Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rare Commodity in Lake Worth - the Truth...

Case in point: The situation surrounding the hiring of Annabeth Karson and Shauna Coolican as chair and assistant to the 2010 Census Complete Count Committee.

Let me say at the outset that I am completely for promotion of the Census effort and looking for ways of identifying groups that have been traditionally under-counted in the Census. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that Lake Worth has experienced under-counting in past Censuses and we have all experienced the effect of that. It amounts to under-representation in the state and national legislative fields and under-funding in potential Federal and other programs that base need on Census data. Indeed, many of the bases of the planning profession are founded on the compilation of sound Census data. Its main purpose being to get a sense of the real and TRUE picture of community populations throughout our country.

So, there is reason for organization and oversight of the Census count process on the City of Lake Worth level.

But, then it comes down to how the city goes about it. The suggestion to utilize Annabeth Karson came from none other than Commissioner Golden, who obviously was impressed with Ms. Karson's organizational abilities and voter identification efforts in her recent campaign and the campaign of Laurence McNamara - Commissioner Golden's choice for Mayor. What better way to reward the efforts of a tireless campaign worker than to put her in the public eye in an attempt to build some legitimacy and get her out amongst the "people" - most of which probably know her on a first name basis anyway from her frequent campaign appearances at residents' front doors. Being an official representative of the City would surely help in future campaign efforts. I have cited a good working definition of political patronage in a previous post and our local example could be found in a textbook on the subject.

For the record, I was also one of the "crooked candidates" identified in a flier - along with former Commissioner Lowe and former Mayor Clemens - circulated throughout the city by Ms. Karson in the 2007 election cycle.

It turns out that Ms. Karson required payment for her services in this effort and an assistant. This is where City Manager Stanton stepped in and "advertised" the positions. Depending on who you talk to, Ms. Karson was the only applicant or up to one of eight applicants. I know two people personally who applied for the position but were not called for an "interview." Neither of the two that I know of worked on recent campaigns to a great degree. Public information requests made by a concerned citizen yielded incomplete information - this avoided shedding light on the truth.

At a Commission workshop, Commissioner Jennings - in response to e-mails she received against the hiring, added this matter to the agenda for discussion and direction to the city manager on keeping Ms. Karson in this position. The split was of the 3-2 variety, with the expected elected officials falling in line with expectations. It was then left to City Manager Stanton to "handle" the problem.

Additional e-mails against the hire were sent to City Manager Stanton. By this time, word had gotten to Ms. Karson and her assistant who, thinking their jobs were in peril, sent out e-mails soliciting support for them to remain in these posts. These e-mails were probably to the same people they communicated consistently with through the campaigns. City Manager Stanton in her weekly report dated December 11, 2009 includes nearly 44 e-mails that she received regarding the issue. Only five (5) urge that she reverse her decision on the hire. She said that this was all and that they were listed chronologically. However, she deleted the usual date and time sent on the e-mails, along with the names of the people that sent the e-mails in this report. Other e-mails were sent against the hire do not appear on the list. There is also no indication of the action she will take or not take regarding the situation.

Today, we are left with an incomplete picture of the public record regarding this important matter. In public service at the local government level, staff is expected to relay factual and complete information to residents, elected officials and employees. Slanting that information one way or another not consistent with the facts is tantamount to lying. Publishing these e-mails without the entire information and not publishing others is being dishonest to the community our City Manager serves. We have left an anonymous attack and defense of the already made decision - something that is corrosive when employed by a local government in an official way.

Regardless of what you think about the matter - the fact that we are having this discussion at all should serve notice to those who think that it is o.k. to hire a political operative in a position that requires neutrality and even-handedness - not "slight of the hand."

Can we have the whole truth, please?

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