The mailbox is breathing a sigh of relief.
Actually, it is breathing again and yes, if you drove by and saw my head in the mailbox I was trying CPR.
That noise you hear?
Silence as being a voter in a battleground state ends its every-four-year torture of the dinner hour.
The election is finally behind us and given that most of us could relate to that viral video of the little girl crying about the Presidential race, many say, “Whew.”
In a way, though, the Gulf County campaign season continues and that a roadblock to any forward momentum on the most pressing issue: jobs.
The campaign season will not truly end in this county until the State Attorney’s Office makes public the file on its investigation into tactics employed by a local Political Action Committee, Citizens Improving Gulf County.
At least that is the presumptive basis of the investigation since right now all we have is the words of three people involved.
One, the primary “witness” in the investigation, has called the investigation “silliness” and a “Keystone Kops” comedy routine.
And in fact the State Attorney closed the case on Oct. 16 with a letter saying that what seemed to be involved was dirty politics or a crime, and intelligent people would disagree.
Bluntly, you could almost make the same assertion about many of the commercials that bombarded the airwaves leading up to the election – dirty politics or a crime, you decide?
The fact that the case was closed with no finding of charges, however, speaks volumes because it is hard to see what “new information” could have been gleaned from the ugly Board of County Commissioners’ meeting of Oct. 25.
To reopen the case, preventing public disclosure of the file is significant in a county desperately needs closure on this election.
What was the probable cause that launched this investigation?
What was the probable cause that provided authorization for a county commissioner to secretly record a conversation with a trusted campaign advisor and one of his last allies in the county?
These are important questions in this context. What evidence fueled this investigation?
This was, to say the least, an incredibly contentious campaign season in Gulf County.
But regardless of what one’s view of tactics might have been there is an important distinction.
Citizens Improving Gulf County is an organization of private citizens, exercising their constitutional rights to speak against, with volume if desired, and assemble against their government.
These are fundamental First Amendment rights, guaranteed under state and federal constitutions exercised by private citizens.
Their targets were publically-paid elected officials. That is part of the equation when running for office, when putting name on ballot, the criticism and dissent from voters who disagree with your policies.
This is fundamental stuff going back to Lexington and Concord.
The right to protest against government is essential; the scope with which government can and should respond helps define our community.
So, to leave unanswered the two fundamental questions about this “investigation” is a public disservice to the voters and citizens of Gulf County.
Because this investigation and the dismaying way it spilled into the public was the punctuation mark on this campaign season.
Resolution is needed to move ahead and essential to be moving on the economic development front.
In the past two years, the BOCC adopted a consolidated Chamber of Commerce/Economic Development Council model. A nationwide search resulted in the hiring of an energetic plugged-in director and a new board has brought new ideas and faces.
But that board and director have barely had a chance to breathe and operate under a series of oppressive moves from the BOCC.
The job of government is to provide the atmosphere for economic development and get out of the way.
Instead the BOCC has again reversed course on budgetary pledges, cutting funding to the Chamber/EDC by a three-quarters due to reasons that have yet to be explained beyond a chip on the shoulder toward the City of Port St. Joe.
They have publicly grilled the Chamber board president and the executive director about decisions and policy and any observer of the BOCC knows that what happens in public is a tip of the iceberg.
Time for the BOCC to stick to its word, put up the public funding promised for the next several years until private funding has a chance to take root and get out of the way and let the Chamber/EDC do the job the BOCC created the model to do.
Meanwhile, the same with the Tourist Development Council which disintegrated in a wave of ethically questionable behavior from the BOCC and a series of missteps – ones that once again carried no charges despite the chest thumping from the BOCC that there was illegality – by the director who continued a laissez faire attitude toward county policy and procedures that existed when he arrived.
Now, there is a new director identified from a nationwide search, a new board and new policies in place. The ship has been turned.
Time for those with sway over decisions stand back, lend support and generally cheer, but from the sidelines.
Finally, there is a need to get the Port of Port St. Joe moving forward in development and that can only happen with all on the same page, a page that must include paid staff, not staff with deep institutional knowledge forced to work as volunteers due to forces apparently beyond the Port Authority’s control.
Those three legs can provide a foundational stool for economic development and jobs and growth in a county that desperately needs the entire plate.
But until there is a closure on one of the nastier local campaign seasons many of us have witnessed, and here the State Attorney can prove invaluable, it will be difficult to move past the campaign to the far more important tasks at hand.