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It's the day after Thanksgiving as I write this column (thanks to the early deadlines of a weekly newspaper), so who's President-elect? Dunno, but two things are clear:

George W. stole the election. Not only did Al Gore have a popular majority, he surely would have won Florida by 20,000 votes but for dimpled chads and butterfly ballots.

Al Gore stole the election. George W. had a clear electoral majority, but Al Gore, aided by a nakedly partisan Florida judiciary, forced recount after recount until the results came out in his favor.

In common, I suspect, with most Americans, I wish that both of 'em would just go away. Couldn't we just turn over the whole thing to Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, and let them run the country for the next four years? That thought first occurred to me on election day, when I ran into ex-Mayor Bob Isaac, who gave me a suspicious gaze and inquired: "Did you vote for the idiot?"

"Yup," said I, "How 'bout you?"

"Yup," said he.

We had, of course, voted for different candidates.

And we can be sure that our very own City Council members are secretly delighted with the Florida Follies, because it means that no one's paying much attention to whatever mischief may be afoot at City Hall. Come April, after all, we're going to elect five City Council members, and we can expect that Council, in its beneficence, will offer us the opportunity to vote for higher taxes.

We'll also be asked to graciously submit to the servant leadership of Council by re-electing incumbents Linda Barley and Jim Null, not to mention electing Judy Noyes to the remainder of Joanne Colt's term.

But whomever we elect, or re-elect, we can assume that they'll migrate to the same bureaucratic never-never land where the present gang so happily resides.

It's a land peopled with consultants and overflowing with reports, where facilitators rule, action is forever deferred, and the meaning of life can be distilled into carefully crafted sentences that no one will ever read.

For proof, let's take a look at the process whereby city government is creating a new Comprehensive Plan. The Comp Plan, as it's called, is supposed to be the document that guides all policy-making decisions by local government. The existing comp plan supports everything that's good (neighborhoods, historic preservation, traffic calming, parks, prosperity, public safety, etc., etc.) and opposes everything that's bad (crime, congestion, economic stagnation, racism, sexism, sprawl, etc., etc.).

Lacking the force of law, it has been about as effective as, say, advising a student at Florida State to stay away from parties. So a couple of years ago, Council decided to draft a new comp plan, this time with teeth.

That's all well and good, but the same political coalition (e.g. Developers) that killed off Amendment 24 would doom a truly tough new comp plan. So what do you do? You spend money, you spin wheels, you dally and delay.

As of the end of September, the city had spent about $500,000 on developing a new plan, including $350,000 for outside consultants. A citizen's steering committee has been appointed, and these poor souls have attended 60 meetings, nine focus groups, seven workshops, four public workshops, and three City Council work sessions. City staff has been busy, too; by the time the process is finished, they'll have dedicated 9.9 years of staff time to this project.

And when will the process be finished? Sometime in the not-too-distant future ... maybe.

Meanwhile, it's baaaaack, the bad idea that won't go away -- the Downtown Convention Center. Proponents have argued since 1970 that such a facility is vital to our economy; unfortunately for them, the economy has done just fine without it.

And regardless of their economic benefits, convention centers don't particularly enhance downtown environments. They're big windowless boxes, with most of their street frontage given over to loading docks. Baseball stadiums (e.g., Coors Field) are pleasant adjuncts to mixed-use areas; convention centers (e.g., the Colorado Convention Center in Denver) are not.

But don't worry; unless we cough up the dough via new taxes, it won't get built. That's just one of the many benefits of living in a city full of suspicious, tight-fisted Republicans as opposed to one full of gullible, free-spending Democrats.

But maybe Council's right, and all those new taxes will be resoundingly approved come April. And maybe Florida State will move here, and we'll have great parties, and Bobby Bowden, and the 'Noles ... beats a convention center any day.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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