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Cracking the color code of issues confronting county

Priorities beget red dots.

That was the system Monday afternoon at the conclusion of the Pasco County Commission's initial visioning session. Commissioners attached round, color-coded stickers to indicate personal ranking of the issues confronting the county.

Changing the comprehensive land-use plan.

Extracting concessions from developers.

Economic development.

Water.

All looked like cases of the chicken pox.

Control growth and make it help pay for itself, expand the tax base, protect the environment. Who would argue with that?

Oddly, though, communications with the county administrator picked up three red dots. I'm guessing they were affixed by the three longest-serving commissioners. Requests from individual commission members should continue to be filtered through County Administrator John Gallagher.

Translation: Don't change too much.

Initially, red seemed to be the color code of the day. Facilitator King Helie filled page after page of oversized paper with the commission's comments. He did so while switching from blue to green to red to olive to brown to red and back to blue ink.

I suspected he was editorializing subliminally.

Pat Mulieri mentioned her disdain for snipe signs. Red ink.

Employ a long-range planner. A move Helie, himself a planner, endorsed. Red ink.

Redefining the zoning categories controlling special exceptions and conditional uses. Also, a Mulieri issue. Red ink.

David "Hap" Clark wants to streamline the county permitting process. Red ink.

Communication between Gallagher and commissioners? Helie characterized it as a policy question, not a visioning issue.

He wrote it down in drab olive. A color that was not repeated.

Sector planning. Green ink.

Clean up our act. Green ink.

At the conclusion of the morning session, I asked Helie about the color coding.

"It doesn't mean anything," he said. "I just like variety."

Oh. So much for the hidden message. Still, he never varied from blue ink for the afternoon discussion.

At one point, Clark suggested county employees need to be more customer-friendly to the public.

"I think everybody ought to be treated equally," chimed in Sylvia Young.

That's like Bill Gates saying everybody ought to start their own software company.

Pat Burke, sitting in the audience, did a poor job of stifling her guffaw. It is understandable. Young's name is rarely associated with "friendly" or "customer service."

Burke unsuccessfully sought Young's assistance to fight the closing of the Crystal Spring Preserve. She also attempted a term-limit referendum aimed at Young, a 20-year commissioner.

Instead, she filed campaign papers Friday to challenge Young in a Democratic Party primary.

Consider it Burke's own version of the red dot.

There was unintended political gamesmanship elsewhere. Steve Simon and Mulieri liked the idea of raising impact fees and considering an extra penny sales tax. They don't face the voters until 2002. Young, Clark and Ann Hildebrand, all facing election challenges this year, were reserved.

Still, commissioners complained a new sales tax, which could bring up to $24-million a year to the county and its six cities, can only be used for capital projects. They and Gallagher said they need a change in state law giving them the ability to spend the money on personnel, too.

Funny. The county's legislative delegation gathered in New Port Richey just four days before this visioning session. Nobody from the county asked the state legislators to help them obtain that flexibility.

So much for vision.

The exercise Monday was beneficial for several reasons. It helped thaw relationships among the board members. The term "commissioner" was tossed out in favor of first names.

More importantly, it allowed an open discussion of individual ideas of how to improve the quality of life in Pasco County. Public response, though limited to a dozen or so observers, was positive.

At the meeting's conclusion, Clay Colson, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuits and administration hearings challenging the Oakstead development and the county's amended comprehensive land-use plan, examined the commission's dotted preferences.

He pointed to the five red circles affixed to changing the comp plan and accompanying land development code.

He almost smiled.

Consensus.

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