Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wanted: Dissent in Cooper City

Reposted with permission from : http://coopercityinsider.blogspot.com/ on 3/22/2013

Dissent Is An American Necessity
Once again the principle of free speech and the right of citizens to question the actions of their government are being tested. The general feeling seems to be that dissent is dangerous, that critical commentary erodes our unity and diminishes our resolve, that debates over the loss of constitutional rights is somehow a negative to the betterment of the nation. Perhaps such feelings are natural.

The state of our economy. the tensions of unemployment  as well as the outrageous larceny of some corporate leaders, indifference of political leaders and the stresses of high costs gas and other necessities can create levels of distress that can be unbearable. The tendency is to close down, circle the wagons, and lash out at all who may question. But real security doesn’t come from stifling debate or muting voices of dissent. In fact, dissent may be what we need most.

Dissent is the antidote for what social-psychologists call “group-think,” the tendency to rush to judgment. (Clearly demonstrated by the recent decisions disguised as thoughtful discussions). Group-think can become a kind of herd mentality. Dissent is a guard against this mentality, a check on the unbridled stampede toward the cliff.

For this reason, as President Eisenhower once reminded us, we should never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion. A democratic society depends on dissent because, at its best, dissent is an act of courage, a real test of patriotism. The ancient Greeks understood this. They used the term, “parrhesia” to refer to speech based on moral principle, voiced by a speaker with the courage to speak the truth in the face of powerful opposition. Such dissent, they believed, represented one of the highest ideals toward which a citizen could aspire.

The American Founders also understood the importance of dissent, which is why they crafted the First Amendment. As the nation evolved, dissent became an important feature in all government institutions and processes, from Congress to the Supreme Court. Even in the executive branch -- the one most feared by the Founders because of its resemblance to monarchy and its tendency toward imperialism – even here our best presidents have welcomed and honored dissent.

Today we see government officials, powerful public figures, even our friends and neighbors asking us to be silent. Once again we are told that protest is bad, that dissent is divisive and un-American. That for the betterment and solidarity of the community we must become silent. But it is not. We must not be misled from a central truth: Free and passionate debate is essential to self-governance.

To dissent, to break from the herd, to question and offer in many cases an alternative position, is to celebrate American democracy with a ferocity that no one should attempt to suppress...unless we let them.

Cooper City Redistricting

In the previous election, voters approved redistricting utilizing total population, which included revisions to the Charter in order to create districts with resident counts being as close to twenty-five percent of the total city’s population as possible and no more than a ten percent population disparity between districts. This ‘apportionment’ clause has always been in our Charter but has been willfully ignored and politically manipulated by some on the commission for quite some time, and in my opinion the district disparity issue should have been resolved many years ago.

Of course, any attempts to adhere to the Charter mandates would have quite possibly exposed questionable practices and lack of adherence to the Charter by former commission members and city attorney. Although Monterra is expected to be complete by the Spring of 2014, the city will be estimating the projected population, adjusting the district maps accordingly based on current and future building Certificates of Occupancy (CO’s) rather than actual number of residents, in addition to using a district population average scheme. The contention is that this will reduce any future districting changes, but it also does not count everyone on a real time data basis.

An additional error using CO’s also becomes apparent when you take the total number of residents and do the math, which comes out to anywhere between 2.85 and 3.06 persons per household depending on which formula you use, an error of up to five hundred residents per district. In addition, the ‘district population average’ scheme was never discussed or approved at the Charter Review Board meetings or at the city commission meetings while implementing the enacting Ordinance.

The Charter states that no district shall have a population variance of greater than ten percent from any other district. The ‘Plain Language Rule’ in law dictates that laws must be interpreted using the ordinary and plain meaning of the words used unless a law defines specific terms. In other words, the law is to be read word for word and we should not divert from its ordinary, plain meaning. This rule applies to our city ordinances and our city Charter which is our Constitution that we have sworn an oath to uphold. To avoid ambiguity, legislatures often include definitions in the law which defines important terms used. Some laws omit definitions entirely or fail to define a particular term, such as our Charter and it’s implementing Ordinance. This is part of the problem that we face in the push to change the Charter, a push that was originally and possibly still politically motivated.

The Charter Review Board and city attorney failed to define key phrases and meanings within the Charter changes, therefore key provisions and clear mandates are open to interpretation by the city attorney whose participation has been questionable within the entire Charter review process. One very questionable issue is the Charter’s ‘ten percent rule’. If you utilize the current data set offered by the vendor who performed the population analysis, you’ll quickly see that no two city districts currently deviate by more than 9.1 percent. If you look at the same data utilizing statistical analysis, the deviation is only 8.62 percent using the same numbers.

This is part of the problem, in addition to FAU utilizing a ‘District Population Average’ formula, one which was never previously discussed. In fact, the vendor admitted their numbers presented in the presentation were “incorrect”. Also, the vendor does not include Estada as a part of Monterra and the residency numbers! The question becomes, should we redistrict? Yes, it’s required by the Charter. What do we want to do then? Change districts completely or simply bring districts into parity? If you change districts substantially you may be gerrymandering and may find yourself in a lawsuit. If we change them to bring them as equal as possible, we need to concentrate on districts three and four because of size and discontinuity.

I am very sure of no need for drastic redistricting based on the 2012 base map data. As far as I am concerned, it’s just a question of not dividing residential communities in order to make all four districts nearly equal without favoring or disfavoring any incumbent, which is against the law.

The city has an obligation to allow the residents to be fully involved in the redistricting process. As such, multiple Public Meetings will be held at City Hall on advertised dates so everyone who can attends will have an opportunity to be a part of the process. Also, you can view all of the redistricting material at www.coopercityfl.org and click on the box labeled ‘election redistricting project’ in addition to watching the commission meeting videos on the issue under the link entitled ‘Government’ at the top of the page. Simply click on ‘View Meeting Videos’ and select the meeting or workshop you wish to view. Now is the time to make your voice fully heard to ensure transparent, ethical, honest and open government in Cooper City.