Just when you think Manatee County Government and its board of developer-bought-and-paid-for commissioners cannot get any lower than the gutter they’ve been inhabiting, they tunnel themselves right into the sewer.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners were supposed to appoint four members to the Manatee County Library Advisory Board. This was after the very same board voted to expand the board from five to nine seats in a painfully transparent effort to stack it with far-right wingnuts hell-bent on banning books in order to “protect the children.”
However, instead of attracting a bunch of backward, regressive idealogues, the call for applicants yielded an impressive cadre of well-intentioned volunteers. Manatee County Library Services Manager Tammy Parrott told commissioners it was "the most robust application pool I have seen since I started working at the county." Indeed, the 13 applications included 10 Bachelor’s Degrees, in addition to some Master's Degrees and even one doctorate.
This should have been the easiest vote of the day, especially given that commissioners have continuously lamented the overall lack of applicants they've been able to attract to other advisory boards. Two commissioners, George Kruse and Ray Turner, seemed pleased with the results and ready to vote.
However, commissioners Amanda “Ban the Books” Ballard and Kevin "I do what Carlos tells me" Van Ostenbridge were clearly uncomfortable moving forward, with some largely unintelligible support from Commissioner Jason Bearden. When the latter two struggled to communicate the reason for the reluctance to their fellow commissioners, Van Ostenbridge said the quiet part out loud, explaining that he didn’t find the applicants to be of the proper ideological persuasion.
Keep in mind that advisory boards have absolutely no binding authority. They exist merely to study an issue for which they hold some expertise and advise the board of what they’ve found so that commissioners might make more informed decisions. But this commission clearly only wants to be told what it wants to hear. From making it so that the public can no longer publicly comment at meetings via telephone to removing public comments from county social media accounts, the administration and its snowflake board clearly wish to exist in a bubble through which divergent thought cannot penetrate.
This week, the county reopened applications for the library advisory board, and commissioners can now cross their collective fingers that the public will get the hint and that only the ideologically simpatico need apply.
Inside their precious little bubble, commissioners were treated to a first-rate bootlicking session from Charlie Hunsicker, Director of the county’s Natural Resources Department. Hunsicker, the highest-paid director in the county, lavished praise on the board for all it has done to nourish clean water supplies, conveniently leaving out the board’s asinine decision to gut wetland protections. Hunsicker, who saw his role somewhat diminished in a recent “reorganization,” has clearly gotten the message that sticking to the approved script is the only way to avoid the fate of so many other top administrators in the county who dared to stray from it.
That said, if the water quality outlook really is as rosy as Hunsicker proclaimed, the board might want to better explain why it is investing upward of a million dollars into an extremely suspect plan to plant clams that some non-experts claim will clean it up.
Meanwhile, the taxpayer-funded PR department created to “control the narrative” continues to pump out videos of commissioners taking the credit for any work that somehow does get done and glowing press releases that read suspiciously like campaign mail pieces. Welcome to Manatee County, where we prize freedom—as in the freedom to agree with the bought-and-paid-for stooges representing you in local government if not the freedom to disagree with them publicly.
Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.
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