Lakeland Has America’s Worst City Government. We Have to Confront It Every Day.

Late Update (9 p.m.): Wow. Much has happened in the last 10 hours. First Don Selvage, then Howard Wiggs, have made clear calls for leadership changes. Good for them. The dynamics of this have just changed significantly. It will probably not be pretty from here on out, but this is a necessary process for getting to a better place. Read the rest of this piece with these new developments in mind. And let me just say, knowing Don Selvage a bit, I am not surprised he took the risk to act first on his conscience. He’s our best commissioner.

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I very much want to live in a community where uniformed, on-duty police officers do not stalk vulnerable women and force them to have sex.

Absent that, I’d like to live in a city where multiple police dispatchers and a police sergeant do not laugh at and/or dismiss the vulnerable woman and her inarticulate friend when they they call to report the uniformed, on-duty police officer stalking her and forcing her to have sex.

That basic professional morality doesn’t seem too much to ask for a police department. But if it is, I would settle for a city where multiple police dispatchers and a sergeant are not so stupid as to ignore and/or laugh at an alleged police rape victim in the immediate aftermath of one of the one worst in-uniform abusive sex scandals any police agency has ever seen.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in any of those cities.

Everyone in Lakeland seems to agrees on that fact, with the exception of Julio Pagan’s lawyer. Doug Fields agrees. Or is it Gow Thomas? Keith Troller, Edie Selvage, Phillip Wiggs — none of them question the facts reported by The Ledger or acted upon by State Attorney Jerry Hill.

However, their first reaction to those facts is to blast Hill, the guy who fixed our city’s most recent sexually abusive cop problem by putting it in jail. Their second reaction is to organize a rally of police and city staff and loved ones to hug and support and reassure the city and police leadership — you know, the real victims.*

That’s how America’s worst municipal government and leadership class rolls.

With Lakeland Electric money, Publix money, the hospital, and our location, a halibut could run Lakeland. It takes hard work to screw up this city. But today’s leaders — in government and business — are doing their best. The infrastructure we like about this town comes from decisions made long ago. The vibe we like comes from the diversity and creativity of the people who live here. Our current crop of leaders had almost nothing to do with either. But they’re bleeding our city’s honor relentlessly.

Consider the “leadership” narcissism on display in this extraordinary quote from Doug Thomas, complaining that Jerry Hill is mean.

“We’re certainly very concerned with the tenor and tone of the letter, and feel that many of his attacks reflect comments specifically of a personal nature against Chief Womack, who is a nationally recognized leader in the law-enforcement community.”

Let me translate that for you: Who you gonna believe? A “nationally recognized leader” or your lyin’ eyes?

I do not care what some corrupt, self-serving, bureaucratic police accreditation outfit has to say about anyone. I know that I live in a city where a massive police coercive sex scandal does not keep a chunk of the “serve and protect” response infrastructure from mocking the speech of a woman trying to report a newer example of police coercive sex.

The only “national recognition” for LPD has come from the New York Daily News: They’re Florida’s horniest! Cops in Lakeland police department snagged in massive sex scandal: report

And I am ashamed.

Let’s very briefly link the leadership class sentiment in Thomas’ quote back to the alleged facts surrounding Pagan’s arrest. Are you surprised it took a landlord calling to get anyone to respond to a renter’s alleged rape?

The 14th amendment to the United States constitution entitles every citizen to equal protection under the law — from “nationally recognized” leaders to vulnerable women, from owners to tenants. You think Doug Thomas believes in that? Lisa Womack?

Their response to Julio Pagan’s arrest is, How dare you question a leader? How dare you use a disrespectful tenor? Even when another “leader” does the questioning. You think that attitude doesn’t filter down into the cops that hear it? You think that attitude doesn’t give them license to mock and ignore a struggling woman desperate for help. How much mocking do you think goes on behind closed doors at City Hall? I promise you, city commissioners, they’re mocking your impotence every day. That means they’re mocking me, too.

I am not important. Jerry Hill and his tone are not important. Lisa Womack, Doug Thomas, Tim McCausland. Not important. Gow Fields or Howard Wiggs? Completely unimportant. Justin Troller, Keith Merritt, Don Selvage, Phillip Walker. Who are they? Edie Yates is never around; but if she were, she would be unimportant. As people, none of us are important. School will be open on our birthdays.

What is important is the behavior of the armed men and women executing the rawest power of the state against its people. The 14th amendment is important. Lakeland’s future is important, at least to me. Because I’m not going anywhere.

I hear rumblings about how nobody cares; how no one will do anything. People just aren’t outraged enough. If only the public would force the action. Etc.

