Don’t Blame the Citizens Please

stress-explosion-concept-exhausted-businessman-45371680Thursday isn’t my usual Keys news reading day, but maybe it should be.  I took a look at KeysNet this morning and there’s some good stuff in there.

Judge tossing whistleblower lawsuit in the Acevedo finance scandal tosses justice, too.  This letter pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter.  It’s unseemly that the whistle  blower would be forced out and I’m very curious about what’s behind that.

Residency issue of Aqueduct Authority chairman Dean likely to go before the full board Sept. 25.  According to the article, Cara Higgins has placed the item on the FKAA agenda.  It will be interesting to see what stalling and/or distraction maneuvers will be employed and by whom.  I bet there will also be plenty of parsing and hairsplitting.  I’m sure there will be a lively debate over exactly what it means to “live” somewhere.  Should be agonizing/hilarious.

County to hire public information officer to be one voice.  Ugh.  I’ve already written about this here and here.  This particular article contains more information on the matter than any others I’ve seen.  I summed up my thoughts in a comment on KeysNet.  The problem isn’t poor messaging.  It’s poor performance.  There’s so much to unpack here.

It’s extremely aggravating to me that some of the commissioners tried to lay the blame for the Cudjoe debacle on the alleged “stubbornness” of the citizens in the area.

“I don’t think any amount of sweet talk would have helped Cudjoe Regional … no matter how it was explained, how well it was put, to the people involved,” Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said.

Commissioner George Neugent agreed, “You weren’t going to sway their opinions.”

The citizens’ questions were met with evasiveness and contradictory information on the part of the county and the FKAA.  As a natural consequence, the situation escalated.  People’s anxiety and mistrust understandably increased.  The citizens did their best to fill the information vacuum.  The citizens in the Cudjoe Regional area are doing what responsible citizens anywhere would do.  They are demanding answers.  They want to know where their tax money is going.

There was a parallel situation with the Key Largo project, but the outcome was much different.  When the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) decided to go with a vacuum sewer system, there was an uproar.  The Village of Islamorada was having well-publicized problems with their vacuum sewer system at the time.  People just couldn’t understand how the District could make such a stupid-seeming decision.  It was a perfectly understandable reaction given what was at stake – people’s quality of life and millions of dollars in tax money.  At this point, the District could have just caved no matter what the cost (ahem) or they could have explained the reasoning behind the decision.

The District held a townhall meeting.  People were fired up.  Things were tense at first.  As the District explained its position, answered questions and addressed concerns, the mood changed.  I don’t remember how long the meeting went, but a wide range of topics were covered:  why vacuum is the best choice, the comparative costs of various technologies, how the project was to be paid for, how the District’s system was different from Islamorada’s.  I droned on so long about the many properly functioning vacuum systems in Florida that someone took the microphone away.  (There’s no nerd as boring as a sewer nerd.)  In the end, much of the tension was diffused.

This dynamic played out repeatedly on a variety of different subjects:  assessments, rates, effluent disposal, the agreement with Islamorada.  The District stuck to its policy of openness.  And why not?  There was nothing to hide.  The decisions made were made honestly and were based on the best available data.  People may not always like or agree with every decision ever made, but overall the District made an honest effort to arrive at the best one.  For that reason, we were able to walk people through the decision-making process.  The willingness and ability to be forthcoming are, by themselves, huge confidence boosters.

The point is the citizens of Cudjoe Regional are no different from citizens anywhere.  They are not necessarily any more “stubborn” or “demanding”.  The difference is in the way their concerns were handled, or rather not handled.  Dismissed, ignored, papered over.  This is the same way my concerns with the wastewater funding inequity have been handled.  I know what people are going through.  Been there myself.  Still there.

The county doesn’t need a public information officer (PIO).  They need to stop making biased, irrational decisions and then trying to justify those decisions after-the-fact with excuses and intentionally misleading documents.  Until they get to that point, that poor PIO will only crash and burn.  I think this is more about the county commissioners and county administrator trying to place a buffer between themselves and a justifiably angry public.

Hmmm…now that I think about it maybe I should apply.  A PIO who is willing to tell the truth would be a very positive development.  PIO gone rogue.

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