Sunday, March 16, 2008

Great Government

Three Associated Press articles in today's Key West Citizen caught my attention.

The first, Economy May Shift Odds to Approve Palm Beach Co. Slots, contains this:

A series of closed-door meetings with county staff and Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons generated enthusiasm for the idea (which is about using tax dollars to link a dog track to Palm Beach International Airport by a monorail and to allow slot machines at the track) , though it hasn't surfaced to the overall commission yet.

County Administrator Bob Weisman said he had not been briefed on the proposal. County Commissioner Mary McCarty, who is lobbyist Ballard's sister, said she is in the dark, too.


and this:

The Rooneys have supported both state and local politicians to underscore their message. Their Palm Beach Kennel Club gave $220,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in 2007. The Democratic Party got $31,000.

They have shown pull with the governor, who appointed Patrick Rooney Jr. to the South Florida Water Management District governing board last year, replacing Kevin McCarty, husband of Commissioner McCarty.

Rooney's brother, Tom, who worked for Crist as an assistant attorney general, is a Republican candidate running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Palm Beach Gardens.


The second, States Fight to Keep E-Mail from Inspection, reports:

"There seems to be an attitude throughout government — at all levels — that somehow electronic communications are of its own kind and not subject to the laws in the way that print communications are," said Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org.
"So we keep hearing reports of governors and mayors who decree that their e-mail records can be destroyed, in six weeks or six months, with no appraisal for permanent value and no review by an independent body," she said.


The final article, OPEN RECORDS AUDIT: State agencies mostly follow state records laws, is about a project by the Florida Office of Open Government that tested the Open Records law at 34 state agencies.

The reason for my interest in these things is a Planning Board workshop I went to last Thursday in which Assistant City attorney Larry Erskine schooled the Planning Board on Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law, one of the strongest open government laws in the nation.

It is, for example, against the law for two or more members of any board or agency subject to the law to exchange information about any matter that might come before them for consideration other than in a duly noticed meeting open to the public. There are a few exceptions to the open-to-the-public element, but not to the meeting notice requirement.

By and large, the City of Key West and its public boards seem to do a good job of observing the law. There have been a few instances where questions have been raised about violations. Last year, when questions were being raised about a proposal to annex Christmas Tree Island (a.k.a. Wisteria Island), several City Commissioners attended a dinner together on Sunset Key hosted by the owners of Wisteria Island. That generated a brief uproar, then the annexation proposal was quietly withdrawn. (Watch for it to come back up one of these days.)

The point of all this, I guess, is that despite the Sunshine Law, there is much that goes on behind the scenes and that by the time a proposal to develop something, to transfer a transient license, to change a base elevation for building height, or to gentrify a working waterfront, the skids have been greased and the launch is close at hand. It's well-nigh impossible for an average citizen to watch everything at once, so we rely on the people we elect and the people they appoint to do the watching, to do the right thing, and to ensure that the interests of the people they represent are given at least equal weight as those of the proponents of the action. We also rely on the press. Both the Key West Citizen and the Florida Keys Keynoter do a good job in covering (and uncovering) the machinations of the developers.

Which brings me around to the two policies that guide me in my approach to government:

Mick Barnes offered a prescription almost three years ago: Stop accepting bad government!

And John Mertz added the Three-Pronged Test even earlier.

Now its on to Section B of the Citizen.

1 comment:

David Lybrand said...

And it should also be pointed out that there is a vigilant organization watching out for, and ready to take action against, such abuses throughout this area: Last Stand

 
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