Mayor defends public over private interests
Published: Sunday, March 11, 2012
Updated: Sunday, March 11, 2012 16:03
It's been pretty apparent that the leaders in Tallahassee don't like transparency. They do, however, like their special interests. That's why when Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs demanded accountability from Central Florida's largest private interests, the Florida House of Representatives demanded her removal.
Let me be clear: I'm not Jacobs' biggest fan. There is quite a lot we disagree on, and we come from diverging sides of the political spectrum.
But there is something I detest more than any one elected official, and that's the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as its parent organization, the Central Florida Partnership. According to its website, the Central Florida Partnership is a collaboration of business and civic leaders that aims to turn "ideas" into "results."
These ideas include using public money to find ways private institutions can bypass "regulatory barriers," or laws put into place to protect the citizens of Central Florida. That's an idea that Orlando Sentinel's Jim Stratton said became a reality and produced some results. Results for private companies, that is, not the people.
That's why I was elated when I heard Jacobs requested accounting of expressway money given to the Partnership and its "line of business." It's great to see our local public official make government and businesses accountable to the people of Central Florida. Jacobs is a board member on the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. The Sentinel's Scott Maxwell said that the position gives her much more clout when requesting these records.
That clout was definitely felt. As soon as Jacobs sent in her request, the Central Florida Partnership started damage control. President Jacob Stuart emailed the group's investors to ensure them that their records were safe, secure and welcome to scrutiny. He also praised the "Open for Business" program, which used public money to serve the private interests just mentioned, according to a Sentinel blog post.
But apparently the Central Florida Partnership has even more clout. In fact, after digging deeper, it is apparent they have direct connections not only with the Chamber of Commerce but future Republican Speaker of the House, Rep. Chris Dorworth – who, by the way, also faces corruption allegations by local leaders of the Florida Tea Party.
This is why, days after Jacobs requested these records, the Florida House passed, with no debate, a bill that would force Jacobs to leave the Expressway Authority Board by July 1.
The sponsor and supporters of the bill claim it will ensure transparency and accountability. They say that an elected official has too many special interests to be on such a board. But I say this move is a vindictive attempt to punish a local official who refuses to play by the same old and corrupt rules.
The latest reports show that the Florida Senate will not pass this bill, and Jacobs will likely stay on the Board, but I feel the damage is already done. It's pretty clear to me that private interests run Tallahassee, and anyone with the courage to challenge those interests will face consequences, especially if Dorworth is Speaker.
I urge all of our elected officials to follow in Jacobs' example. We must hold private interests accountable and ensure that public money is spent on the public good.