Thursday, November 27, 2008

Guest Column: Government reform requires public's help

Guest Column: Government reform requires public's help

St. Augustine
Publication Date: 09/09/07

"Politicians are like diapers -- they need frequent changing, and for the same reasons." -- Ronald Reagan

It's been 1 1/2 years since St. Augustine officials were caught red-handed, illegally dumping city dump contents -- including arsenic, sewage and bedsprings into Old City Reservoir. Our city officials haven't testified or answered our questions yet. Cleanup will be costly. Prosecute lawbreakers.

Restore Florida government workers' rights to occupational safety, erased in 2000.

Seventh District U.S. Rep. John Mica votes against whistleblowers and for offshore oil drilling, favoring big oil companies. Americans paid Mica's way to Tibet but Mica's indifferent to St. Johns County.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney are likewise cynical, uncandid -- investigate impeachable "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Zealously guard free speech: Repression's stalking Americans -- intimidation and retaliation for criticizing officials and corporate oligarchs. Dissenters are hounded, persecuted and blacklisted. Enough.

Government officials lack humility, refusing to correct mistakes -- huffy, angry and evasive. Citizens' seats have been removed from St. Augustine City Commission chambers while we're silenced in workshop meetings. Stop.

Florida's 442-year old tradition of autocratic government officials includes, in recent times, land-raping speculators represented by lawyers also representing governments -- threatening/intimidating citizens for exposing wetland-killing, tree-killing and crimes against nature.

Don't be bullied, even when they abuse police powers violating Sunshine laws. Always speak out. See 11/19/06 editorial & 3/13/05 Margo Pope column re: local citizen activists speaking out at meetings.

Speaking of retaliation, why do some satraps demand county takeover of Anastasia Mosquito Control District of St. Johns County?

Democracy's breaking through, after 58 years. We elected AMCD Commissioners Jeanne Moeller and John Sundeman to stop squandering money on a $1.8 million jet helicopter unsuitable for mosquito control. It's our money. The ill-advised proposed county takeover of AMCD is only a diversionary tactic and attempt to suppress criticism of mismanagement. Support Moeller and Sundeman and 25 proposed AMCD reforms. Cut government waste everywhere.

We deserve answers/solutions/budget cuts, not more power concentrated in fewer hands, as under a badly-drafted county charter, which voters must examine carefully. Why support a defective charter in hopes of amending it several years later? Get it right now.

Why did St. Augustine abolish our "First Amendment forum" for local groups' flag-flying displays on our Bridge of Lions and bayfront? Why were seven bayfront flagpoles removed in 2005? Crabby, controlling, officials chill and punish free speech, whether by African-Americans, veterans, artists, entertainers or gays/lesbians. When our bridge is restored, our city's flag-flying forum must be restored with it -- whether honoring our troops, history, organizations or diversity.

Too many local "leaders" evade accountability -- serving foreign real estate speculators and themselves, but not local residents.

Preposterous projects must be halted, like speculators' destruction of a 3000-4000- year-old Indian village north of St. Augustine High School, which must become part of a national park, attracting "heritage tourists," empowering our recovering economy. Ask Congress to please support the proposed St. Augustine National Historical Park, National Seashore and National Scenic Highway. (3/26/07 guest column).

Our Constitution's "an invitation to struggle," scholar Edwin Corwin wrote. "Dissension" exposes corruption/chicanery and informs citizens. Dissent's a good thing.

As Robert F. Kennedy said, "it is not enough to allow dissent, we must demand it, for there is much to dissent from."

America's founders loathed evil dictatorships/monarchies. We need more dissent, more investigative reporting/truth-telling, and more "checks and balances," not "blank checks" for flubdubs like fancy helicopters more suited to Donald Trump than skeeter-killing.

Our founders fought tyranny, writing our First Amendment. "Use it or lose it."

Journalists: kindly cover public meetings "gavel to gavel." Hold officials accountable, without fear or favor.

We need "transparency," with meetings, proposals, grants and contracts on government Web sites. Accept no excuses (like "not enough money") from wily wastrels who junket to Spain, Germany, Colombia and New York City.

America and our Nation's Oldest City are both worth saving. Democracy's on the march. Bossism's retreating. Defeat mediocrity. Expose corruption. It's our town, our time. Don't take "no" for an answer. Elect zealous, hardworking "just stewards." Save our liberties, our culture and our planet.

Help is on the way. Let freedom ring.

Ed Slavin is a frequent letter writer and speaker at local government meetings.

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