This is National Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week is a week that is observed annually throughout the United States to point out that the public's business must be open to the public and that the Government, except in cases of national security, should be open to public inspection. It is a national 'open government' initiative spearheaded by the majority of Americans to raise the awareness and to educate the public about the importance of open government and to the dangers of excessive secrecy.
This week coincides with the birthday of James Madison, a Founding Father of our great country known for his emphasis regarding the checks and balances in government and his advocacy of open government, a view that I continue to most strongly support. Open government and transparency are essential to maintaining our freedom from repression by government as well as our free speech. Although it's Sunshine Week, I regret to report that contrary to Mayor Eisinger's proclamations and recent actions, having been made upon taking office more than once, that years later the Sun still isn't shining in on the public's business here in Cooper City.
There is a real disconnect between words and actions of the current administration. In the Mayor's latest display, the Mayor once again attempted to extinguish dissent and eliminate discourse by recessing the last commission meeting. Discourse and full expression of opinion is necessary and a vital element of a healthy government to survive. The somewhat childish attempt by Mayor Debby Eisinger did nothing but reflect on a complete inability to manage a meeting in an adult like and professional manner, by not being forthright and honest in order to allow the city commission to discuss a very serious matter, in this case the Cooper City Charter and how we may city commission have seriously, possibly and deliberately violated our city Charter. You see, our Charter is much like our Constitution, it is superior to our local laws, ordinances and resolutions. In the hierarchy of legal rules, and its mandates rise above all else. It is the 'check and balance' between the runway political power, abusive governmental control, blatant corruption and you, the voters, who are ultimately the bearers of the responsibility of how your government is managed and controlled.
In numerous cases in the past, the Mayor coerced other commissioners to disallow public input and free speech inside of city hall and at city public meetings. At one point it became so acute, that a resident had requested that an American Civil Liberties Union attorney come to observe her actions. The resultant 'gag like' atmosphere continues today with the support of her fellow colleagues and personal friend of almost twenty years, our city attorney, handpicked by the Mayor and her then cronies without so much as a discussion on how to replace our old city attorney. It was a covert 'done deal' before the issue was brought before the full commission at a public meeting. Although the city rhetoric adopts a disclosure stance in order to publically commit to the principles embodied in our Sunshine laws, Freedom of Information Act, Ethics laws and Charter espousing an era of open government, we all know that actions speak louder than words. Words that the Mayor solely decides are words of perceived dissent which will never be heard emanating from either side of the dais, at least not until the November election.
Unfortunately, based on the administration's actions under the current Mayor (and possibly a future Mayor) the words describing open government and transparency are words that may well be ignored. These words are being propagated and thusly ignored deep down in the bowels of the bureaucracy of our city administration. Given my experience regarding trying to pry information out of the city administration including Cooper City's executive branch, based upon other's observations along with inquiries by the media, I have concluded and am disappointed to report that Mayor Eisinger's statements about transparency and open government, along with freedom of speech, are not being put into practice.
It's 'business as usual' when our Mayor capriciously and arbitrarily disallows serious discussion about our governing Cooper City Charter regarding the possible disregard of its mandates. In an attempt to implement and subsequently continue her political agenda into November, her spouting off about commissioners conduct, blogs, anonymous letters (BTW, Mayor, I proudly sign my name to everything I write) and other issues that she doesn't have the ability to intelligently address, the Mayor becomes tyrannical, if not almost incoherent.
Our Mayor plays the innocent role of looking 'squeaky clean' while she fools her devout followers into performing behind the scenes political dirty work, managing character assassination campaigns against those who don't support her, and implementing her continued 'politricks' while standing back and smirking innocently. I don't anticipate finding anything our Mayor may do in the upcoming months to be totally different. In fact, it seems that she now has the support of another sitting Commissioner and a few running for office in November regarding her continued portrayal of innocence while covertly orchestrating more dirty 'politricks' and perpetuating her 'closed to the public' hostile (and patently false) control of city staff.
The apparent control of the City Charter through political appointees (i.e. the City Attorney and some individuals on the newly formed Charter Review Board) have been more aggressive than ever in withholding information from the public, the Charter Review Board and from the city commission. Throughout my years as your commissioner I have been actively conducting observations of the commission, the staff and the controls of a few local (and some not so local) political acolytes, in order to keep transparency, ethics and honesty flowing from Cooper City on behalf of the residents. When the very individuals I am observing get defensive, when they refuse to respond to my requests, when they attempt to shut down freedom of speech, both public and political, it makes me wonder what is it that they appear to be hiding.
Make no mistake about it... our current commission and its rules and procedure were developed behind closed doors, not in the Sunshine, with a major attempt to quash any expression of free speech, especially dissent along with any unpopular opinions, and to completely silence those who don't agree with every word and/or action of the Mayor and city staff. Over the last few years many residents have been intimidated and some have been threatened, including myself, if they did not cease speaking when 'ordered' by the Mayor, (once actually ordering the BSO Police Chief to restrain an elderly lady whose commentary was not in the view of the Mayor as befitting. See the Free Press article HERE and my previous blog post on this issue HERE) even to the point of physical arrest! If unsuccessful, she will resort to a childish retort of calling a recess. I guess she thinks we are at the playground and this is comparable to "I will take my ball and go home", typical of an immature reaction, walking off of the dais with her followers sheepishly in tow rather than be adult like, rational, and listen to what is really being communicated and responding accordingly.
The Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act, along with our constitutional amendments such as Free Speech and Free Expression, are not meant to limit the flow of information and communication between the government and its electorate, but quite the opposite. The dismissive disregard by the Mayor and others of the clear language of the law is disheartening. It is quite appropriate that during Sunshine Week, I bring out the turbulence that our Mayor has created in abeyance of our Constitution and Charter. As David McCullough said "The laws that govern us, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we often unfortunately take for granted, represent the hard work of others stretching back far into the past. Acting indifferent to this fact does not just smack of ignorance, but rudeness." I say that it also smacks of a complete and arrogant disregard for our public duty, our Oath of Office and our collective consciousness. Yes, Mayor, men and women have died in battle to preserve my (and other's) right to blog, publish, and to communicate in any manner, quite frankly saying pretty much what I darn well want to…
Sunshine Week occurs each year coinciding with James Madison's birthday, as previously stated, and National Freedom of Information Day tomorrow, March 16th. During Sunshine Week, hundreds of our truly dedicated elected representatives who understand the great and vast importance of this issue, media organizations, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and other participants engage in public discussion on the importance of open government throughout many coffee shops, gatherings with family and friends, news programs, featured articles and hundreds of opinion columns, Web pages and blogs, editorials, cartoons, public service advertising, public seminars and forums. In our State, thank goodness one fine organization that I have continued to support leads the way…http://www.sunshineweek.org
I suppose the ultimate question becomes "What did Cooper City and its Mayor do to convey, support and improve Sunshine Week, this important 'check and balance' of your local government?" You guessed it, absolutely nothing… But, we did involve ourselves in secret deals and proceedings regarding your tax dollars, and we did recently pass several resolutions provided by the largest lobbyist organization in Broward County, the Broward League of Cities, most of which were oriented toward the wishes and desires of the political machine that continues to control your speech and thought process.