Jeff Lytle: National security; community hunger; productivity panel secrecy

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Sometimes these columns defy being written.

Other times, they write themselves — with the help of others.

Porter Goss, the former spy, U.S. House member from Southwest Florida and CIA director sharing headlines with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi these days, says he is planning a book. “There is an urgency,” he e-mails, “as the Obama administration is quickly finding out.”

About what?

“One word: Afghanistan,” he writes. “The situation has been deteriorating with no end in sight. Whether he fully realized it or not, part of President Obama’s presidency will be as a ’war president.’ He needs his national security team to focus on the problems ahead and the capabilities to deal with them. He is discovering this is not easy and some of the Bush methods he disdained may be useful after all — stuff like military tribunals, interrogating captured terrorists, keeping inflammatory materials under wraps (Abu Ghraib photos), etc.”

We will keep trying for an interview; the traveling Goss says maybe in the fall.

Meanwhile, echoes from the Stamp Out Hunger drive keep on coming.

Last week we told you about mail carriers who came in on their days off and used their own cars to pick up food left at mailboxes and deliver it to charities.

Now I get a call from a stranger with a whisper voice saying she needs food, right away, for her family. I ask if she could go to St. Matthew’s House in East Naples. She says no; she is from Golden Gate and has no car.

I took her name and number and called St. Matthew’s, asking if those good folks had any ideas. They put me onto Grace Place for Children and Families in Golden Gate, where the Rev. Stephanie Campbell is dedicated to the poor and frequently writes to the newspaper. Without hesitation she said Grace Place has food, thanks to Stamp Out Hunger, and could help. I asked how often she gets calls like this. Every day, she said, adding: “Welcome to my world.”

Then there was an e-mail from Nancy Payton of the Florida Wildlife Federation, about good government: “You may not be aware that Collier County’s Productivity Committee asked the Board of County Commissioners to overturn the directive that the Productivity Committee meetings be held at Horseshoe Drive and be televised.

“The Productivity Committee meets in the county manager’s conference room — an awkward location for the public, I think.

“The (County Commission) relies heavily upon this committee for input on important decisions — budget, impact fees and charter government — but its meetings get very little coverage and the minutes offer few details on their deliberations.”

Responses were predictable and swift. Here are condensed versions; the full originals are available on my blog.

Committee member Larry Baytos, a frequent and capable guest essay writer for us, e-mailed: “I’d be surprised if anyone really cares about this issue.”

He reeled off the camera-shy party line: Meetings are already subject to full sunshine disclosure; public interest doesn’t warrant the expense; the formality of televised meetings could reduce our effectiveness.

Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning said he’s all for televising the meetings, especially since the panel is doing homework on charter government. Then again, Henning was the only commissioner who voted to hold the panel to the TV directive.

Fellow Commissioner Fred Coyle, acknowledging accountability while believing TV would let the public see the committee’s hard work for thrift, says he would change his vote and order coverage if the panel gets into more serious charter-government deliberations.

Commissioner Donna Faila says she favors TV, but is willing to let the hard-working committee members make the call.

Anyone else getting Collier County School Board deja vu?

Back to whistle-blower Payton: “The Productivity Committee is one of the most influential advisory bodies in Collier County government. ... Commissioners need to immediately wrestle control from this self-absorbed group and direct that its meetings are always televised.”

Enter Productivity Committee member Janet Vasey: “I know your position on televising meetings, so I’m sure you won’t agree with anything I’m about to tell you, but this was the reasoning — my opinion, for the record.

“We’re a large group (11 members) that is difficult to manage and not very disciplined. We don’t operate in a formal manner like the Planning Commission; we have collegial, roundtable discussions, talking over ideas and talking over each other,” says Vasey. “We didn’t want to lose that informal but synergistic process. We thought televising our meetings would be inhibiting to our discussions as we hashed out issues, in an uncensored flow of ideas.

“The county has over 50 advisory committees and only a handful are televised. We preferred not to be televised and the (County Commission) agreed.

“It may not seem like enough to you, but our meetings are (advertised), open to the public and we have full audio minutes. So we aren’t trying to hide anything. We just wanted to preserve the uninhibited, uncensored process that makes us productive.”

One more thing from Vasey: “I’ll be blindfolded and ready to take the bullet in your Sunday column.”

And here it is, from Payton: “Bad government hits a raw nerve in me.”

Jeff Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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