Ya Start all Over Again

Things look a little messy in Lake Park this week. The County Commission on Ethics has come out with a report in which they state they have no jurisdiction to investigate the evidence brought before them in regard to Town Manager Maria Davis after it was brought out by Commissioner Hockman that she awarded a contract to her long-time friend and co-property owner to rewrite the town’s employee handbook and related legal work. The job which began with a price tag of around $4,000 in 2007, actually cost the town over $110,000 as of November of 2011.

Residents hadn’t placed much confidence in the County to take a stand against the wrongs they feel have been perpetrated by the town manager, but the Ethic’s Commission report and the pass it gave Ms. Davis is nevertheless disconcerting.

Watchdogs?

We’re on our own folks, and it’s just as well that we learn that important lesson here and now. Don’t expect government to do the heavy lifting of maintaining vigilance for you. Don’t expect them to do what only you can do. Don’t count on them to come running to your aid when you have allowed elected officials to offer what amounts to a blank check and free reign to those in the town employ. Certainly don’t expect much of anything from the government “watchdogs”. They seem to have been muzzled and sedated. It’s up to us to hire commissioners who will watch out for our town and then hold each of them to the task they have been elected to do. It’s our job to make sure that the procedures and policies they are implementing are for our good now and for the long haul.

In an attempt to remind the residents of Lake Park about why we are where we are today in regard to the town manager, it’s always helpful to take a few steps backward and look at what this moment was built upon. You can learn a lot by what lies behind and underneath.

The Backstory

Here is the employee agreement which was entered into by the Town of Lake Park with the current Town Manager, Maria Davis, back in 2007. Fascinating really. From the looks of this contract, one might think the small town of Lake Park was living large and rolling in dough when it was written. Yet it appears from their rush to offer Ms. Davis the moon, the commission must have been feeling a little needy, longing for someone to come in, take over and rescue them from themselves and their lack of leadership. From the sweet deal struck by Ms. Davis at the hand of the commission at the time, one might also think that the 9,000 or so residents of Lake Park were whooping it up with money to burn. Yet, how soon was it after this arrangement was made before she was painting Lake Park in the dreary hues of entitlement, how soon before a community development corporation was created to procure government funds for the town under the auspices of neediness, and when did it begin to rewrite its town documents to reflect the tone of the new town manager’s culture and worldview? Apparently not long. We’ve been paying for that mistake ever since.

$110,000 Skeletons

Resolution 22-04-08, which amended the manager’s contract further, can be found HERE. It’s short. Please do yourself a favor and read the agreements. Take heed so that in the future it will be easier to spot the same type of missteps and grasp the ramifications of handing the reigns of power over to someone without keeping a careful watch over them. Maybe it will give us a chance to pause, think, ask questions, and it might signal a warning flash bright enough so that the next time contracts are being written and agreed to we might remember what we are going through now. More importantly, when we next elect town representatives, hopefully we will be more aware and question each one thoroughly, voting for those who display strength and tenacity, the kind it takes to make the hard choices, say the hard things and call out questionable practices before they become $110,000 skeletons in the town’s closet.

Standard Operating Procedure?

We must learn from this or face continued consequences. If striking this type of bargain is standard operating procedure and there are those in the seats of leadership in our town who feel this is acceptable, then we need to seriously contemplate amending not only the standards, but also the rolls of those in office next year when elections roll around.

So who voted those commissioners into office who offered this sweet deal to Maria Davis in the first place? Who was it who by their vote, and then their silence, allowed the town commission to pander to the Town Manager, the one who has landed us in the heap of trouble in which we find ourselves?

Yes, I’m afraid it was us. We were and are the culprits. Lake Park residents are the ones (some of us) who have allowed this mess. Our failure to inform ourselves before voting, and as a result, our poor selection of commissioners/mayors, our lack of engagement and attention to what was going on from week to week, our silence in the face of all the questionable things going on around us in town, our fear of appearing critical or “not nice” when we should have spoken up have all had their part in what happened. We have to take responsibility for that.

Now what?

Well, on Monday, January 30th at 6:30 p.m. at town chambers, there will be a special call meeting in regard to the town manager. Do – not -miss – it!

Nothing will change unless residents take a stand and demand what they want and expect from their town leaders. We elect them, we pay them and we have to make sure they work for our best interests, not their own. It’s not too late. We can redeem ourselves.

It’s Swing Time

I’m hoping we’ve learned a little something. And well, time marches on. I suggest that come what may at Monday’s meeting, we pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off and we start all over again. It’s swing time. Let’s…

“Work like a soul inspired, ’til the battle of the day is won..”

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Hopefully we’ll start over a little smarter and with a quest for leaders of character and those who have the wisdom to learn a little something from their past.

Don’t worry. We’ll be back on our feet in no time. Get ready to kick up your heels; the music is beginning again and it’s up to us to show how much all of this has just taught us. Let’s take the steps from here on out that will make Lake Park the place we all would like it to be.

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