Sunday, May 22, 2011

Democracy Under Fire or On Fire???

On May 19, 2011, our President Barrack Obama stated his commitment to bringing Democracy to the Middle East and protecting the rights of the people to be heard.  Yet, right here in his and our own backyard Americans are being denied that very right he is trying to extend to other nations.

The 14th Amendment guarantees citizens the right to participate in the political process and Florida’s Sunshine Laws state that the meetings of governmental bodies are "open to the public", yet the State of Florida and namely Deerfield Beach are upholding that citizens i.e "The Public" only have the right to be "spectators" in the political process and should be “seen not heard”. 

Now, I ask you does this sound anything like what our Country’s forefathers meant when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  They had just fought a revolutionary war to gain independence from their mother country because they felt that due to the fact that they were not able to fully participate in the political process of that country they should not be forced to pay the taxes imposed by it.  They fought and won that independence and we celebrate it each and every Fourth of July here in Deerfield Beach with an annual Fire Works Extravaganza.  This Fourth of July is it really worth it when the City of Deerfield Beach is currently trampling on the very fundamental ideal the fight for that independence initiated from which is “no taxation without representation”.

The British colonist in America believed that due to the fact that they did not have a voice in the legislative body of the British Parliament as based on their rights as British Citizens, then that same body did not have the right to impose taxes on them.

On March 8, 2011, Deerfield Beach District 2 residents went to the polls and exercised their Constitutional right to vote and they overwhelmingly elected Sylvia Poitier to be their voice on the City Commission.  Subsequently, Sylvia Poitier, who was and is the most vocal opponent of a public service tax that the City wants to impose, was suspended on April 14, 2011 by Florida Governor, Rick Scott, on misdemeanor public corruption charges.  Thus, leaving her constituents (8,000 registered voters in a District comprised mainly of African-Americans, a minority class) without a duly elected representative.  A group of residents of the district banded together and formed the Community Action Team (CAT) to organize, energize, and galvanize the District 2 residents to get involved in the local government and on April 18, 2011 they held their first community meeting.  They emphasized the fact the community being without a duly elected representative needed to attend City Commission Meetings to ensure that we at least participated in the political process.  The City promptly verified their options to fill the “temporarily vacant seat“ of the District 2 Commissioner, which they determined the City Charter was clear that a Special Election would have to be held.  After initiating the process through the Broward Supervisor of Elections it was determined that the residents of District 2 would get their chance to fully participate in the political process no sooner than July 19, 2011.  Leaving them three months without a duly- elected representative to act on their behalf.  This wouldn’t be so bad, if the residents could could participate in the political process by addressing the City Commission on items being presented for a vote, but the City has adopted a rule that the public cannot speak on items that are being voted on in the Consent Agenda and they will literally have you removed if you attempt to do so.  In a ruling by the Florida First District Court of Appeals in the Keesler v Community Maritime Park Associates the Appellate Court undermined the Supreme Court decision in Board of Public  Instruction of Broward County v. Doran , which stated the following:

The right of the public to be present and to be heard
during all phases of enactments by boards and
commissions is a source of strength in our country.  . . .
Regardless of their good intentions, these specified
boards and commissions, through devious ways, should
not be allowed to deprive the public of this inalienable
right to be present and to be heard at all deliberations
wherein decisions affecting the public are being made.

This decision meant that the Sunshine Law gave the public the right to attend public meetings and be heard.  However, in making its determination in Keesler the appellate court used a Supreme Court ruling in Wood v. Marston, which stated that “nothing in this decision gives the public the right to be more than spectators.  The public has no authority to participate in or to interfere with the decision-making process.  However, the appellate court did indicate that this issue should be left up to the legislative process or local public officials, which brings us to the legislative process.  

Florida State Senator, Joe Negron of District 28 and Florida State Representative, Eric Eisnaugle District 40, both proposed legislation under Senate Bill 2011310 and House Bill 285 to amend Florida Statute 286.011 by clarifying the language and extending the public’s right to be seen and heard at all public meetings.  Both the Senate and House Bills were killed respectively on 5/07/11 during the 2011 Congressional and Senate Sessions. 

The 8,000 registered voters in Deerfield Beach District 2 have been effectively denied full access to the political process by the combined actions of our States Governor, State Legislature, State Judicial System, and our City Commission.  Unlike the young man in Tunisia (referenced in Obama’s speech) the Deerfield Beach residents are not going to go to the extreme of lighting ourselves on fire at City Hall to finally be able to fully  participate in the political process here in Deerfield Beach and have our voices heard by drawing National attention to our plight.  At least I hope that it doesn’t come to that, but it seems that they are leaving us no choice. 

It is an atrocious and an appalling thought that 311 years after the American Revolution  was fought, that we would be dealing with this issue  here in Deerfield Beach at this time when our President is trying to extend those very benefits of our Democracy to other Nations.  I am praying, hoping, and wishing that our City Commission and Legislature reconsiders and postpones their action(s) that would see all the progress made after the American Revolution, Civil War, Woman’s Suffrage and Civil Rights Movements destroyed in one fell swoop.  How can we expect to pass and protect our Democratic Values onto the Middle East and other Nations when we don’t protect those same values here at home.

On a side note, it is good to know that if someone did go the route of setting Democracy on fire by torching themselves at the doorway to City Hall we have a very expensive and first rate Fire Rescue and EMS Department that could easily handle the situation and put out the flames of Democracy with the waters of Ochlocracy
*Ochlocracy is defined as democracy spoiled by demagoguery, “tyranny of the majority”, and the rule of passion over reason.

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