We need to all work together.
That was stated, nearly verbatim, at two government meetings the past week and on different subjects, but the theme was the same – we’ve got to move beyond the arguing and onto the business of the people.
The city of Port St. Joe and the Board of County Commissioners, in particular, along with the quasi-agencies and agencies they represent have got to learn to play well together.
PSJ city commissioners said they would set aside their focus on a proposed new bay front park in order to concentrate solely on moving the Cape San Blas Lighthouse to the city.
The president of the Chamber of Commerce implored unity with the BOCC as the struggle to bring jobs to a community badly in need of them continues.
The city’s decision was predictable as it is going to need help moving that lighthouse within the next six months.
The task seems an enormously burdensome one from the feds in tough economic times.
Given that the city is now advertising for a general contractor while trying to secure a financial rainmaker of sorts, well, the sands are quickly slipping away.
And while there are strong opponents of the move of the lighthouse, passionate folks with passionate arguments, the reality is the federal government made a decision and the county has to deal with it, pros and cons.
The relocation of the lighthouse seems monumental anyway for two taxing authorities pleading poverty most of the year, but if it is to be accomplished in six months all hands must be on deck.
The ability to raise funds to underwrite the relocation, be it at Salinas Park or the city of Port St. Joe, was always going to be more difficult if the feds’ decision cleaved a fissure between county and city.
If the lighthouse is to be preserved as an icon for the community, providing a significant revenue stream while enhancing the beauty and economy and legacy of the area, there is scant time for debate.
The decision, whether one believes it right or wrong, has been made. Now it is up to the community to make something of the lighthouse.
And the county can insist on being next in line and critics can argue, but a broader question is what will be the fallout, the reflection on the BOCC which said it would support the move, if city-county bickering renders the lighthouse either to the ocean or back to the feds, who could decide none of this is worth the hassle.
The feds could fairly say, if the people in Gulf County can’t decide, why should we care?
The Chamber president was speaking of togetherness while discussing with the BOCC the future of the Economic Development Council.
And, finally, some sense entered the room as a narrowly split BOCC decided to give the director, Barry Sellers, and a newly-configured EDC board, at least another 18 months to two years as promised funding.
Even though there is not an economic development expert, including the one who recently spoke to the Port Authority, who would not attest that economic development takes time.
Far more than the six months Commissioner Carmen McLemore was willing to provide, which ought to say all that needs to be said about vision for the county.
The EDC has been undermined for a decade by the inability of all parties, public and private partners, to stay on the same page, share the spotlight and praise and move on a common plain toward bringing jobs to the community.
As Commissioner Tan Smiley has said several times and Commissioner Joanna Bryan expressed this week, there have been too many starts and stops, too many different directions and too many hands in the pie for a viable economic development plan, let alone agency, to congeal.
Of course, as it was pointed out this week, putting pledges in writing is the way to go because the lack of written documentation of promises made two, four or five years ago seem easily forgotten, disproving the long held maxim that a man’s word is his bond.
But if the BOCC is serious about injecting stability into the EDC, it must prove it in the coming years. Only then can it expect public and private partners to take notice and be willing, at some level, to wipe the slate clean.
It was said recently that economic development and education go hand in hand.
There is a fair argument to be made that the upheaval of economic development, the divisions that have long plagued the city and the county have an impact on a public school system that is again asking voters for help.
BOCC members like to brag about shaving $4-$5 million from their budget in recent years, but in the past four years the school district’s budget has plunged by a similar amount, if not more.
Supporting two community schools – and there seems little stomach for consolidation – brings a certain bill that declining enrollment, a direct result of the lack of jobs in the community, can not sustain.
And the school district can’t raise gas taxes, offer bonds for road money or any other mechanism other than requesting the assistance of voters. Think how the BOCC would handle that issue each year.
There has been no greater victim of the incompetent approach to economic development in the county over the past decade than the public schools.
So borrow a line from a school board meeting, if the city and county and other stakeholders need a reason to work together – do it for the kids.