is ignoring, avoiding or postponing decisions.

Make a choice, and then be willing to fight for it.

Otherwise, you're just the leader of the status quo.

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]

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