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Local democracy dies in silence

BY DEBBIE MARTINEZ / AUGUST 13, 2019

A Gainesville city commissioner’s plan to shut down informed dissent, to the detriment of local democratic tradition, is quietly moving forward.

Given the inequitable financial and social morasses and messes the mayor and some commissioners are responsible for, it might be understandable that immature or irresponsible politicians among them are spending so much time demonizing the messengers and scheming to silence unwelcome public debate. But understanding miscreant misbehavior is not the same as accepting it.

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City Commissioners have hired highly-paid spin doctors to attempt to make respectable the disreputable cherry-picked data from other communities scrounged up by Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, in an attempt to silence citizens, just as he attempted to shut up the city auditor and, failing that, led a successful effort  to fire him.

Although Hayes-Santos and his ilk on the city commission may be able to distort data from distant communities to support a narrative that Gainesville residents are democracy defectives, ranging from millennial malcontents to geriatric thugs who need to be brought to heel, that fantastic tale is unsustainable in light of local history and experience.

City commissioners of the Hayes-Santos ilk have signaled an intent to cut general citizen comment to 25% of what the County Commission allows the self-same citizens at county meetings a block away. This is a first step in a plan to entirely eliminate general citizen comment at city commission meetings.

County Commissioners, as a matter of course, honor citizen requests to have specific items removed from the no-debate consent agenda, while city commissioners routinely acquiesce to and applaud procedural sleights of hand by Mayor Lauren Poe that allow significant city commission decisions to be placed on the no-debate consent agenda, to be adopted without opportunity for public participation or questions. City Commissioners are poised to adopt rules that not only would prohibit the public from asking that significant decisions be removed from the no-debate consent agenda but also would bar the public — on pain of ordered police bodily removal and possible jailing — from objecting or even mentioning what had happened.

Local democracy dies, if not in darkness, then in silence.

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