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Restaurants at Fort De Soto?! Never mind!

Somewhere, Dottie Sample is smiling.

Sample, a longtime legislator from Pinellas County, was a genuine champion of Florida's environment. But in her later years, as her hearing and concentration started to go, she became the Emily Litella of Tampa Bay politics.

Many years ago, during an interminable Times editorial board meeting with local officials presenting a plan for the oversight of Weedon Island Preserve, Sample seemed to doze off in the middle of the staff's presentation.

But she snapped to attention as a bureaucrat began discussing plans to add two restrooms for the use of kayakers and other visitors to Weedon Island.

"Restaurants at Weedon Island??!!" Sample shrieked. "I won't stand for restaurants at Weedon Island!"

It took a few minutes for her fellow officials to reassure her that she'd misunderstood their plans.

Sample died in 2002. It's too bad she wasn't around this year to shout down county officials' misbegotten plans to add a 225-seat restaurant (and beer sales and other out-of-place "enhanced services") at Fort De Soto Park, one of the world's most beautiful and pristine barrier islands.

The idea finally died once the public, with a gentle nudge from Times columnist Howard Troxler, made its feelings known. After receiving more than a thousand calls and e-mails, Pinellas county commissioners voted unanimously to kill the plan. "It was a pretty darn clear mandate to back off," Commissioner Bob Stewart told the Times' Will Van Sant. "The public spoke, and we heard them, and that's the way it's going to be."

But some county officials were less gracious. County administrator Steve Spratt claimed Troxler distorted the Fort De Soto plan and manipulated people's emotions. "What happened is you had a columnist who just wanted to tug at an issue," Spratt told Van Sant.

Actually, Troxler, as usual, made his points in a precise, respectful and understated way. Lord knows, I keep trying to get him to follow my example and throw in an occasional cheap shot and personal slur just to keep things interesting, but it's just not his style.

Instead, Spratt and assistant administrator Jake Stowers killed the Fort De Soto plan with their own published words, which the public understood perfectly well. Some public servants occasionally behave like restaurant servers who try to force customers to eat what's supposed to be good for them instead of letting them order from the menu.

Dottie Sample could have told them that's as silly as trying to ban sax and violins on television.

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