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Dunedin's public art ordinance lacks teeth, purpose

It almost defies logic to say that an ordinance five years in development was being rushed into law, but that is what happened in Dunedin last week. An ordinance approved by the City Commission after a divisive debate doesn't order anyone to do anything, doesn't even meet the legal definition of an ordinance, and doesn't belong in the city code book.

But that is where it is headed unless the commission changes course at its Feb. 19 meeting.

Dunedin is an artsy place, and people wanted that to be recognized in city codes and policies, specifically through a public arts ordinance. So five years ago, the City Commission appointed an Arts and Cultural Advisory Committee to work on that effort.

Hundreds of cities have public arts ordinances, which generally require that private developers and/or the local government provide for public art when they are building a project. The ordinances also usually contain procedures for how that art will be selected, approved and maintained over time, and ensure that the art is visible to the public, even if it is on private property.

The goal in Dunedin was to create such a public arts ordinance — to create a "legacy" of public art in the community, as one advisory committee member put it. But the arts ordinance the commission approved 3-2 last week won't create a legacy, because it doesn't require anyone to erect art.

According to the city attorney, this "ordinance" doesn't even meet the definition of an ordinance. An ordinance is a local law, enforced by the local government. But Dunedin's proposed arts ordinance doesn't require anyone to do anything, so it can't be enforced because there is nothing to enforce.

What it says, in a nutshell, is that the city shall allocate up to 1 percent of the total construction budget for any city project with a cost of more than $1 million to provide public art. Those words "up to" mean that the city is free to allocate nothing at all for art — a point that actually required repetition at the commission meeting before every official understood that zero was an option.

When it comes to private development, the ordinance says that developers will be "encouraged" to allocate up to 1 percent of the project's cost for public art. So they don't have to do anything, either.

Even members of the arts advisory committee testified at the commission meeting that the ordinance was so watered down after changes by the city staff that they couldn't support it.

Using lots of words but no substance, the ordinance goes on and on about the value of public art and how it unites diverse communities. City attorney John Hubbard called it a "statement of belief," not an ordinance, which led Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski to blast him, unfairly, for allowing the document to make it to the commission agenda. "This is a major waste of everyone's time. We look like idiots sitting up here," she said.

Appearances, however, apparently were not enough to persuade her to vote against the ordinance. Bujalski and commissioners Julie Scales and Dave Eggers voted for it. They argued that baby steps toward an arts ordinance after years of work by the committee and city were better than no steps at all, and that in these bad economic times, the city needs the flexibility to decline to include public art in city capital projects.

A frustrated Mayor Bob Hackworth noted correctly that the city has had that flexibility all along and therefore doesn't need a do-nothing ordinance to provide flexibility. Commissioner Deborah Kynes also voted no, saying the ordinance was too vague, but also making the good point that now, while there is a lull in construction in the city, is the time to create a public art program that will deliver when construction resumes.

The proper place for all the verbiage about appreciation for art is in the city's comprehensive plan. With no substance, this ordinance is little more than an insult to those who worked on it for so long. The City Commission should pull the ordinance until the day comes when it has the stomach for a public arts ordinance that is real.

Dunedin's public art ordinance lacks teeth, purpose 02/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 10:34pm]
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