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Watchdog's wisdom and wit will be missed

Bud Wylie wasn't a shouter.

He operated long before cable television news outlets reduced public discourse to bickering talking heads, before bloggers and Internet message boards spread unverified rumors and before personal attacks became common practice in political contests.

He spent his retirement years pushing public dialogue the old-fashioned way. He did research. He talked to his neighbors. He wrote letters to newspapers. He joined like-minded citizens in groups advancing public education and information over regurgitated partisan views.

Wylie, one-half of west Pasco's first couple of good government, died last week (Thursday, Jan. 6) at the age of 90. Bud and his wife of 65 years, Dorothy, formed the Pasco chapter of Common Cause in the 1970s, were active in the League of Women Voters and moderated the National Issues Forum _ local town hall meetings on national public policy questions such as racism, poverty, federal deficits and health care spending.

They were a good team. Dorothy was the public speaker while Bud handled the written communications. They did it without ulterior motives. No unquenchable thirst for power. No steppingstone to public office. No application for a patronage appointment. Leadership isn't self-serving, they said.

Slowed by advancing age and illness, the Wylies bid adieu to public advocacy a little less than three years ago, and they moved from Port Richey to a Clearwater retirement home in 2004. It was their second time retiring. They had come to west Pasco from New York in 1975. Bud, whose real name was Hugh, spent 39 years as a journalist for the Associated Press. Dorothy had taught learning-disabled elementary school children.

This space made note of their departure when the Pasco chapter of Common Cause folded, a victim of changing demographics. Pasco's new, younger residents are distracted by family and career demands. Neighborhood associations and civic groups are going dormant because of dwindling memberships. If there's no time for the neighborhood, how can working parents be concerned about government accountability, campaign finance reform, legislative redistricting or sales tax exemptions?

While much of today's public dialogue surrounds pocketbook issues or personal pet peeves, the Wylies and people like them sought a broader view of government issues. Though Common Cause didn't like its name affiliated with local issues, the Wylies, in the 1980s, used the group's clout to push for better maternity care for west Pasco's pregnant women. "We kind of did it without permission," Dorothy confessed in a 2002 interview.

They also worked for several local initiatives, including the voter-approved property tax to build parks and libraries in 1986 and an unsuccessful effort to form a Children's Service Council in 1992.

Bud Wylie's writings and statements over the years demonstrated a strong ability to turn a phrase coupled with a wry sense of humor. He also would let us know if he thought our daily newspaper work wasn't up to standard. Here's a few samples culled from the Times archives:

"Elected officials are supposed to be decisionmakers responsible and accountable to their constituents. Unethical actions such as this degrade all government functions _ good and bad _ in the minds of many citizens," Wiley wrote in 1988 when a legislator laughed that he hadn't even read the bill he introduced on behalf of a lobbyist seeking to eliminate fire-protection sprinklers from high-rise hotels.

"It's important to get them out of their townhouses, away from the pizza and beer," Wylie said, championing a push to have the state Legislature follow Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law. The effort came on the heels of a late-night pizza and beer gathering in a lobbyist's townhome in which legislative leaders hammered out the details for a new tax under Gov. Bob Martinez.

"Come on, folks, give a little for the benefit of our school district. Despite phony cries of "waste and screwball ideas,' the record shows we do have an efficient school system.

"Incidentally, how much did you spend on lottery tickets and restaurant meals last month?" he asked sales tax opponents in 1995.

Wylie didn't restrict his thoughts to government accountability. In 1987, a firefighter delivered a baby in the back seat of a car on U.S. 19 and later recounted the story to a Times reporter with the observation: "Most of the time we see a lot of tragedies. It was nice to see someone come into this world."

The words inspired Wylie to sit down at the typewriter and compose a public acknowledgment to the firefighter. Seventeen years later, it remains sound advice and we repeat it as a legacy of Wylie's own inspiring work:

"In today's chaotic world, more of us could benefit if we, too, could view an occasional uplifting event in its proper perspective."

C.T. Bowen can be reached at (727) 869-6239 or bowensptimes.com.

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