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Thomas in news for a reason

What do you make of Fred Thomas?

I mean, where will it all end? And will Clearwater be better or worse off for having elected this one-man show to its City Commission last March?

The jury is still out. His most ardent supporters are hanging in there, saying he's the best thing that has happened to Clearwater in years, and we'll all eventually become believers.

Others, especially since his call forvolunteers in "Fred's Army," refer to him as the Li'l General or worse.

One of the wealthiest and biggest business people in Clearwater sent us his invitation to join "Fred's Army" after adding this note at the top of Fred's letter: "I know you have a problem with Fred, but how many others have brought this level of involvement and commitment to this city's government."

On the other hand, a Clearwater police union official said of Fred: "I think he wishes he were Ross Perot, but he comes off more like Huey Long."

And as for the flurry of memos "From Fred" seeking detailed information about everything imaginable, Mayor Rita Garvey said, "We sit in fear of the next day's memo."

You get the idea. It's hard not to have an opinion about this fellow. Yet, many people still aren't sure what to think.

For example, there is his proposal to convert the former downtown Maas Brothers building into a convention/entertainment center. Some tourism people don't think a convention center will work there. Some think we don't have enough well-paid yuppies around here to support the entertainment center Fred envisions. (Have they been to Countryside lately?)

And still others think the whole bluff _ where Maas, the library and the Chamber of Commerce now sit _ should be developed in one fell swoop.

But some of these people then say, "Hey, maybe what Fred's talking about is worth a try. It's sure better than nothing, and that's what we've got now."

Fred says it's time to sunset the Downtown Development Board, and even some of his critics have said, "You know, I think he's right. What has the board really accomplished in 23 years?"

Even Phil Henderson, the current board chairman, thinks Fred has the right idea.

Fred stirs up lots of mixed emotions with his city hall proposals. He angered both those who wanted to turn the former SunBank building into a new city hall and those who want to build a new structure adjacent to the current one.

But other taxpayers like his less expensive alternative of upgrading the City Hall Annex and, if necessary, renting space in the former Pioneer Bank Building a block away.

Cost is the bottom line, they say. Not employee morale or perhaps more efficient delivery of services. Just cost.

Folks who might be for Fred one day could be against him the next. Some of those finding him hard to take fantasize that he will burn out sooner or later, when he runs out of steam or the novelty wears off.

That's just wishful thinking, others say, and Fred will not go away.

One observer, in a letter he does not want published, admonished us for running too many Fred Thomas stories: "This man is goofy enough without your playing into his hand. . . . He will put the finishing touch to the demise of this city, and you will be helping him."

Sorry. As long as Fred continues to make news _ the good, the bad and the ugly _ we will report it. That's what newspapers are supposed to do.

You really wouldn't want us to report only on Fred-isms that we think are good government and ignore the others, would you?

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