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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: When pandering succeeds, we all lose

Give Trinity residents credit. They may be otherwise inoffensive suburbanites pursuing the gentle pleasures indicated by manicured lawns and swimming pools enclosed in screened cages, content that civilized order is being maintained by the silent mechanism of their deed restrictions.

But when it comes to the gritty work of extracting what they want from county commissioners, they knew what works: Fill the meeting room with like-minded folks, scowl at commissioners as though they were waiters delivering burned breakfast, and at strategic moments, harrumph importantly.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you can recruit a couple of elected heavyweights well-practiced at artful pandering.

After all, it’s not like you have to get unanimity; all you have to do is peel off a thin majority. As they say, three votes beats a good argument every time.

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OK, so rolling the board is not as complicated as theoretical physics. And it’s not like this particular group is uniquely susceptible to displays of grass-roots muscle. The formula has influenced Pasco County’s public policies since before the locally legendary Sylvia Young first put her boots under the dais in 1980.

Nonetheless, when, for the second time in three years (my, how time does fly), concerned citizens of Trinity essentially vetoed a done detail on little more than raw NIMBYism, it may have set a record. Only they won’t be handing out ceremonial gavels on this one. More likely, it’ll be subpoenas.

Last time, in April 2010, it was a scheme to locate Pasco’s long-awaited sportsplex project just beyond a thin brace of woodlands from Heritage Springs. This time they thwarted a plan for a 106-unit apartment complex along Amazon Drive — quaint working title, “The Oaks at River Side Village” — that not only meets every legal test for breaking ground, its completion would further the ideals of the county’s land-use plan by concentrating new residents near existing infrastructure.

Instead, with two of Pasco’s highest-profile Republicans — presumed future state House speaker Richard Corcoran and newly minted Tax Collector Mike Fasano — at the head of the band slinging reckless hooey, three commissioners — Pat Mulieri, Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson — swooned as though they were dazzled River City rubes and twin Prof. Harold Hills had leapt from the back of the Wells Fargo wagon.

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Heck, you could almost see the developer’s lawyers’ eyes whirling like dollar signs on some cartoon slot machine when, dismissing as though it were expired milk the county staff’s blessing of the project’s closely calibrated engineering schematics, Corcoran urged commissioners to “do the right thing and damn the consequences.” Then, not to be outdone, Fasano piled on: “Don’t worry about lawsuits.”

Easy for them to say. It’s not in Fasano’s new job description to decide how the county’s tax dollars are spent; he’s just in charge of collecting them. And when things quickly go bad — precisely County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder’s forecast — Corcoran may decide the price of his advice — fat legal bills a wiser board majority would have avoided — is just another unfunded mandate descended from Tallahassee. Old habits are hard to break.

Pasco’s coming legal disaster is the problem of populism — officials looking out for the “little guy” — writ small, the same frantic motivations that pushed Obamacare across the finish line (a small percentage of Americans don’t have insurance; we need to blow up the whole industry) playing out on a plot of southwest Pasco scrub zoned multifamily for 22 years, to hell with preexisting facts.

And it stands to get worse. Pastor Bill Gunter, the Republican primary’s perceived frontrunner in the special state House election to replace Fasano, says he’s running to represent “the little guy and the little gal.” Ditto motivational speaker Minnie Diaz, the only announced candidate to succeed term-limited Will Weatherford.

We presume neither one is talking about the district of Munchkinland. Sigh.

My preference is for candidates who vow to uphold the Constitution, and help see to it that, in all things, the rule of law — not the whims of emotional opportunists — prevails.

Call me old-fashioned.

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Twitter: @tjacksonTBO

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