... And Why We Can’t Give Up & Tune Out
Marvin Thunderdome Politics
Sadly, it seems we’ve entered an era of “thunderdome” politics, even at the local level. The concept of debating a policy or a point of view, using data and reliable resources has given way to intimidation, bullying & name calling, etc. I’m sorry the Village is having to endure it.
…but before giving up, and tuning out, please remember that letting bullies intimidate and coerce people out of public service only teaches bullies that bullying works!
I do my best to ignore half-truths, unsubstantiated claims and silly, disparaging comments made by disgruntled publishers. The pamphlet distributed about me around election day, contained the sort of thing people claim when they have nothing more substantive to say. As to the reasons ‘why’ they do this? I can only speculate, but here are my best guesses...
Reason One: Concerns Regarding the Unnecessary $75k Settlement
Some people are genuinely upset the Village had to spend $75,000 to reimburse me for part of the legal fees used to hold the Council majority accountable for unlawful actions. Before being too upset with me, I hope citizens will remember two things:
Refusal to Accept My Zero Cost Settlement Offer to Drop All Lawsuits
In October 2018, I tried to end Council discord with an offer to drop all lawsuits and absorb my own legal fees at zero-cost to Marvin taxpayers. (See the offer) Mayor Pollino and Councilwoman Vandenberg refused this offer. (See the refusal) Instead, they spent approximately $225,000 in public funds on a personal vendetta and caused my attorney fees to rise well beyond $30,000 dollars, and past $75,000 dollars.
Pollino, Vandenberg and Dispenziere had the majority vote on Village Council and had no real reason to continue using public funds to remove me and pursue legal action - especially after the judge ruled against Pollino and Vandenberg three different times.
Absorbing $30,000 in legal fees at the time, would not have been easy for my family. Still, I felt the offer was worth making because I could see costs might get out of hand for the Village and for my family. I hoped Pollino & Vandenberg would rise above pettiness and accept the offer for the Village's sake. Instead they freely used public funds to prolong a personal vendetta.
Unlawful Government Over-reach for Which Marvin Leaders Were Accountable
Also, sometimes average citizens have a duty to hold government accountable for wrong-doing. Regardless of how one feels about the way I was appointed the only thing I personally did was accept an appointment to the Council. Given that I would be in the minority, and immediately promised to get along peacefully, I never imagined these members of the Council would go so far. The Council majority was politely asked to refrain... on two occasions and yet they proceeded with the following actions and more...
(a) abdicating duty in office and shutting-down the Village
(b) holding illegal meetings without public knowledge
(c) breaking open meeting laws
(d) making unlawful decisions they weren't allowed to make
(e) spending public funds without public oversight
(f) using public funds on private lawsuits
(g) preventing me from carrying out duties in office
Aside from concerns regarding the $75,000 in legal fees (which are not fully attributable to me) most attempts to disparage and discredit me are due to other reasons.
I believe I have established some good relationships, in and around Marvin. Many people trust me to be honest with them about our laws and our ordinances. They have learned to rely on me to convey municipal processes; what land developers can and can't do, along with relevant events in Marvin history. I provide documentation to support what I have to say and people trust me to advocate for them when I can.
Thirteen years of experience has made me fairly adept at municipal government business too; particularly with regard to planning and development. Recently, I have been sought to provide litigation support to attorneys and clients involved in zoning and land use project disputes. I don't "tout" myself as an expert, but I do have experience and knowledge that helps people navigate difficult situations and I'm proud that I can help.
However, some people don’t like these relationships because, when it comes to development, policies and laws, the citizens requiring assistance just might listen to me and learn how to advocate for themselves. Those who have self-interests in local government want you to trust them, and what they say. They definitely don't want citizens to learn how to advocate for themselves and they are inconvenienced when citizens know their rights under the law. In short, my existence is inconvenient for a certain faction of people.
I also have a pretty good-memory (although it's getting weaker with age!) I've garnered a lot of information and have accumulated a substantial collection of public records. If I don't have a record, I usually remember its existence and know where to find it. I also have relevant history which helps put truth into context. All of this makes it more difficult for certain factions and officials to twist the truth. The reality is, that certain factions and officials in this current administration have been less than honorable. In order to keep the public trust seeming pristine; and/or accomplish the projects they've been enlisted to accomplish; and/or disregard inconvenient laws and policies at will; it is imperative for them to move me out of the way and keep me from dispelling their version of truth. In short? They must discredit me and silence me. They find my ability to recall relevant laws and policies inconvenient. They find my desire to research the truth to be irritating. And they find my desire to examine all angles of an issue to be distracting from singularly-focused agendas.
I am a citizen of the Village just like all of you. Therefore, the only way to silence and/or discredit me is to threaten, bully and intimidate me out of participating in Marvin government business. They do what they can to smear my name, contaminate my years of service, villainize my citizen-centered contributions, assault me with unfounded legal actions, and drain my family of resources. I've stood up to it a long time but there is only so much a typical citizen can endure, and they know it too.
Thankfully, most people will never wholly understand what this is like. Unfortunately, Chris Smith and Robert Epps are beginning to understand, first-hand, what Firethorne Campaign Organizers and their associates are like. They have now seen what happens when a community leader doesn't agree with their methods, or their agenda. The only way this can be overcome is with citizen support. Yet, it's difficult for one person to accomplish what a small faction of people can do; and they know this too.
Perhaps there will always be factions with above-average resources, who consider themselves entitled to a monopoly over "the people's government". Perhaps it will forever be a battle to protect democracy from groups like this. If this is true, we all need to be prepared to protect each other and take our turn at public service. When decent, unencumbered, average citizens are bullied out of public office, we all lose good government representation. Democracy isn't perfect but it's better than most alternatives. Yet, no democracy can survive under conditions which require democratic leaders to be independently wealthy just so they can withstand the disparagement and discreditation of elites out to destroy civic participants they deem incompatible with their agenda. I pray you will agree. If so, resist the temptation to tune-out and do what you can to vote, campaign and support sincere, civic participants for good local government. I promise not to give up either, as long as I know most of you will also continue to stand for these same civic principles.