For many of us, the world seems upside down on lots of levels. The cost of living continues to rise with no end in sight. National and international politics is ugly. No one in government appears capable of solving the real challenges of the day. And change is coming at us at a rapid pace.
But what if we told you we have a sure-fire way to address those issues in our own little village? What if you had the power to protect and enhance your quality of life and it didn’t cost you a dime? Would you use it?
You do hold that power. You can use it any time you like. We’re here to show you how.
Here, again, the insight of Thomas Jefferson rings true – the government closest to the people governs best. In many ways, the public has become disconnected from their politicians and vice versa. In Tallahassee and the nation’s capital, lobbyists run the show. Why? Because they have a vested interest (so do you) and they show up!
For almost all of us, getting to Tallahassee or DC on a regular basis is unrealistic. But running into our elected officials at the grocery store or local restaurant is almost guaranteed. Getting to a meeting at Village Hall is simple (well, except for the darned traffic!). If you’re up on the issues, this is a fantastic opportunity to let them hear from you.
If you’re not at the table, you’re likely on the menu.
In 2019, Pew Research Center published a comprehensive report examining the declining trust that Americans have in government and in each other.
What do we need to do to increase trust in our government and to improve the involvement in local government decision-making? Pew’s study found that the leading response to that question is “more transparency and disclosure of what government is doing.”
Do we have sufficient transparency and disclosure in Islamorada? Is our local government hiding the truth? What costs are taxpayers forced to pay for incompetence? We share a few examples here.
In the last five months we have had the Village Manager and the Village Attorney resign along with the Assistant to the Village Manager and the Assistant to the Village Attorney. We don’t know why. How can we improve our community if we don’t know why top management leaves?
Both the Attorney and the Manager were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements promising not to discuss any village issues including why they resigned.
The Council promised they won’t talk either.
Both top management employees had employment agreements from when they were hired that provided no severance pay if they resigned. Yet the council obligated taxpayers to well over $125,000 of severance pay and benefits to the two highest paid employees on the staff when they resigned.
The former Village Manager got nine weeks of pay, insurance benefits and 34.5% retirement funding.
The former Village Attorney received 20 weeks of pay, insurance benefits and 34.5% retirement funding.
The Brewery at MM90.
The public hearing to approve an alcoholic beverage license brought out the neighbors and also the future employees and friends of the owner for the purpose of determining whether the MM90 location is suitable. We learned numerous reasons why the traffic, noise and safety concerns at that location were a problem to those residents opposed. But friendships with the owner seemed to drown out the location concerns.
Waiving Competitive Bidding.
How often do we see contracts in excess of $25,000 approved without the required competitive bidding? When spending taxpayer money (yours and ours), we must be confident they are spent wisely. If our Village isn’t looking for competitive prices for goods and services, it is impossible for us to know.
Expenditures without Council Approval.
Recently during public comment residents questioned whether an out-of-town attorney had been hired and paid over $215,000 before the expenditures were ratified, after the fact, by the council. The answer – the staff indicated the claims were a gross misrepresentation of the facts. But the residents had facts obtained via public record requests. And no documents were provided by the Village to demonstrate any misrepresentation.
Process and procedures.
Too often the public learns, days before the council votes, of significant decisions that could well impact quality of life, safety, traffic. The applicants have often been working with the staff on these projects for months and longer. Members of the public get 3 minutes to voice their objections.
So, what can be done?
It’s simple – make a commitment to attend at least one Village Council meeting a year. If you’re too shy, you can send the Council and staff emails highlighting concerns or ideas. Stay in touch with us – or find another trustworthy group to get your information from. It is critical for the Village to welcome and even encourage public engagement. Remember, the Village Council does not have a monopoly on good ideas. The public has a wealth of knowledge, experience, and ideas.
But our elected and appointed officials cannot hear us from our kitchen table!