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Pasco commission not ready for prime time

Lee Cannon wonders why there are no television shows about county administrators. Such pondering tells us why Cannon is sheriff rather than a network executive.

Spin County? The West (Pasco) Wing?

There's plenty of shows about cops. NYPD Blue. Law and Order. Reruns even tell us how a southern sheriff operates in The Andy Griffith Show. (Insert your own Barney Fife joke here.)

But county administrators, Cannon contends, escape the glamor but also the scrutiny that comes with the spotlight.

Pasco's sheriff is semi-serious about his analogy. How come Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher can ask for new personnel and equipment but the press, public and commission don't bat a collective eye, he asks? Yet, the sheriff has to justify his request for 100 new marked patrol cars and 61 new positions, including 24 additional deputies.

Cannon posed the question to county commissioners Tuesday afternoon during his budget presentation, which in past years has resembled WCW Monday Nitro.

It was an odd inquiry when you consider the commission is Gallagher's boss and ultimately responsible for his performance. Essentially, Cannon asked commissioners why they don't explain themselves better to the public.

They'll do a lot more of it next year when three are up for re-election. The explanation will probably be something along the lines of, "We increased services and held the line on taxes."

Cannon faces voters next year, too. He should justify his budget willingly. Unlike the county administrator, he's elected by, and answerable to, the public. He's asking for more than $50-million, the largest percentage increase he's sought since his election seven years ago. The proposed spending increase comes just a year after voters said they did not want to pay additional taxes for beefed-up law enforcement.

Cannon is a smart man. He knows the answer to both his questions.

How come there's no television shows about county government? Who would watch?

After more than an hour of listening to his budget request, one of the few questions offered by commissioners came from Sylvia Young. She wanted to know how many inmate uniforms the industrial-size clothes washer at the jail can handle in a single load. (Honest.)

There's television for the masses. Green Acres sponsored by Maytag and Fab with lemon-freshened borax.

Cannon's other question: How come nobody challenges the commission's budget? Because much of the new spending is accompanied by fee-based revenues.

The Sheriff's Office doesn't have that luxury. Most of its budget comes from property taxes. And therein lies a major problem. The county continues to grow but has failed to keep pace in law enforcement resources.

To illustrate this point, Cannon distributed a packet of newspaper articles to commissioners at the outset of his presentation. All detailed the population boom in Pasco's past and future.

His department has 1.16 deputies per 1,000 people, the smallest ratio of any sheriff's department serving Florida's 23 most densely populated counties.

The sheriff advocated the need for good planning. He did not, however, ask the commission to consider a law enforcement impact fee, though he has endorsed the concept in the past. It would help with future capital costs, he acknowledged afterward, but would not help with a catch-up effort.

The emphasis on planning is appropriate. The timing is impeccable. The comprehensive land-use plan is undergoing its five-year rewrite. But the sheriff never addressed the Citizens Advisory Committee on the land-use plan. He said he asked for an audience in the past, but didn't get an invitation.

If that's true, it comes as no surprise. Individual members of that developer-heavy panel balked at a school impact fee two years ago. Why would law enforcement be any different?

Cannon's presentation to the commission was well received. Commission Chairman Ann Hildebrand said she'd give it an A if it were a sociology lecture.

Two hours later, the commission held its regular meeting and approved a compliance agreement with the state Department of Community Affairs over the county's long-range comprehensive land-use plan.

It doesn't mention law enforcement. Neither did the commissioners. So much for good planning.

A television program about all this? Check the cartoon-character tie the sheriff wore Tuesday for any similarities.

Looney Tunes.

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