1. Archive

Of rule, misrule in office

I don't think many people grow up planning to be in government.

Some do, especially if they listened too closely in their high school civics classes and thought there was some relationship between what they were being taught and reality.

I have an acquaintance, in fact, whose ambition since childhood has been to be the first Jewish president of the United States. He left journalism a few years back to go to law school, now has a job in the Justice Department and may be on his way.

(If he succeeds, I will have either a great government job or a large check from the National Enquirer, thanks to a photograph I have that would give the concept of presidential involvement in moon shots an entirely new meaning.)

I still subscribe to Winston Churchill's belief that democracy is absolutely the worst possible form of government _ aside from all others. But I've seen things lately that make me wonder if an old gag line _ "Please don't tell my mother you saw me doing this. She thinks I'm a piano player in a whorehouse" _ shouldn't be on more than a few government letterheads.

Others write enough about Washington, where the last honest man in government was probably Jerald F. terHorst, who said he would be Gerald Ford's press secretary only as long as he wasn't asked to lie _ and then quit a few days later when Ford pardoned Richard Nixon.

And state government? If you have to ask that question, stop reading here and go find somebody to help you with the two-syllable words.

Let's talk local.

How about Tampa General Hospital's board finding what may be some exemptions in Florida's Sunshine Law so that it can meet behind closed doors and talk about taking the public hospital private and then defending the action by indicating that it isn't really an awful lot of the public's business?

Leasing or selling a multimillion-dollar public enterprise to a private concern is the public's business, regardless of whether, as one hospital trustee put it, a public hearing or referendum wouldn't "bring out people who are truly knowledgeable about it."

Or maybe the problem is that it would.

This isn't a slam against privatization. Most private institutions seem, today, to work at slightly lower levels of inefficiency than most public ones, and the people who bought Pasco's two public hospitals in the 1980s are still honoring their agreements to provide indigent health care.

But the concept that a governmental agency finds public knowledge of its actions something to be avoided (we're not talking CIA here, folks) is disquieting. The last time the board tried this it got caught and didn't like it, so our friendly legislators passed a law three years later exempting "strategic planning" for public hospital boards from the state's public meetings laws.

And, since the board is lucky enough to operate in a jurisdiction where the senior law enforcement official spends a lot of his time looking for guns that he knows are in the right place although he can't say exactly where the right place is, chances are nobody will ever challenge what went on at these strategy sessions.

Closer to home for us Pasco folks, Port Richey, whose city manager describes the city's waterfront as one of the city's "crown jewels," is thinking seriously of asking for up to $550,000 in federal funds administered (term loosely used) by the state to clean up its "slum or blight."

Somebody ought to ask the guys who own Catches or Hooters if their tax bills reflect existing in or on the borders of a slum area.

Bright side? If it happens, the city will have to form a community redevelopment agency.

More Port Richey politics.

A young colleague of mine used to remind me that democracy, after all, is a grand experiment and, as history goes, a fairly recent one.

"Maybe," she used to say, "the experiment didn't work."

There was a time I thought she was a cynic.