Last week’s Board of County Commissioners regular bi-monthly meeting was completely regular for one hour and entirely from another planet in the next.
In other words, it was a sad chapter in Gulf County government and a smear against any message county government is trying to send beyond its borders.
Actually, to hear Commissioner Carmen McLemore proclaim, outside those borders there are the “blow ins” that should just move on back to Georgia or Alabama or wherever they are from if they are going to have the temerity to question government.
But of course everything over those last 45 minutes last Thursday was personal and for that, it was a sad day for government.
Sad for allowing any citizen to spend 17 minutes at the podium on a screed that in the first part had largely been heard before – timed coincidentally to a rally on the courthouse steps by the villains in commissioners’ little Kabuki theater, Citizens for Improving Gulf County – and in the second part a campaign television commercial.
Sad that Commission chair Bill Williams allowed this to continue; even participating in as ugly a display of Gulf County government that has been witnessed for years.
Sad that Williams’ fellow commissioners allowed a lame duck commissioner, not even around in a month, already moving to Tallahassee, to establish the tenor and tempo for an astonishing display of bad manners and appalling lack of professionalism.
Sad that Williams would join the cue of outrage at the out-of-county campaign contributions received by a BOCC candidate this year, when Williams ran in 2004 and 2008 behind a boatload of dollars from out of the county.
Including the donations from an individual and company Williams later brought in as a vendor for the employee health insurance fray.
Sad that would not come up, that Williams’ memory would be so short.
And yet that issue was beaten and beaten, despite the wise words of Commissioner Ward McDaniel who did happen to inject that campaign contributions were a personal right and privilege.
Not everybody lost their senses.
Sad that Williams would allow any member of the public to address an item that wasn’t on the agenda and to continue to reveal details of a State Attorney’s investigation and then join her, Williams’ repeatedly saying he had worn a wire as part of the investigation.
Sad that after that investigation was closed on Oct. 16, a request to see the case file was met with the statement that based on information provided after the meeting the case was reopened, the file unavailable.
Sad that this was a quasi-representative of the Economic Development Council and given the folderol Williams tossed around about his displeasure with the direction of the consolidated Chamber/EDC model he helped create.
Sad that Williams would also use publicly-paid meeting time, with staff present and on the clock, to also express his views on the upcoming election in the district he chose not to represent for the next four years.
Not only is it unseemly for a sitting commissioner to publically wade into the fray, to do so in a taxpayer-paid function, taking meeting time to assert who voters should not vote for in the coming election, crosses the boundaries of good taste and good ethics by such a distance the line is blurred.
Not to mention that this is a proud Republican taking sides against the candidate that the county Republican Party is endorsing in the election.
What is the adage, when a man stands for anything, he stands for nothing.
But in reality, this was not a meeting, this was an ambush against citizens who have chosen to be active, and, yes, aggressive, during this campaign season.
There was nothing on the meeting agenda, no item, that would point to such a brazenly politically diatribe, by all involved, including the five commissioners who seemed to be amped for battle.
Granted it has not always been pretty this summer and there are tactics that raise howls in adult conversation, but the bottom line is these are citizens exercising their right to protest and engage government and they were publicly pilloried by publicly-paid elected officials because of that exercise in democracy.
Williams made a repeated mention about courage throughout his outburst, but exactly what kind of courage is entailed when commissioners sit in their cushioned chairs and with prompting abuse their own public input rules in order to grind personal axes while there is a man with a gun, the sheriff, protecting them.
What kind of courage does a bully – and this was a 40-minute session that would bring suspensions in the public schools – really possess?
This was a black eye for Gulf County. Anyone viewing the second half of that meeting would take away bewilderment at just what kind of place Gulf County is and what kind of government is operated from the county courthouse complex.
The only message is that a voice is allowed in Gulf County only if it is desired to be heard by elected officials.
McLemore pretty much summed it up when he attempted to backtrack his statement about “blow-ins” by mentioning that he encouraged people to move to Gulf County, just don’t come wishing to tell local government what to do.
In other words, please come down to Gulf County – just leave your rights as citizens behind. That is a message the Tourist Development Council can surely brand.