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Illusions of grandeur insult the taxpayers

Local politicians, if you ask me, are the most dangerous. Any fool can win local office, and often does.

A city council or school board, pound for pound, is a bigger threat to the individual taxpayer than the whole of the U.S. Congress and the president thrown in to boot.

Here are three local examples.

One is puny but arrogant.

One is colossal and incredible.

One is monstrous and sinister.

Me! Me! Look at ME!

There is nothing a public official likes better than being on TV, unless it's being able to control what's on TV.

This brings us to the St. Petersburg City Council, which was distressed that 40 percent of city residents don't get cable _ and therefore are not blessed with the government's cable channel.

So the council voted to buy its own TV station.

The low-powered station, Channel 35, will broadcast City Council meetings, the doings of other local boards and commissions, and other government shows such as programing from the Police Department.

The goal is to "inform the public." But the last thing America needs is politicians and bureaucrats using tax dollars to buy TV stations to put out their own programing.

Besides, history teaches that whenever the government can silence free speech, it will. I cite the precedent of the Tampa City Council, which, when faced with unpleasant public comment in its televised meetings, decided simply to black out the public's comments altogether.

As when St. Petersburg voted to spend $1-million to buy satellite tracking for its garbage trucks. I say that if the city has this kind of money lying around, it should give it back to the taxpayers.

Why not a nice Kmart, too?

But a TV station is small potatoes compared with the dreams of the Tampa City Council, which is about to borrow $150-million in the name of the taxpayers to build a hotel.

Do you mind if we go over that again?

Borrow.

One hundred and fifty million dollars.

Hotel.

The city, under Mayor Sandy Freedman, wants a hotel because no private hotel company will build one next to the city's convention center. Wonder why?

The city keeps hiring consultants who keep saying, yep, yep, it'll work. For the first three years, anyway. After that it's somebody else's problem.

The city has created a private corporation to oversee the hotel _ and, of course, to operate outside the state's public records and open-meetings law, with the public's money.

Mayor Freedman, who has done so many good things for her city, and whom I happen to think has acquitted herself very well in the face of her critics, is nearing the end of her term.

Boy, wouldn't a 900-room convention hotel show them all! It hurts me to say it, but I believe she is doing some monument-building of her own.

Can we have your hospital?

A lot of people say the government ought to be run "like a business." Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Police Department shows no profit. As a business, it is a big money-loser. So is the Fire Department.

Likewise for protecting the borders. It costs billions, and returns zero dollars.

The point is that government, although it certainly should be efficient, is not a business.

Which brings us to Tampa General Hospital, one of the great public assets of our state. A public hospital.

Why, oh why, does every president we hire to run Tampa General, and most of the board members we appoint to oversee it, come down with this Like-A-Business itch to take it private?

As a co-owner of Tampa General Hospital, I will be damned before I agree to let any administration and medical staff convert a public investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into a private, out-of-the-sunshine, accountable-to-no-one enterprise operated in secrecy, at their own pleasure, for their own gain.

If they want to own a hospital then let them put up their own venture capital. As a co-owner of Tampa General Hospital, I say if it can't be run with accountability to the public, then it is better to sell it and use the proceeds for the public benefit.

Better to sell it.

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