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Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018
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Romano: Sure, let's trust a board with no professionalism, transparency or ethics

So, if you've been following the bureaucratic carnage:

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board operated as a rogue operation, homeowners were given lip service and their complaints were ignored, and the paper trail was so fouled up that it's impossible to track down a truckload of missing money.

And yet some members of the county's legislative delegation think you should still trust the board to operate independently.

Trust the board?

Heck, I don't even trust the legislative delegation.

Seriously, it's hard to believe this is still a topic of conversation. The board didn't just hit a speed bump because of a bad administrator, it was permitted to play fast and loose with the rules and, consequently, do a disservice to heaven-knows-how-many homeowners because it had zero oversight.

But to hear state Sen. Jack Latvala tell it, the whole thing has been blown out of proportion because of Tampa Bay Times reporter Mark Puente's persistence.

Here's a news flash, senator:

If it wasn't for Puente's persistence, the board would still be operating in the cover of darkness. Or, as an assistant state attorney put it, operating with little professionalism, transparency or ethics.

Yes, it's true the board got its act together when interim executive director Gay Lancaster was brought in earlier this year. And she and her staff should be congratulated for everything they've done.

But that does not change the fundamental issue of accountability and oversight, and neither will an occasional audit or some blue-ribbon panel that meets once a year.

Before his agency took over the investigative arm of the board a month ago as part of a pilot program, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told me there appeared to be no rhyme or reason as to how consumer complaints were handled. Mostly, they just sat in a pile somewhere.

This is what some legislators seem to have missed.

This isn't a philosophical argument about policy. This is about real people with real complaints. This is about a board essentially run by contractors who are being permitted to police themselves.

Latvala doesn't want the county in charge because he said he is a conservative who believes in less government.

Yeah, well that argument would sound a whole lot more convincing if Florida legislators weren't already injecting themselves into city and county issues, and if they hadn't eviscerated local school boards with their incessant overreach in recent years.

There were some other technical issues brought up Monday as reasons for keeping the board in its current format. Except, as Sen. Jeff Brandes pointed out, those issues might be easily navigated if someone had simply picked up a phone and asked some questions.

Until then, those issues are the administrative equivalent of straw men.

The Pinellas County Commission will weigh in today for the first time since the Inspector General's investigation was released last week, and hopefully commissioners will show a greater sense of responsibility to homeowners.

A unified front by the commission would send a strong signal to the legislative delegation that it should endorse a Brandes bill that would essentially dissolve the board.

In the end, this is a question of trust. So I'll ask: Do you trust an independent board that answers to no one?

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