Thursday, September 8, 2011

Astro Turf - The Fake Public Participation

So far I've talked about two major pressure groups on the city government – the police union and the developers. There are good reasons for public employee unions and business people to promote government policies for a city to survive. It's the balance that matters. Government has to play by the rules and so do unions and private business interests. It seems clear that in these cases, the influence is out of balance.

There's another trickier area of influence that also needs to be balanced – citizen interest. I am writing this from Washington DC where the proliferation of false citizens groups have been distorting the national debate for years. You know the ones, with high sounding names like “Americans for Prosperity” or “People for our Children's Future” who sponsor commercials asking you to write your congress critter to oppose legislation that would reduce pollution or close tax loopholes. There's even a name for them – Astro Turf groups, fake grassroots organizations - and they are dismally effective.

North Bay Village has its own version of this. I refer of course to the Citizens for Full Disclosure. A high sounding name and when I first started writing this blog nearly two years ago, I was confused. I saw a lot of anger but no clear reasons for it and assumed that I just wasn't understanding the reasoning. After a few false tries, including an open offer nearly realized,to open the blog as a place to print their viewpoints. an effort that failed because I refused to print an unproven libel. It became obvious that the CFD was not driven by a desire for good government but a desire to control through intimidation.

There are many examples, most of them too tiresome to list here and you've heard me before on the subject, but their favorite tactic is to “reveal” public information about people they don't like and extrapolate wild accusations of criminal behavior. You see the emails. You see the campaign to recall the mayor which is based solely on personal financial problems which have nothing to do with the city or any criminal action.

Early on, when a resident who for some reason that CFD didn't like was appointed to one of the boards, they sent out to the city email list (do you remember signing up for their email list? I don't.) attaching an IRS settlement. The story was simple and usual. The citizen in question disputed an IRS bill, had a hearing, was ruled against and settled the bill. It happens every day and is part of the honest process of small businesses. Recently they sent out an attack on someone who posted on my blog that she didn't want the mayor recalled with wild accusations of mortgage fraud and abandonment. And until I called them out on it, the CFD never even signed their emails.

Although they are registered in Tallahassee as a Political Action Committee, they have in fact been electioneering for well over two years now, actively supporting Trujillo and the twins and actively working on the faux recall. Connie Leon-Kreps was only removed from their masthead in January of 2011, after I called them out on that. They show up in lockstep at the commission meetings, baiting and encouraging personal attacks on other residents, and their president, who used to pose as a doctor (until he was called out on that) has sent me vile emails which he signs “the lewd and lascivious”, a reference to his own arrest record.

Recently, a pseudonym “Pepe Jueves” has joined in the fracas and with all the false courage of an internet sock puppet, has been sending out random insults designed to intimidate open expression of opinions. The strange thing is that this anonymous sender uses the same email list as the CFD.

Here is the sole ideological point that the CFD and their sad allies have managed to do. They got the wall built on North Bay Island. Remember the whole causeway beautification project? Well, it's pretty much dead. Except for the wall. That made it through. And that millage raise for 2012? That's to pay for the wall. Treasure Island, well, we got some trees. Harbor Island doesn't even have sidewalks. But there is a lovely wall on North Bay Island that we get to enjoy.

Look, citizen participation matters. It's the heart of the process and North Bay Village is desperate for real citizen participation. People need to go to the commission meetings, express their opinions, disagree, agree, learn and teach. Residents need to step up.

When an idea is put forward, it is open to criticism and even derision. But the vicious personal attacks, supported by lies and innuendo serve only one purpose – to stifle discussion. So many of you have told me you don't go to the meetings because you can't stand the nastiness and because you are worried about retaliation if you speak. Some have even shared their stories of intimidation from other residents.

The CFD is nearly expert at that and abuses the open and democratic nature of our government to bully and silence.

They are in no true sense a good government group, holding their meetings in secret, dedicated to the election of people who will not take an open position on any of the issues. There's too much history of mendacity and slander to trust them, but I do offer one challenge to them.

Where do you get your email list? Nobody I have spoken to can ever tell me that they signed up for it. I am on it two times – I know you erased the address that has my last name but two others are still there. I wonder if the city staff provides this list? (I have no proof to offer on that and so make no accusation, but it's a question worth posing since I can see no other source.)

So in North Bay Village we have three out of balance political groups – a police union who overreach to city policy and hiring, a developer or several who use money to sidestep city rules and a secretive group of citizens who claim to represent full disclosure yet lead efforts to shut down any discussion.

How's a city supposed to control all that. Through the elected officials, of course.

Next up: Why the commission doesn't work.

Kevin Vericker

September 8, 2011

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