The last time we were asked to "buy a pig in a poke" was when U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi famously said the Congress should pass the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) so we could find out what is in it.
On Nov. 5 the citizens of Clearwater are being asked to approve a project, the financial details of which are still unknown. Yes, some tentative elements are contained in a "memo of understanding" between the City Council and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), but final figures are to be negotiated in good faith between these two parties.
Even some of the tentative figures belie sound fiscal management on the part of our City Council. We are told they may agree to sell the City Hall at less than its market value. If that property had been declared surplus, such a deal might make sense. But it has not been declared surplus (even though the City Charter calls for such a step before consideration of such a sale, and then only after a public offering).
One can only assume such generous terms are being considered in view of the CMA being a not-for-profit organization. While such might be its technical status with the IRS, CMA has all the actions and trappings of a profit-making entity. Just consider the amount of revenue it generates and plans to generate from tours, movies, admission fees and related sources of income. While its mission is high-sounding, its operations are as commercial as any big business. Nothing wrong with any of that, but it means the CMA should be treated like the cash cow that it is.
For citizens to be able to vote wisely, they need to know all the financial facts before they vote, not after. The reference in the referendum to Ordinance 8418-13 does not give all these figures - for example, the cost of road improvements, new roundabouts, rebuilding tennis courts, easements to the salt water and sundry other costs not to be paid for by the CMA, not to mention the estimated $15 million in tax increment financing that might otherwise be used for downtown infrastructure or for paying the outstanding loan to the Community Redevelopment Agency from the city.
If there ever was a referendum whose wording totally obfuscates what we are to eventually approve, this is it! The voters have not been given all the data they need to cast their vote wisely; they should therefore vote no on Nov. 5.
Arthur X. Deegan II, Clearwater
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Scientology will doom aquarium
I just can't hop on board with the pro-aquarium group. Many assumptions and opinions by "consultants," who are paid to give the payor their desired answer, don't seem to coincide with reality.
For example, attendance projections appear to be greatly inflated, and if correct, where will these people park? Guests at the aquarium will not want to park several blocks away and walk through the Scientology campus, with the vacant stores and the hoards of Scientologists wandering through what was once known as downtown Clearwater.
I suggest that the citizens who believe the aquarium is a good idea just drive through the Scientologist campus and ask yourself, would you want to walk among these people dressed in costumes?
Scientology's intention when they came to Clearwater under a false name was to own this town, and they have succeeded. Scientology has sealed the fate of downtown, and the aquarium will not be the savior.
R. Padgett, Clearwater
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Jazz Holiday should be free
The Clearwater Jazz Holiday should stop excluding the poor (and working poor) by charging $10 per person per day in gate fees. The Tampa Bay Times has been documenting the plight of middle-class working families in the Tampa Bay region since the housing crash and should be well aware that many people can no longer afford to attend the recently free Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
As an official sponsor, the Times should be advocating for equal access to the jazz music in the park by everyone, not just for those who can afford the price of daily tickets, food and drink.
I am enclosing below a copy of my note sent to the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on their contact page form.
"What started as a 10-day series of jazz concerts held on the back of a flatbed truck" (www.clearwaterjazz.com) turned away from its roots years ago and has been teetering on financial ruin because of poor choices in music and management. Now with the $10/day per person fee, jazz music is less accessible than ever before in our area. Basically, poor people are no longer welcome.
"In times of austerity I was taught to downsize until I got back on my feet. Instead of charging a fee, why not offer a shorter program with the local jazz talent who built the festival into a powerhouse of traditional jazz and the last of the free festivals nationwide?
"Why not dump the beer trucks, get rid of the encampment fence and allow people to bring their own food and drink or partake of reasonably priced food truck fare?
"I love the idea of nationally known headliners coming to town and I have no issue with commercial sponsorship. For many years we had a good thing going with no gate or fee. I and my family supported the Jazz Holiday with cash daily, and each of us spent at least $20 per day on food and memorabilia.
"I have been attending the Jazz Holiday since 1978. I did not attend last year, and I will not attend until the jazz festival is free and accessible by everyone once again."
Dan Gerson, Dunedin
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Restore sanity to flood insurance
I would like to thank Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov for her leadership in bringing this flood insurance crisis to the attention of the elected officials around the state who are not well versed in this field. It is heartening that we have someone with her knowledge looking into this issue.
I know and respect many in the insurance industry, but believe that anyone involved in establishing these proposed flood insurance premiums is either not terribly bright, or has purposely set rates obscenely high for so many of our low and moderate income citizens to make some political point. I just don't know what it is.
Florida residents pay nearly four times the amount in premiums than all of its claims combined, and now they want us to pay ten times more than we have been paying, or some 40 times the amount of claims, so they can end our subsidy.
Nevertheless, there are low-lying homes in our community that are flooded every time we have a heavy rain at high tide, and it makes no sense to buy them new carpet and furniture every few years. But nearly adjacent homes, only one or two feet higher, have never flooded. The truly flood-prone homes should clearly pay a premium more in line with risk, but the owners should not be evicted, which is what will happen with the increase in rates.
I hope we will create a citizen's committee, including insurance experts, homebuilders, appraisers, accountants, bankers and others with expertise, so we can be assured the facts are on the table for all to see. Rates should be based on actual construction risks, meaning that carpeting and drywall may need replacement, yet it is unlikely that the entire home will wash away. But even that is possible, so weight the odds using actuarial tables based on fact.
This is not difficult. It is arithmetic, not particle science. I hope that all of the details of all of these programs, all of the numbers, will be reported in the Times. Please do not believe that your readers do not care or cannot comprehend. These stories need to be told, the process needs to be made transparent.
Linwood Gilbert, St. Petersburg
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School chief's focus misplaced
It is wonderful that Pinellas County has an effective and highly dedicated school superintendent. It is unfortunate that Superintendent Mike Grego's focus on low income and black students is misplaced, which, in turn, results in more wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.
To improve the educational level of low income and black students it is absolutely necessary to focus on parental involvement as it applies to their students' academic life.
Teachers, students and parents comprise the educational triad. Whenever any one of the triads is absent, there will be continued failure. When the student is not engaged with the teacher in the classroom because his or her parents place little, if any, value on the student's learning, any new programs designed to improve the educational level of low income and black students are destined to failure.
It is imperative Superintendent Grego's focus be on parental involvement in students' academic life, not on programs that sound good but will not be of aid to students because there is no internalization of academic accomplishment unless the student is presented with goals by his or her parents.
Walter Noble, Palm Harbor
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County needs a plan for deer
New flashing signs were installed on East Lake Road in North Pinellas County advising motorists about the presence of deer.
After having a deer crash into my car last month, causing expensive damage, I'm wondering what steps Pinellas County government is taking to address the overpopulation of deer in North Pinellas County.
Jill Rommel, Oldsmar
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Your voice counts
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