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That roar I hear isn't a demand to change Fort De Soto

In my Sunday column, I asked to hear from supporters of Pinellas County's plans to put a 225-seat restaurant and other "improvements" at Fort De Soto Park. The county says it is doing these things because of public demand, so I wanted to hear that demand.

And, indeed, 55 people called or wrote to support the idea. Almost all of them were nice folks who made good arguments, and I am grateful that they took the time.

On the other hand, by the time I had to quit counting on Monday, 788 people had called or written to say they were opposed.

Whether they were 80-year-old natives or recent arrivals, they spoke of a deep and passionate love affair with that beautiful, unspoiled barrier island. Many have known it since childhood.

Reader Suzanne Martindale of Pinellas Park, speaking for the overwhelming majority, noted that Fort De Soto was not named the best beach in the country because of "its restaurants, beer, ice cream trucks and trolley rides."

Of those who did like the restaurant idea, most argued that it could be done without hurting the park and would make it better for visitors of all tastes.

Wrote Ken McDonald of Tierra Verde: "Why not improve it and allow those of us who would like to go to Fort De Soto Park for a meal, and not just have to sit on the beach, get sunburned or have to dodge bicycles and roller blades?"

In no way do I claim that this is a scientific survey of public opinion, or that the majority opposes the restaurant by a margin of 15 to 1. But I am betting that it's a strong majority.

Will the county's staff stick to its guns no matter what, and force the Pinellas County Commission to vote on this? Why not beat a graceful retreat?

Speaking of graceful retreats, there are none in St. Pete Beach, where some of the residents have been seeking direct voter control over major decisions about growth. The fight has been nasty.

What it boils down to is that City Hall came up with a plan to allow more density in some parts of the coastal town, and some of the residents gathered petitions to stop it.

Last week, the City Commission voted 4-1 to take the last remaining citizen proposal for a city charter amendment off the March 14 ballot. The town already had blocked three other citizen ideas in court.

The anti-City Hall group, Citizens for Responsible Government, was outraged. It immediately went back to court, saying the town had no authority to call off an election that had passed court muster and been scheduled by ordinance.

The opponents are appealing the judge's decision on the three ballot ideas that were blocked. The city is also appealing and says that's why the election is off.

My friends in St. Pete Beach who support City Hall say that my friends on the other side are a small group of troublemakers who do not speak for the majority. If so, folks sure are going to a lot of unnecessary trouble to block the election, aren't they?

In Tallahassee, the Association of Professional Lobbyists is suing to block a new state law that requires lobbyists to report how much they are paid by their clients.

Ken Plante, a spokesman for the group, called the law "a repulsive intrusion" of privacy that interferes, among other things, with the rights of citizens to organize and make their views known to the Legislature.

With much respect for Ken Plante: Nothing prohibits any citizen or groups of citizen from making views known to the Legislature. For free. We can organize, rally, write letters and e-mails, and speechify all we want under the First Amendment.

The hiring of a professional lobbyist, on the other hand, is made with the express purpose of influencing the laws that govern the lives of 18-million people. If I were a lawyer defending the law, I would argue that the effect on the public interest makes it more than a matter of private contract.

ON THE WEB

See what else readers have said about the county's plans for Fort De Soto at www.itsyourtimes.com

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