Authority And Responsibility

By: Butch Swank –

My nickname is Butch. I much prefer that to my real name, Ralph, but like most things in life, there’s a tradeoff. When I was much younger and would run into a group of boys at a new school or new play yard, almost inevitably, one or two self-assigned bullies would make a comment sounding something like this: “If your name is Butch, you must be tough.” Without more context, that almost sounds like a compliment, right? It wasn’t. I quickly learned it was an opening signal that my toughness would soon be tested. Lots of times, I could avoid a real fight just with a solid reply. Then again, lots of times, I couldn’t. In retrospect, and trying to be positive, think of all the free martial arts training I received! At first, it wasn’t pretty. I had a lot of “learning” to do. But, after tough years of adolescence and into manhood, I’d become more than capable of looking out for myself. With a reputation I never wanted but a track record to back it up, meeting new people suddenly became a much friendlier affair. It’s weird how that works. A solid reputation makes a loud statement without uttering a word.  

Great, why are you telling me this, Butch? Well, I’m afraid, as voters, we’re developing a bad reputation. It seems to me that our local elected leaders have learned something about us. We elect them, which provides them with the authority to lead us. Historically, there’s a deal here where we assume that by electing them, they understand they now have a responsibility to make decisions based on our best interests. After all, we all have lives to live, so we cannot be involved in the day-to-day decision-making. We put you there because, based on your campaign, we thought you’d be best at representing what we want and need. Here’s where our reputation comes in. If you’ve been watching the news lately, a pattern has formed. The people will gather at a meeting and voice concerns against a proposal, yet the vote comes back 5-0 in favor of what the people didn’t want. I’m afraid we’ve developed a reputation of never punching back, so the part of the deal of them representing us is clearly off since we keep re-electing the same people. As voters, we refuse to fight back.

But, and this is a big but (Ha! – unintentional Sir Mix-A-Lot reference), I don’t want you to feel totally terrible here because there’s a wrinkle making these elections more complicated. The way Lee County elections currently work, we’re not really electing “our” guy or gal. We’re electing everybody’s. Really. Our elected County Commission is currently based on an entire county election. You get to vote for everybody. It’s not, “Oh, let’s pick this person because they’re from my neighborhood, know it well, and will represent us correctly because they know us, too.” It’s more like people from all over the entire county get to vote for all five people, and those five then get to make the decisions about your specific neighborhood. It’s nuts. Think of it this way: it’s like allowing people from Georgia to vote for Florida’s Governor because they live nearby.

The technical term for our current County Commission setup is an at-large district. On the flip side, our State elected leaders, the State Representatives, and Senators are elected by a setup called a single-member district. This is what we’re used to, and don’t feel bad – I had no idea there were two options either, and I studied political science in college. Shame on me! In the single-member district system, you elect someone from your neighborhood to represent your neighborhood. I’ve recently learned that our elected State leaders also don’t like the way Lee County Commissioners are currently elected and have taken two measures to remedy that. One would change County Commission elections back to single-member, and the other would be to create a County mayor. To me, this is an elegant solution. The current Commissioners don’t like the proposals. I can’t blame them because I wouldn’t either if I were in their shoes. They have a good gig going, so why mess it up? The single-member thing should be clear by now, so I’ll now say a bit about the mayor.

In 2022, Lee County voted in favor of an elected School Superintendent by 62%. In our times, 62% is a landslide victory. That was put to a vote because the School Board picked the Superintendent in our old system, so that person was basically obligated to do what the Board told them. Now, once elected, the Superintendent must still work with the Board but is free to make a decision that goes against them if they feel doing so would be best for the schools and kids. We have a similar situation here with a mayor. The County Commission would switch from “The” deciding body to more of an advisory group. The elected mayor would make the executive decisions, within their power, for all of Lee County. Also, if the single-member thing goes through, your next Commissioner would have to do a good job representing your area, or guess what? The odds just went way up that they wouldn’t get re-elected. Same goes for the Mayor. Same goes for the Superintendent. This is a principle called having skin in the game. If you can be held responsible for your decisions, you will be much more likely to make decisions that are best for the people who put you in this position of authority.

To finish, our current setup gives certain people authority over us, but they don’t have a responsibility to represent us as we wish. Largely, this current predicament is totally on us because we keep re-electing the same people over and over. These two bills would give us a fresh start and will send a crystal-clear message to those we elect that if they’re not responsible with this authority we’ve given them, they’ll be out of a job in the next election. Our State legislators have given us two smart solutions to a complicated problem. The House and Senate are currently in session as you read this. I strongly encourage you to reach out to them and voice your approval of these bills. A great way to do this is to ask their office to host some community town halls to discuss these issues after the session is over when they’re all back home from Tallahassee. On the flip side, you’re 100% free to disagree with everything I’ve just written. I encourage you to contact them as well and also be sure to attend the community town halls. Your voice counts just as much as mine. That’s the beauty of living in America. I 100% respect your opinion while also not agreeing with it. After all, America as a whole is a representative democracy, and I’d sure like to see a lot more representation locally in the future. Whichever side you stand on these issues, it’s important your position is heard. We cannot keep sitting silently on the sidelines. Please call or email your State legislator and make your voice heard! 

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