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Lee Hinkle: Freshmen city commissioners need to earn public trust before proposing costly projects

“It’s important to listen and watch closely the early work of our new officials.”

Last year’s elections transformed government at all levels — federal, state and local — and now new elected leaders are trying to find their footing, even as they deal with important political and policy decisions that significantly impact taxpayers. We’re seeing this reality take shape in the nation’s capital, and right here in our own capital city.

It’s important to listen and watch closely the early work of our new officials. I find that particularly true in the city of Tallahassee, where three of the five commissioners — Jeremy Matlow, Elaine Bryant and Dianne Williams-Cox — form a majority, even as they are brand-new to the job.

While we’re always grateful for the willingness of people to serve us in public office, it takes more than a few weeks for newly elected officials to get beyond the steep learning curve. They should exercise caution during that learning period — out of respect for the weighty responsibilities they have just been elected or appointed to shoulder — rather than display easy comfort floating proposals for expensive new programs and policies.

All of us who care about the value of every tax dollar should have deep concerns about an idea being energetically pushed by Commissioner Matlow for the city to get into the broadband/high-speed internet business — at a staggering cost that could approach $300 million in tax dollars. As Mayor John Dailey properly observed, that price tag is the equivalent to one-third of the total city budget.

Mr. Matlow has built a successful pizza parlor business here. But proposing a highly questionable, costly new utility isn’t as simple as throwing some sauce and cheese onto a pie. Quite the contrary — this $300 million plan burns and chokes any concerned taxpayer for its sheer crustiness. A reasonable view concludes this bad idea would become a terrible reality that offends logic and sensibility.

Diverse broadband services already exist here, offered by a number of private sector providers. It makes no sense for the city to go into competition with businesses that create jobs and pay taxes.

If customer service is a problem, let free enterprise create the appropriate market pressures to expand, enhance and extend broadband service and improve customer relations, rather than have our city become an expensive competing startup. A mammoth investment of public dollars for such purpose also risks wasting them if — or when — that technology is rendered obsolete by even newer breakthroughs within the next decade.

It’s ironic that Mr. Matlow rejected the idea for a needed, in-demand parking garage for the popular and growing Midtown region by making the odd point that the private sector should respond to any such need. Now, this same freshman commissioner is proposing our city embark on a journey of financial folly that amounts to a giant tax increase and a hard slap to the private sector that has worked hard in this space for decades.

Surely, we want our elected officials — especially new ones — to learn their jobs and earn our trust by good works and wise decisions. Pushing an agenda to create an expensive new public utility under the guise of modernizing our infrastructure is an offense against taxpayers, logic and today’s economic realities.

___

Lee Hinkle is a director of the Florida Alliance for Consumers and Taxpayers. She is a former vice president of University Relations at Florida State University, former senior vice president of Governmental Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and former member of the Florida Commission on Ethics.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Sam

    March 14, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    I partially agree, partially disagree with this piece. Broadband options are few and far between and expensive everywhere, including here. Costs rise for the same level of service every year, which runs counter to the laws of economics. As more people use the service and we move forward in time, costs should be decreasing not increasing. I would like to see anything that puts the kibash on comcast’s and century link’s oligopoly, except for the fact that I don’t want my taxes to go up. I would gladly pay my $60-70 per month to the city though, if they can do it better by laying fiber to my house instead of copper. I’d be for it if those conditions were met: user fee starting equal or less than what we are currently paying, better faster service, and kibash on comcast/century link as an added bonus.

  2. Richard Hicks

    March 14, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    Gee it sure seems like she is spitting out Comcast talking points. Comcast is so opposed to the idea of anyone challenging their monopoly and horrible customer service they form front groups like this to oppose any city beginning to question the man behind the curtain.

    For example, this company “FLORIDA ALLIANCE FOR CONSUMERS AND TAXPAYERS, INC.” is a 501c4 organization that doesn’t report it’s donors, and was created last month when they started to discuss this issue.

    It’s “headquarters” are a UPS store in Tallahassee. This is a comcast/Florida Chamber of Commerce front group: and go figure! Lee Hinkle used to be the head lobbyist of the Florida Chamber of Commerce..

  3. Harry

    March 14, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Guest Arthur, are you kidding me or what? The price of the broadband services that already exist are too high and customer service is lousy because it is monopolized and prices are fixed. The price paid by consumers never even comes close to the true cost of production. Because it’s controlled.

    Look around and you’ll find that there is only one ISP that provides decent broadband in any one city here in Florida. Customer service is usually out sourced over seas to foreigners who’s use of the English Language one can barely comprehend.

    ISPs don’t want to compete. All they care about is keeping the status quo, making the most amount money for their precious shareholders and giving themselves generous raises, and customers be dammed.

    You think they’ll “create the appropriate market pressures to expand, enhance and extend broadband service and improve customer relations”? In your dreams!

    So yes, the city needs to get into the broadband/high-speed internet business to favor the consumer. Only then will the ISPs truly start to compete and you’ll see prices drop and quality and service improved.

  4. Ryan

    March 14, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    Wow. I somehow managed to not crush my own teeth against each other after cringing so hard at that awful pizza pun, then to my surprise, this lady immediately followed it up with something even dumber.

    “Diverse broadband services already exist here, offered by a number of private sector providers.”

    Am I missing something? Are there residential broadband services available here from anyone besides Comcast or Centurylink? I pay ~$100/mo. for spotty service and lousy customer care because there are no other options. I’m not the only one. Good luck finding anybody in this town that doesn’t have multiple reasons to hate their ISP. This isn’t a brand new product, so where’s all the enterprising competition that’s supposed to make things better for consumers?

    People voted for Jeremy Matlow because they trust him, and because they’re sick of buttered-up lobbyist shills holding back good people with good ideas that benefit everyone. Kindly get out of the way.

    P.S. – There are plenty of parking spots in Midtown right now, go see for yourself. The parking garage idea is ridiculous, too.

    • Brian L

      March 17, 2019 at 2:24 pm

      Thank you, Ryan – especially for the P.S.

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