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Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Tampa proves government can cooperate, get things done

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The city of Tampa is going to build a new station house off Interbay Boulevard for Tampa Fire Rescue, using $2.5 million from the Community Investment Tax.

It will be really nice, and the people who fight our city’s fires deserve no less. Everybody wins.

In the news biz, we call this a hyper-local story of interest only to those directly affected. There’s a bigger picture this time, though, thanks to the stick figures masquerading as leaders in Washington.

What’s happening at Fire Station No. 19 in Tampa shows government can work when leaders actually lead. Running a city (or a nation) doesn’t have to be about the destruction of the other side.

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“This is why mayors should run the country,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a groundbreaking ceremony to herald the new fire station. “Obviously, we don’t deal with the same kind of issues they do in Washington, but the same principles of cooperation should apply.

“Yes, I’m a Democrat and proud of it, but I don’t have time to worry about what political party the other guy is in. All I’m worried about is what’s best for Tampa,” Buckhorn said.

I reminded the mayor about a couple of scrapes he has had with Gov. Rick Scott, most notably over Buckhorn’s attempt to restrict guns in downtown Tampa during the Republican National Convention.

Buckhorn nodded in acknowledgment, but quickly added, “It’s not personal. I talk to the governor every week about something, and we have a good relationship.”

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Just a few miles away from these festivities, we saw the results of bad relationships.

Air Force Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base, told reporters that 1,500 civilian employees have been placed on indefinite furlough. That’s about a $400,000 daily loss, which the good colonel duly noted is “a pretty incredible number on the backs of our civilian airmen.”

Why is this happening?

Because leaders on both sides worry more about cameras and talk shows than talking to each other. And there are no repercussions for demagoguery.

“With the way the districts have been drawn, a lot of these congressmen are safe,” Buckhorn said. “They know they’re going to be re-elected so there’s no incentive to compromise.”

While both sides strike “the-other-side-is-Satan” pose, though, the chaos spills onto Main Street — and I don’t think those game players care.

They, too, could learn from the attitude of Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, who is chairman of the Finance Committee.

“I would be more inclined to lay down in the middle of the street than to not pass the city’s budget,” he said.

“Imagine if we said we couldn’t pay for garbage pickup or the ability of public safety agencies to function. We don’t always agree on things, but we make it work,” Cohen said.

Leaders can do that when they decide leading is more important than conquering.

That’s a radical concept, for sure.

But as Fire Station No. 19 will show, it can work.

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