The Lakeland Police Advisory Committee (LPAC) is headed and given voice by the forceful Bruce Abels, a longtime top executive with Saddle Creek. I know Bruce pretty well, and I respect his sharp intellect and civic-mindedness. He didn’t ask for the peculiar unpaid honor of taking a lot of crap in public — not to mention donating hours of his time. But he’s a powerful personality who seems to have taken control of the LPAC, for better and worse.
For better, I suspect Bruce is proving a little more forceful than Mayor Gow Fields and City Manager Doug Thomas planned when they invented LPAC to fend off the rabble and buy time for scandal fatigue to set in.
As near as I can tell from The Ledger’s account of the LPAC preliminary report, Bruce and his committee seem to agree almost completely with the rabble about what’s happened. They don’t seem to challenge any significant fact The Ledger has reported. Furthermore, Bruce and the LPAC say quite clearly that the culture of City Hall, which Doug Thomas has led for a decade, is a major problem that no one is attending to. He/LPAC wants to hire a city hall culture czar. And they strongly condemn the Hans Lehman teaches ethics thing, which Chief Womack tried to deny even happened by using semantic jujitsu — which simpler people might call lying.
Given all of that, one might assume that Bruce and LPAC have no confidence in city management. One would assume wrongly.
Instead, it’s The Ledger that gets a no confidence vote, for committing the sin of following the obvious logic dictated by its accurate reporting.
Abels also criticized The Ledger.
He said an editorial Monday demanding a no-confidence vote on Womack by both the advisory panel and the City Commission was premature.
“I am concerned now where The Ledger has gone in its objectivity,” Abels said. “It has gotten ahead of itself with calls for resignation.”
How dare The Ledger do its job and accurately describe facts and culture and then offer a forceful suggestion for action. Doesn’t it understand this is Lakeland and we don’t do things that way.
You see on display here the worst of our local and national leadership class pathologies. LPAC agrees the facts are terrible. It agrees the leadership culture that the facts point to is terrible. It agrees that city executives have done their jobs so dreadfully with respect to cultural leadership that we, the taxpayers, should hire somebody else to handle culture for them. But nothing, nothing should actually happen to these leaders. We can’t replace them; we can only augment them.
To suggest otherwise is to get ahead of oneself and lose objectivity.
The logic gets even more bizarre in the leadership class obsession with “unity.” The Ledger story says that Bruce and/or LPAC think the city government would have responded better if it had a “united” City Commission.
With respect, which scandal have they been watching?
In the scandal I’ve watched, the only tiny City Commission division occurred over whether to create this utterly powerless LPAC committee.
Beyond that, the City Commission has maintained a consistent and unshakeable 7-0 position: This is the worst scandal in our city’s history. The culture our leaders have given us in the last decade is atrocious. And it would be deeply irresponsible to actually do anything about it that the State Attorney hasn’t already done for us.
Maybe LPAC would like the commission to be “effective” or “decisive” or merely “attentive.” But you couldn’t ask for more “unity”. It’s enough to make me steal, yet again, from the great Inigo Montoya: I do not think unity means what LPAC thinks it means. In fact, without unity, the commission would never have managed to fend off the rabble so effectively thus far.
That’s because Lakeland is far from a 7-0 city on this issue — or most others. Some large portion of the rabble known as the citizens, myself included, want leadership overhauled. Are we a majority? I suspect we are. But who knows? Are we the zero in a 7-0 unified vote? Absolutely not. Yet, we are not represented in any way on this unified City Commission on this most important issue facing our city. Can’t even get a motion for discussion. My checkbook and political support this election cycle, meager as their value may be, reflect that reality.
In fact, Commissioner Wiggs, the unity fetish is the reason Mayor Fields wipes the floor with you every time you guys start talking in public about LPD and reform. He has a position: Keep leadership, fend off the rabble, do nothing. It is coherent. You do not have a position, other than an unwillingness to truly challenge the unity of the commission. As much as you like to think differently, you and Gow are arguing on the same side — only he means it. So when you talk to each other about LPD, you talk about nothing. Gow is far better at talking about nothing than you are, Howard. But there’s a simple solution: “I move that we replace the city manager.” Start there and see how quickly the talk changes to actual content.
It’s hard to be the change candidate when you won’t take the opposite side of the sitting mayor in the worst scandal in city history. Maybe you’ll win anyway because people are sick of Gowishness. But this city would strongly benefit from turning this mayoral election into a referendum on the future of its leadership. If it’s not, maybe three people will show up. That’s the legacy and effect of your unity, commissioners and leaders. It kills the democratic and civic spirit.
And it tells us clearly that the leadership class consider no problem so serious, so morally imperative — none, zero, nada, zilch — that solving it outweighs keeping the rabble from getting its way. That would be irresponsible and ahead of itself.
(P.S.: By the way, there is a faction of professional, Democratish, technocratic types out there who seem to think Chief Womack is some sort of tough progressive hero standing up to the good ole boys and staking a claim for women in a man’s world. You know who you are. I have to say that I find this baffling. With her confrontational style and neverending petty capacity to escalate a conflict, she reminds me of no one more than Sarah Palin. We hired Chief Sarah Palin. Thanks guys. That professional personality doesn’t fix itself.)