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Fly on the Wall, Edition No. 1


Welcome to the first issue of a weekly feature with observations on what's happening at local government meetings.

A lot goes on that never makes it into news stories, but even if it's not newsworthy it's sometimes amusing, instructive or just worth repeating. And it's not just about the elected officials, but the folks I meet at these meetings and what they have to say.

That's the goal here. Feel free to write to me and let me know your thoughts, or to comment in that section of the Web site.

Finally, thanks for reading The Bradenton Times. We're proud of our news Web site, and appreciate your comments and news tips.

A little quiet, please

On Thursday, the county commissioners will hold their land use meeting. It can be pretty passionate there, with the public speaking out on new land uses in their community and trying to get the commissioners on their side, while those who want changes bring out the lawyers in their nice suits.

And, of course, Chairman Gwendolyn Brown has to keep everyone in order. I wish she'd let us have a longer lunch break, though.

I was reminded of last month's meeting, where the big debate was over a proposed gas station in Whitfield Estates, near the county line. The speakers were passionate and engaged, but the conversation that kept distracting me was the whispered chat behind me by two officials from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.

They talked in whispers almost continuously through the public comment section and their voices were picked up by my digital recorder. They had to wait for their item to come up on the agenda, but if the conversation was so important, couldn't they do as many others do and take their talk outside the chambers?

I didn't want to make a scene or disrupt the proceedings, so I didn't turn around and say, "Shhhh!!" I complained to the clerk before the next county commission meeting, and she said no one could hear anything up front, but she was sympathetic to my concerns.

Pay at the port

The county commissioners were sitting as the Manatee County Port Authority on Thursday in the Intermodal Center at the port. Port meetings are nice, though I wish the decaf coffee pot was better labeled. I kept waiting for the caffeine to hit my brain, and too late I realized I had downed cream and artificial sugar, plus a cup of decaf.

The port always has a good layout of doughnuts for the Port Authority meetings, which is important when you're a journalist covering the doings there.

I know I'm stealing from my own story, but Carol Whitmore had the best lines in the meeting, with her cutting analysis of the economy and the job prospects for current port employees:

"The unemployment is 12.2 percent in Manatee County right now, and I'm not going to support any increases in anybody's salary right now. Not that I don't think you deserve it, and I don't think we're going to lose anybody because there's no jobs out there to get. So in all fairness to all the employees in the county as well as the citizens that would be begging for a job, I'm not going to approve a budget with any increase in salaries."

Way to stand up for the working people.

Whitmore tends to get a bit dramatic when it comes to other people's livelihoods. At a County Commission meeting a few weeks ago, she opined that the county should fire the folks who repair curbs to save money on health insurance, noting that those workers are in economic desperation and could be had for a lot less if they worked for contracting companies that didn't offer health insurance.

Double way.

One last question, cubed

In the debate over impact fees at the port, the second-best line of the meeting came from Ron Getman, who's the chairman of the Port Authority. As Donna Hayes announced "OK, one last question on this, then," Getman jumped in and said, "This is the third time you've said it's the last question." "I like to preface my words with that," Hayes said. "Anyway, this will be the final question."

Check out our new Web site!

I felt a bit bad for the port folks as they debuted the new Web site. It's nice, though it looks like a restyling of the old site with the Deepwater newsletter online. When they do like the county does and put the commissioners' "Tab book" online, then I'll be impressed.

Hate to say it, but the guided tour of the Web site was 30 minutes of my life I'll never get back, though I did hit the doughnut section for a recharge. Most folks know how to use a Web site by now. Just point and click. It reminded me of those newspapers you'd see (including ones I've worked at) after the latest redesign that just had to include tags with "all the new special features in our redesigned paper." (Read: Less news.)

That's all for now.


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