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County should heed residency requirement law

Pasco County commissioners must decide whether they value the opinion of local business owners over those of local residents.

That is the paradox after county officials learned two members of its Tourist Development Council, an advisory panel to the County Commission, live outside Pasco. County residency is required by state law.

Instead of removing nonresidents Pat Moran, owner of the Comfort Inn in west Pasco, and Joe Lettelleir, owner of Paradise Lakes in Lutz, the county has indicated it will ask state legislators to change the residency requirements.

It's a rushed idea. Before asking Tallahassee to change state law just for Pasco's convenience, commissioners should consider other alternatives, including following the residency requirements of its largest advisory panel.

Its 25-member Citizen Advisory Committee, which studies the comprehensive land-use plan, requires members to be county residents. The settlement to a legal challenge to the county's comp plan mandated that provision, which kicked noncounty residents off the panel even if they owned property in Pasco.

The motto then was that the advisory committee members should have to live with the consequences of their actions. It meant some highly regarded people like Frank Starkey, the architect for the Longleaf development, were ineligible because they reside outside Pasco.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri previously advocated all members of the now-defunct Land Development Review Committee live within the county. She lost that argument on a 4-1 vote.

Now comes the Tourist Development Council and its out-of-county members. Thursday, the TDC punted the issue, at the recommendation of the county attorney's office, to county commissioners, who are expected to discuss it Tuesday.

The county should follow the state law, but it would be smart to invite Moran and Lettelleir to remain as nonvoting members of the body. Their input is welcome, particularly since Paradise Lakes is a big generator of tourist tax proceeds and Moran frequently provides a contrary, and sometimes parochial, point of view to the board. He cast the only dissenting vote against a $750,000, 10-year allocation to the Women's Tennis Association, which at the time had agreed to move its headquarters to Pasco County. Moran argued the move would benefit Saddlebrook, not the county as a whole, though the issue became moot when the WTA changed its relocation plans.

The key to any advisory body to the commission is its members. Appointing people guided by broad interests, not self interests, is imperative. Commissioners also must strike a balance while considering citizen input. It must neither abdicate its responsibilities to appointed groups nor ignore the recommendations because they run contrary to their own preconceived notions.

In that regard, the TDC and commission aren't always in step. Just two years ago, the TDC recommended further study of two potential tourist attractions, a tennis stadium and a multipurpose center. Commissioners picked tennis exclusively.

Commissioners also should consider the message they are sending to their constituents. Does the commission really want to ask legislators to run a bill through Tallahassee instead of simply finding a pair of qualified Pasco residents to serve on its tourism advisory panel?

In this case, Pasco's "It's only natural" tourism slogan should give way to a more pragmatic theme _ "Home sweet home."