Victim-blaming is a diversionary tactic used by those unwilling to take ownership of their behavior. So when I saw that in the Tampa Bay Times article on the accidental sale of the city’s water supply, Brooksville City Manager Mark Kutney said the community uproar on the issue was just “sour grapes,” I wasn’t surprised. It’s not the first time Mr. Kutney has been willing to blame innocent staff, residents, business owners, or community partners for his bad behavior.
But I’ve been thinking.
Maybe Mr. Kutney is right.
I mean, not about the water tower. We have a right to be mad that our government is taking so casually the fact they put in private hands a utility that protects public safety. Any community who wouldn’t be mad about that probably doesn’t deserve to be a representative republic. But isn’t that the point?
We are a representative republic. And we put this city government in place. We elected a City Council that has supported Mr. Kutney’s brand of “leadership.” We had other options. In 2018, Mayor Brayton defeated former Mayor Frankie Burnett by a narrow margin (1478-1258). That’s a 220 vote that completely transformed our city. Councilmembers Erhard and Battista were backing Brayton, so it wasn’t like we didn’t know what that meant. And Mayor Burnett had already proven himself to be a level-headed council member who governed with informed decisions and grace. As 2015 Mayor, he had mentored four brand new Council members (Butch Battista, Betty Erhard, Natalie Kahler, and Bill Kemerer). Instead of mocking them from the Dias for not knowing the ins and outs of the job (like Mayor Brayton has been doing to Bell and Bailey), Mayor Burnett instructed, encouraged, guided, and made everyone feel a part of the team. He didn’t allow Council to be ugly towards each other or the public (and would sometimes put on his preacher hat on the subject of respect for others when he thought Council needed it). Battista and Erhard didn’t like him because he submitted a Sunshine Law violation form against them (and Kahler and Joe Bernardini) for accusations later disproven. But I think that only showed how committed Burnett was to preserving the integrity of the Council position. It was Erhard and Battista’s choice to take it personally and hold a grudge.
But we picked Brayton over Burnett. Let’s be adults and own our crap. We did it. And we let Erhard and Battista get back into office that year unopposed. And here we are. Elections have consequences. The 2018 election consequences put the Brayton-Erhard-Battista block in power, resulting in:
- dozens of raised taxes and fees
- a hostile environment toward small business
- a disdain for citizen input
- a council member who called for a boycott of her own city businesses
- the accidental sale of our water tower
- increased public discussion in dissolving city government completely
The good news is there are quite a few people planning to run for City Council in 2022 and none that I’ve spoken to want Mr. Kutney’s bureaucratic red tape, high tax kind of leadership. And City voters are paying attention and realize to a new level how important local elections are. This is a big improvement from a couple years ago when the Supervisor of Elections office accidentally gave City voters the wrong ballots and over 25 people voted before someone realized City Council candidates weren’t on the ballot. There’s no way that could ever happen in 2022.
So maybe Mr. Kutney is right and the people are somewhat to blame. For our past. Now we’re responsible for our future and we know it. And from what I’ve seen the last few months; we’re totally up to the task. We city voters seem to universally know what we want.
What do we want?
We want responsive, transparent, competent government that likes citizen involvement. And we’ll get it. Hopefully on Monday, June 21 at the next City Council meeting. Surely all five Council members see a change is needed towards competent leadership. But if not, change will definitely come after the last ballot has been cast in 2022.
Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait that long.
P.S. Although the City Manager and Mayor keep downplaying the accidental sale of the water tower, they appear to be the only ones. The story has been picked up by AP News, USA Today, NPR, The Hill, The New York Daily News, Babylon Bee‘s real news division Not the Bee, Not the Onion “For true stories that are so mind-blowingly ridiculous that you could have sworn they were from The Onion,” and all the local TV stations. New stories continue to run even today. Why? Because contrary to Brayton and Kutney’s opinion, this was an epic failure by local government. And it’s super funny for anyone who doesn’t have to admit this is their actual government.