I think that’s unfair. If there’s a common thread among the seemingly endless city government scandals that have broken recently, it’s the public, in the form of diverse victims and advocates, bravely reporting this stuff. Props to the landlord in this case, for instance.

So don’t blame the public, leaderish types. (I guess I have to count myself among the leaderish types.) We’re the ones who can’t get anything done, who won’t run for office to give the public a choice. It’s squarely on us.

I think there’s a pretty simple reason why the handful of people holding the power to quickly change things won’t act: It’s in all of their short-term self-interests — whether that be economic, political, or emotional — to do nothing.

Doug’s short-term interest is 200K per year. Womack’s interest is the same, minus a few K. Also, another ugly departure would probably end her career as a “nationally recognized leader in the law enforcement community.” Gow has literally embraced Lakeland city government’s culture and leadership as the core of his reason for re-election. I suspect Wiggs thinks he’s going to win because of that and many other reasons, so he’s afraid to rock the boat and change dynamics of the election by doing the right thing. So he supports Doug and the city leadership as strongly as Gow does. Don’t be fooled by meaningless words indicating otherwise.

Troller is very tight with the police union. Keith Merritt thinks he’s Cicero, a statesman influencing minds under glistening Roman columns. Simple motions to fire people in response to the angry rabble isn’t his idea of governing. I’m sure he’ll write a strongly worded letter to someone, while remaining mindful of its tone and tenor.

(Full disclosure: I have talked at length in private with Keith and Howard about this stuff. My analysis focuses on their public behavior, not any quotes or direct language they used.)

All the commissioners hate confrontation and love to hide behind the Bruce Abels unity fetish. After all, isn’t unity among city commissioners paid $14k per year a more worthy goal than a city whose armed employees do not coerce sex from women who are then mocked and ignored when they complain?

Guess what, the public hates confrontation, too. Especially when it involves armed city employees demanding sex. The public doesn’t care about lame, meaningless scalpel or sledgehammer metaphors, commissioners. It just wants this crap to stop.

But it won’t stop until the short-term self-interest calculation changes. It’s game theory. Our commissioners are unified around inaction, around the fact that leaders must never face consequences, because, well, leadership. As long as they remain unified, they all have incentive to stay unified because collective responsibility is the same as no responsibility.

The only way I see to possibly change the short-term dynamic is to do what commissioners most hate and fear: confront them.

With that in mind, I sent this email to the city on Saturday.

Good morning: Please add Billy Townsend to the appropriate location on the Oct. 7 City Commission agenda. I plan to ask that each one of the city commissioners provide their individual justifications for supporting Doug Thomas as city manager and Tim McCausland as city attorney.

I also want commissioners to say if they envision both men remaining in these jobs 1-year, 5-years, and 10 years from now. And why.

You’ll notice I’m not even talking about the chief. I’m addressing the only-nationally-recognized-leaders-are-entitled-to-dignity — along with impunity — culture. That culture is a broad city government culture. LPD just reflects it. I’m addressing the terror of leaders confronting leaders.

I’d welcome anyone who wants to come tackle the commission’s unity with me. But it’s more important to have sustained, daily, micro confrontations with them wherever we see them. That’s the best tactic I can conceive to convince commissioners to either do their jobs or abandon them.

Make them own, every day, the fact that they have given Lakeland, which has so much going for it, America’s worst city government.

*By the way, slut shamers, remember when you blamed this culture on Sue Eberle? I suppose this woman had it coming, too, right? You know who you are. Let’s see if you’ll speak up now.

3 thoughts on “Lakeland Has America’s Worst City Government. We Have to Confront It Every Day.

  1. I don’t know. I’m very bewildered by this situation. I keep remembering that Eberle didn’t have a come to Jesus moment preceding her revelations. She was in the firing process and decided to take a few with her. Not that it’s a bad thing. One of those implicated in her story is reputed to have ‘sent one of his prostitutes to get pizza for him’. If he’s been sidelined, that, it seems to me, would leave a vacuum of power in that seedy community. Pagan might have sought to replace that power or someone could be manipulating the vulnerability of officers working that sector. Sounds like a good area to assign some grizzly old women cops not inclined to put up with crap. LOL

    Hill obviously has an ax to grind with Womack. PCSO has had a slew of officers arrested for horrendous acts against the public but I haven’t heard of Hill sending any nastygrams to Judd.

    I have a feeling this is long from over.

  2. I’ll try to be at the Oct. 7th meeting in support of your effort. I hope it helps. Good luck.

  3. I agree with you, Thomas has to go. Worst manager I have ever seen.

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