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Bridge-building to avoid troubled waters

Years ago my friend Nick Kenny, renowned songwriter and columnist for the New York Daily Mirror, defined the role of planner for me: “It’s a guy who builds bridges where there ain’t any water.”

Although it was said in jest, I have applied serious thought to his words. Building bridges in a community’s lifetime can portray many meanings.

Bridges hold the promise of coming together, they are the living metaphor beyond steel girders, concrete or well-seasoned wood structures.

There has been lengthy discourse about bridging gaps between the government and business where we can parley common interests through public/private partnership into rich rewards in terms of efficiency, shared resources and goals, and endless opportunities for more informed planning.

It is a process best carried out in civility where connections are built, not burned.

After Manatee County’s experience with two mainland-to-island bridges, I found it refreshing that our Fort Hamer project opened doors encouraging the business community to come to the table with ideas and proposals for moving forward.

Imagine my surprise when I read a guest column by a commissioner denigrating a proposal by Pat Neal, businessman and philanthropist, with his ideas for building the bridge. It was a bona fide and innovative offer that merited respect, serious study and terms of negotiation. L

et’s imagine for a moment the usual sub-vocal comments that smart brokers repeat to themselves: The devil’s in the details. It looks too good to be true, or it appears impossible to achieve a land swap or levy tolls. What are the legal impediments? Who pays? What about the bidding process? Good questions create good solutions.

The discussion leaps to the public agenda and due diligence homework begins. Action stimulates action while the county looks at alternatives. Appropriate questions are framed while Mr. Neal et al invest time, energy, and money to shape valid concerns into partnership.

Imagine awaking May 14 to read the Bradenton Herald’s guest commentary which opines on the Fort Hamer endeavor and a proposed land swap suggested by potential partners: “This is another example of Pat Neal flexing his political muscle to benefit not the county’s best interest but his own.” This kind of insulting argumentum ad hominem goes on and on throughout the writer’s legal analysis and announcement that county’s administrator and attorney will recommend against Neal’s proposal.

The Board of County Commissioners have now made the ultimate decision in proper professional style. Unfortunately, going outside the lines of inclusive discussion has blurred the entire issue. If you trust the system there is no need to draw blood. Make your argument face to face and vote yea or nay. Smart people do not fall prey to “It’s my way or the highway.” After all these business people were “invited” to participate and were contributing their share. It will be a rainy day in the sunshine before any future invitations are accepted from a lone board member.

Incidently, Nick Kenny’s most popular song is “Love Letters in the Sand.”

Pat Glass, a retired Manatee County commissioner and volunteer member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District board, can be reached by writing c/o Bradenton Herald Metro Desk, 102 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205.