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Chapter II in a saga of muck and memos

In March I wrote about Frances Baker of Tampa, who wanted the government to come look at the lake that borders her back yard.

She had been trying for 20 years.

She said her lake was fouled by pollution, choked with weeds, and was a breeding ground for rats.

She figured the lake, which is at the southwest corner of Busch Boulevard and Armenia Avenue, was being poisoned by stuff washed off the public roads by rain.

So she asked the government: Can you do something? Please come look.

What Frances Baker got for her trouble through the years was a thick file of letters, each referring her to somebody else.

She got letters from:

The Environmental Protection Agency.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Two county commissioners.

The county administrator.

The county developmental review department.

The county engineering services department.

The county road department.

Her congressman.

Her legislator.

You get the picture.

I wrote about Frances Baker on March 12, a Friday. As it turns out, the county had already scheduled a meeting with her for Monday, March 15.

The government swung into action. By this, I mean more letters and memos.

That very day, March 15, County Commissioner Jan Platt wrote another letter to Baker saying she was "very concerned." Platt wrote another memo asking County Administrator Fred B. Karl to get to the bottom of things.

This prompted Karl to write a memo on March 17. The matter went back to the engineering services department.

Karl's memo said:

"Please review the attached correspondence and proceed with the following action:

"Prepare Response for Signature of FBK."

That would be Fred B. Karl, I think.

On March 25, another county commissioner, Jim Norman, also sent a memo to Karl asking about Baker.

The next day, March 26, Karl sent a memo back to Commissioner Platt, which announced, after all these years, somebody had discovered the lake was partly within the Tampa city limits.

"Therefore, we will involve the city of Tampa in the discussions of this problem," Karl's memo said. A report would be ready in four weeks.

Another meeting was held April 6. On May 10, Baker wrote to Commissioner Norman to ask what was going on.

Norman wrote another memo to Karl on May 17. "Please look into this matter and advise Mrs. Baker directly why nothing has been accomplished," Norman wrote.

Baker wrote to Norman again two weeks later. She offered, helpfully, to bring in a sample of the water herself if that would speed things up.

This led Norman to write another memo to Karl on June 10: "Please provide an update to Mrs. Baker and forward a copy to my office."

Frances Baker wrote to me last week. "As usual," she wrote, "nothing is happening."

So I called Norman's office and talked to his aide, Nikki Foster.

Foster told me there was news. She recently got a memo saying a water test had been done. The memo was dated June 11, although the test had been conducted on April 13.

This is what the test said: the lake isn't so bad, compared with some. The county was waiting for a good rain to test again before writing a final report. This is what it had come to after three more months of letters and memos.

And so, courtesy of Commissioners Jim Norman and Jan Platt, Frances Baker may be closer to an answer. Even if it is an answer she doesn't like very much, she should have had it years ago.

The people in the government are, for the most part, good people. They go by the book. Fred Karl is probably the best administrator Hillsborough County ever had.

But when the book becomes a substitute for truly doing something _ something as simple as checking a lake _ then it ought to be chucked.

Even if it means FBK has to put on a pair of waders and go himself.

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