BRADENTON -- At Tuesday's BOCC meeting, citizen Mary Sheppard wanted to make public comment, but found herself in the middle of political crossfire between the commissioners. Commissioner Carol Whitmore somewhat ironically said, "No matter what we disagree on, we can all say that we definitely have respect for one another, right?" What a stone-faced Kodak moment that created; the other six commissioners sat quiet with a distinctly uncomfortable look on their faces.
The dysfunctional dialog started long before citizen's comments became the next agenda item, but it was there where it hit the high note. Chairman Chappie called on citizen Mary Sheppard to come forward with her citizen's comment. Sheppard said, "The other day a friend told me the Bradenton Herald reported Commissioner Bustle was served with an ethics violation." Chappie cut Sheppard off sharply, saying, "We're only having comments on consent agenda items now." Sheppard replied, "You called my name." Chappie nervously asked her to go back to her seat and wait.
There were no consent agenda comments, so Chappie sheepishly called for future agenda item comments. Sheppard stood right back up and approached the podium again. Chappie preempted Sheppard's comment with a reprimand, "This is for future agenda items only." Sheppard proceeded to speak. She no sooner got Bustle's name out again when Chappie interrupted, "this subject is not on a future agenda." Sheppard replied, "I am hoping it will be."
Chappie went on badgering Sheppard until she was through. She did get to say, "the ethics complaint against Bustle is for undisclosed payments he received. That's a violation of the law, and here is a link to an Orlando paper that published the arrest of one of their commissioners, just the other day, for the same crime."
Chappie accused Sheppard of bringing politics before the dais, when Sheppard was just bringing her concerns of possible criminality by a county commissioner, that came from a report in the local newspaper. It seemed as though Chappie was obstructing the citizen from making any criticism of Commissioner Bustle.
Commissioner Whitmore's only question to Sheppard, before she sat down was, "Who told you about the article?" Shepard replied, "I don't remember, I was with around 10 people."
The full-force defense that permeated any discussion, by the few commissioners that came to Sheppard's defense, was embarrassing to the half-filled room. Bustle sat back quietly, while Whitmore, Chappie and Hayes came to his defense, not showing concern for the charges Bustle is facing.
Yesterday's theatrics can be seen on MGA-TV, and as disturbing as it may be, it offers the public a look at just what they are getting for their money - political pettiness and rivalries that too often overshadow the work at hand. I have yet to see Commissioner DiSabatino, come forward with a comprehensive idea or strategy where Commissioner Whitmore doesn't follow with some belittling gesture, that attempts to downgrade DiSabatino's comment - their rivalry seeming to replace the one Whitmore formerly enjoyed with Commissioner Hayes, who is retiring this year.
Paralyzed, dysfunctional, whatever you want to call it, the Manatee County Commissioners are too often guided and driven by a 4 to 3 vote, protective of securing the majority rule, over serving the interest of the people.
Bottom line, the seven commissioners, county administrator and county attorney that sit up at the dais, cost the citizens far more than one million dollars annually, which doesn't include some of the costly judgment calls they sometimes make. All of that money comes from citizens like Mary Sheppard, who have every right to question the actions of the commission, and there is question as to whether a public apology from Chappie is enough to ever earn Sheppard's support again.
Since that's not likely to happen, I will take this opportunity to thank Mary Shepard for her participation in our democracy and apologize for the way she was treated by the chairman and some of the other county commissioners at yesterday's meeting. They might be better served to keep an open ear to the citizens whose votes empower their authority.
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