It is hard to evaluate an elected official’s fitness for office. The nature of our political system has evolved not to get the best and brightest, but to get the most obstinate, most malleable, or most likable. John Adams, eventually to become our second President, saw and lamented the rise of the two-party system, set against each other in opposition and willing to back any candidate that would see things in a subjective manner. Subjectivity is the defining struggle we face right now in our system of leadership. Rarely does an opportunity come along to get to the middle well-rounded ground. Our chance to do this was with the replacement for Scott Maddox.
City commissioners could have established a public process based on previous experience in running for office. This would have allowed for more time and public discourse on candidates already familiar to the community, and would have sent the right, positive message to candidates to run for future elections. That was the message worth sharing; that your success is based upon your own personal effort and not on membership or patronage. The commissioners put the community through a process with no public criteria, which allowed private interests to weigh in heavily. If commissioners were not satisfied with the caliber of candidates that ran in the past, they should have said so. Of course, that’s not the public dialog we’ve come to expect. Such candor is missing. Elaine Bryant ended up being the safe choice, and it will remain to be seen whether she was the best choice.
Florida Sunshine Laws were not necessarily broken, though the intent of the law is to shed light and hold officials accountable. Having aides scurry back and forth between commissioners and letting specific phone calls get through is probably not the type of proceedings that Sunshine Laws were intended to de facto support. The rapidity in which Tabitha Frazier was dumped by commissioners as their most obvious choice means they didn’t do their due diligence and had second thoughts. It feels coordinated and neither fair or impartial to Ms. Frazier or the public. Once again, this could have been avoided by criteria that put the public in charge, such as taking only written applications and emails of support, getting public input over a series of public meetings, and limiting applicants to those who previously filed for office.
Because commissioners did things the way they did, they missed a golden opportunity to promote public dialogue and combat cynicism. It points to the likelihood of leadership that thinks of simple advantages at the expense of progress on multiple fronts. I for one hope Commissioner Bryant succeeds, and every indication is that she is already asking the right questions. Bryant might end up being a bright shining star, but the public was taken for granted in this first muddling step of a post-Maddox commission.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org