In the same week, just one day apart we were treated to a glaring difference between the Leon County Commission and City of Tallahassee Commission.
Tuesday, November 19 the County Commissioners met to conduct business. The biggest topic of discussion was really not part of the agenda. The potential for a gun ordinance had been discussed in a previous meeting. At the behest of a local, misguided attorney County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley proposed the notion that the County should consider an ordinance that would prohibit you and me from selling our privately owned guns at gun shows held on public land like the fairgrounds.
It was a silly notion that was full of obstacles and pitfalls. In the days that followed the mere suggestion of this gun ordinance County Commissioners were inundated with e-mail, phone calls, and personal meetings with citizens, near and far, that expressed a strong opinion opposing the mere possibility of such a gun ordinance.
At the Tuesday, November 19 meeting Commissioners brought up the idea in order to vote 6-to-1 to kill it. No more discussion needed. To summarize the comments of Commissioners is easy: “The people have spoken.”
Leon County Commissioners responded. Though the County Commission has made decisions that I do not agree with (the fire service “fee” and gas tax comes to mind), the fact is County Commissioners are more receptive and responsive to citizens than their City counterparts.
One day later, Wednesday, November 20, the City Commission held a workshop. The primary purpose of this targeting session was to take up recommendations made by a blue ribbon panel assembled to propose ethics policies for the City. The panel spent months gathering information, comparing it to other communities, interviewing staff, elected leaders, and just spit balling ideas.
The Ethics Advisory Panel was chaired by the former President of the American Bar Association. Among the panel members was no less than the former Chief Justice of The Florida State Supreme Court. The panel was tireless in its duties. The end results were a series of eighteen recommendations…all but one passed the panel by a 9-to-0 vote. The only issue with any division was the strong suggestion that the City should appoint an independent ethics officer. That vote was 7-to-2.
Though it was not promoted or mentioned in the agenda that citizens would be allowed to offer input, some members of the community showed up and stepped to the podium. All of them asked that all of the EAP’s recommendations be implemented.
I listened as City Commissioners and the Mayor tried to justify their positions. Though I was watching on the television I could feel the anger from members of the Ethics Advisory Panel. They had to me thinking, “Why in the world did I waste my time?”
It was sad to see and my stomach could not take watching any more of the proceedings. When I waved the white flag of surrender the City had agreed to ten of the eighteen recommendations. But the most important one, the independent ethics officer, is likely dead. As I stated on my show…”The insiders do not want outsiders looking over their shoulder.”
It is telling that local media outlets, advocacy groups like the League of Women Voters, and the Ethics Advisory Panel itself all believe that we need major ethical reforms in City government. Sadly, though not surprisingly, City Commissioners do not agree. They, of course, know what’s best.
The tale of two Commissions…one has shown it will listen; the other has shown it won’t.