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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Here’s A Thought - Noise

Instead of following the money, I want to suggest that law enforcement try following the noise. There’s a certain class of criminal who never will have enough money to be worthy of following, but he (rarely, she) wants to bully us into following his taste in so-called music. The bass booms from his car will shake yours; his Saturday night parties can be heard for blocks.

Almost no one knows it, but excessive noise is illegal and has been since Pinellas County’s Betty Easley – a Republican – sponsored a statewide law on sound standards back in the 1980s. It’s never been repealed, and I think it would be a good idea for cops to start enforcing it. Doing so would give them a reason to stop cars or visit the hangouts of these guys with no sense of community or regard for others.

At the very least, police could follow the noise to check on the possibility of outstanding warrants, or the misuse of drugs and alcohol, or domestic violence and animal mistreatment. Using this clue of noise violation might lead to prevention of more serious crime. And those of us going deaf from their abuse of the shared environment might enjoy some peace and quiet.

Here’s Another Thought - Chairs

Sad to say, Hubby and I have been spending too much time lately in doctors’ waiting rooms. That caused this thought: one size does not fit all. I’m not a particularly short woman, but nonetheless, it is unusual for me to sit all the way back in a chair -- which a straight spine demands -- and still have my feet reach the floor. This always has been the case in airplanes, so I carry some kind of luggage that elevates my feet a few inches. I can (sort of) understand why aircraft manufacturers want to make every seat the same – although an innovative business could install differing sizes, and the airlines could charge accordingly. I know lots of people who would gladly pay for the extra materials required for bigger seats. I could get the small seat I prefer, and the airline could save fuel because of the steel that won’t be flying.

But physicians – particularly physicians treating spinal problems – especially should think about offering a variety of seating options in their waiting rooms. It hurts to sit on a hard, too-tall chair when your MRI has confirmed a problem in the lumbar region of the back. Besides that, more and more of our modern younger population is small: they are Asians and Hispanics whose ancestors were undernourished. They need chairs that allow their feet to reach the floor. Failure to offer that encourages the slouching that doctors decry.

Furniture stores are even worse. Hubby and I went through several recently and were amazed at the herd mentality of their salespeople: not only was almost everything either brown or black, it was built for guys who are over six feet and weigh 300 pounds. I mentioned this to some of my female friends, and they had observed it too. One, who is quite tall, had recently redecorated, but she ended up keeping her old furniture because of the lack of appeal in new stuff. I hadn’t really thought about that before, but it is the reason why I have reupholstered our living room furniture three times. You just can’t find anything like it in a store – and now you can’t find an upholsterer either.

Mad Madeira Beach

Like many pundits say, some things you just can’t make up. I want to quote this story by Times writer Sheila Mullane Estrada exactly as it was published. The beginning sentence is not unusual; it reads, “MADEIRA BEACH – Four candidates qualified Friday for two commission seats that may be vacated in a recall election later this month.” The “explanatory” paragraph further down, however, is worthy of framing. A model for political confusion, it summarized:

“In any case, requested mail-in ballots will be sent out by first class mail, not overnighted as previously considered, by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections on Monday and Tuesday and must be returned either to the elections office or to City Hall by the day of the election, if there is one.”

“If there is one.” You can scratch your head and re-read, but unless you vote in Madeira, you don’t need to know more about this screwy situation. But there is a larger point that merits consideration. According to the website of the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, there are 3,351 registered voters in that beach town. That’s up from the 1990s, when my friend Tom DeCesare ran for mayor over there.

He asked for my analytical help, and of course my first question was the number of voters. He said “about two thousand,” and I said, “No, I mean the entire town, not just your precinct.” He replied, “There’s only one precinct; everyone votes at City Hall.” This was astonishing to me, a veteran of Hillsborough elections. We have hundreds of precincts in Hillsborough, and just the first one in the numerical list, Precinct 101 in Port Tampa, has more than 4,000 voters. So I recommended that Tom, with his comparatively small number, just meet everyone for coffee.

He won and served several terms, but the experience was not entirely pleasant. Mad Beach turned out to be full of mad people, most of them from the North and accustomed to running businesses in which their commands were the law. With too much time on their hands in retirement, they viewed government as a hobby and chose up sides. Commission meetings often were tumultuous, and sometimes “The Mad Dog Madeira Police” – as Lee DeCesare called them – had to be present at meetings. Apparently these insider fights still continue; see above.

Size Matters

Pinellas County has 24 municipal governments, ranging in 2016 from St. Petersburg, with a population of 260,999, to Belleair Shore with 113. Yes, 113 people. I remember when the “town” government there got in trouble with Sunshine law because they held official meetings in the mayor’s home. But beyond that, we also have tiny populations in Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs, and – would you believe? – simply Belleair. It’s the big one, with 3,869 residents. Census-counted residents, that is, not registered voters.

In a highly urbanized county with a million residents and virtually no rural land, the only reason for such teeny governments is exclusivity. These are country club people who don’t want working class people to have a voice in how things are run. They are the people with enough money and influence to get the recently adjourned legislature to quietly pass a “private property” bill that soon could ban you from their shores. Oh yes – that causes me to recall a case some years back, when a cop representing one of these towns arrested a woman for the crime of drinking coffee on the beach.

But it isn’t funny. That court case cost us money. These Cadillac governments become especially costly to the rest of us because, with their highly-localized priorities, these voters could care less about state needs. The Lexus style that they buy for themselves is so expensive they really believe their taxes are too high – and do not want to pay for colleges, prisons, highways, and other costs of state government.

So this is another thing that the Constitutional Revision Commission could have addressed. We could set a minimum population size for municipal governments in urban counties. Population minimums have a long American history: territories could not become states until they reached a substantial number of residents. Ditto for counties: Hillsborough in 1840 ran all the way from Dade City down to Charlotte Harbor and far inland. It was geographically big because it was small in population, with just 432 people. Only 96 of those were civilians, as the remainder were soldiers stationed at Fort Brooke. And when you subtract women, children, and slaves, just a handful were eligible to vote for their lawmakers. So, having to prove that a government represents a valid number of people is in the democratic tradition. It’s a way to keep me-firsters from dominating others, and we should think about it.

At Least the Legislature is Adjourned

And can’t do any more damage until they meet again. In addition to declaring the oceans to belong to nearby property owners, the Republicans who dominate the legislature quietly passed another bill that deserves your attention. Well, in this case, they intended to correct a wrong – but it was a wrong of their own making, and that of the Republican governors we’ve had for the last twenty years.

Provided by News Service of Florida, the headline read: “State employees’ charitable campaign repealed.” It’s not particularly surprising that Rick Scott, the epitome of greed, signed a bill ending “a decades-old state employees’ charitable campaign,” but the reason he did so falls right back into the Republican mantra of privatization. It seems that the United Way had managed this money -- charitable contributions from generally low-paid employees -- but “several years ago the state hired a New Jersey firm to be the fiscal agent.”

The News Service never named this “fiscal agent,” nor exactly when “several years ago” was, so we can’t easily determine who was in charge then – but unless it was prior to 1998, the culprit was a Republican. At last count, this out-of-state business was getting 63% of the money that donors thought was going to charity. Now neither the agent nor the charities will get anything via this fund, as it is closed.

And we wonder why good-hearted idealists can become cynical. Pay attention, please. The devil lurks in the details; we don’t have enough whistleblowers; and elephants tromp all around the room.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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