Our City Commission is Quite United, Bruce. The Unity is the Problem

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.”

Wait, what?

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.)

7 thoughts on “Our City Commission is Quite United, Bruce. The Unity is the Problem

  1. While I agree that the commissioners are hoping for scandal fatigue, I think there’s also a good possibility that the grand jury presentment will eventually rise to the surface again. I’m not sure of its legal status but I’d think there won’t be much defense of its shroud without further funding. Not sure what’s in it but it’ll be either more revelations and fallout or, as Fields says, nothing and the public will see what they paid about a quarter million for. My guess would be the former. The City Commission’s (and City Manager’s) silence could be just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  2. Yesterday, as the City Commission meeting was underway, I sat down and e-mailed Mayor Fields, all of the members of the City Commission, and Chief Womack to bring forward the points that I made at the LPAC meeting of August 8. Apparantly, my suggestions were/have not been taken to heart.

    When Mayor Fields formed this Committee in late July, it was formed with the intent of gathering public ideas and opinion. As I mentioned at that time, the LPAC should “get away from holding meetings in the City Commission chambers” and hold meetings at points throughout the City; such as the Community Room at their of the City Libraries on Lake Morton and on North Florida Avenue and/or times where Citizens can attend and/or “have their voices heard”. To this point, that has not been done. I actually heard back from Commissioner Troller — even as the meeting was still in session — noting my comment (as well as another regarding city utility payments at Amscot) and that he would pass the information along.

    In the same e-mail, I suggested that Chief Womack should also consider spreading her monthly “Chief’s Chats” throughout the City. Currently, the events are held in the comfort of a conference room at Police Headquarters. I do believe that it would be adventagious to spread these meetings around, and hold them at a time which would allow more citizens to attend, instead of a time when the buses have stopped running for the evening. The suggestion also applies to the LPAC as well.

    One other item of opinion here: Kudos should go to LPAC members Katrina Lunsford, and to former Mayor/Commissioner Frank O’Reilly for their serious questioning during their tenure. Chairman Abels has done well in taking control of the meetings, but I stand to my comments here that the group’s meetings should be spread around the City.

  3. Billy Townsend´╗┐ is as insightful and blunt as you’re going to get for a metro Lakeland editorialist.

    I no longer live in Lakeland, but you’ll forever be in my heart.

    Lakelanders — if you don’t hold Lisa Womack accountable for her policies as police chief — you will infect a wound in your city that will take years to heal.

    You can do something about it. Take one hour of your life and go to the next city commission meeting. Don’t have a seat. Stand there and just look at your commissioners. Look each in the eyes and simply say — “Fix this now.”

    They’ll ignore you. So ask your friends to do it at the next city commission meeting. Do it at every single public event. Every time you see a commissioner at dinner. Each time you meet one at a yacht club, barber shop, or downtown street, simply say “Fix this now.”

    Quietly. Firmly. Ceaselessly.

    They know the fix. They need to know you will accept nothing less.

  4. Insightful article–it is great to hear a clear voice that calls it as it is.

    I largely agree with your assessment of Lakeland’s politicians, the LPD scandal, and the “Fourth Estate”. However, I think you’ve neglected to assign any blame on the electorate.

    I believe that the electorate did not take the time nor the interest to challenge the current crop of elected officials before it cast its votes.

    In the worst case, townspeople failed to engage the candidates in substantive dialog. And when an occasional “tough” question did arise, I venture to guess the candidates responded with the usual round of windy, circuitous answers. Lakeland got what it deserved.

    “All politics is Local,” said Tip O’neal. Tip understood that politics is a two-way street between the electorate and the leaders it chooses.

    As I am not a citizen of Lakeland, I am only able to stand on the sidelines. Still, I like to delude myself by thinking gadflies serve a purpose.

  5. Your commentary is sad but true. Honesty in politics, at any level, is hard to find. I’ve remained silent regarding the Mayor’s race but if one were to stand up for our citizens I would be proud to support that candidate. Good job Billy.

  6. DEAR FRIENDS AND FELLOW CITIZENS,

    THIS IS JUST A REMINDER THAT ARE NOW APPROACHING SEVEN AND ONE-HALF WEEKS UNTIL THE CITIZENS OF LAKELAND CAST THEIR BALLOTS TO EITHER REPLACE THE CURRENT MAYOR OR ELECT HIS REPLACEMENT, AS WELL AS REELECTING OR REPLACEING TWO MEMBERS OF THE CITY COMMISSION. AS WE ARE ALL AWARE, CURRENT INCUMBANT MAYOR GOW B.FIELDS (electgow@gowfields.com) IS SEEKING REELECTION. HIS ONLY OPPONENT (TO THIS POINT) IS CURRENT CITY COMMISSIONER HOWARD WIGGS (idespro2@tampabay.rr.com). CURRENT SOUTHWEST DISTRICT COMMISSIONER DON SELVAGE AND SOUTHEAST DISTRICT COMMISSIONER EDITH YATES ARE CURRENTLY RUNNING WITH NO OPPOSITION AT THIS THIS TIME. HOWEVER, THERE ARE FIVE CANDIDATES FOR THE COMMISSIONER AT LARGE POST. THEY ARE:

    – 32 YEAR OLD MICHAEL FOLSOM WAS THE FIRST TO FILE. HE OWNS A CONSTRUCTION COMPANY IN LAKELAND. (Michael@fcm-llc.com)
    – EDDIE HALL, A 49 YEAR OLD COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR WITH PUBLIX SUPERMARKETS. (eddieamorkatty@yahoo.com)
    – JIM MALLESS, A 56 YEAR OLD COMMERCIAL REALTOR AND BUSINESS OWNER. (jim@wiley-malless.com)
    – RICKY SHIRAH, WHO RAN FOR THE LAKELAND CITY COMMISSION SEAT NOW HELD BY PHILLIP WALKER FOUR YEARS AGO, AND LAST YEAR HE RAN FOR THE POLK COUNTY COMMISSION. HE OPERATES A TOWING SERVICE IN LAKELAND. (Electshirah@gmail.com)
    – MICHAEL TAMNEY, NOW A SECOND VICE PRESIDENT – INVESTMENTS AT SMITH BARNEY IN LAKELAND. (tamneyforcitycommissioner@gmail.com)

    So, that’s where we stand as of today. There is one more week when citizens can seek office. We shall see what happens.

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