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.
The City that Sold Itself
You probably grew up on Aesop's Fables like The Tortoise and the Hare and The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. But have you heard of The City That Sold Itself? It's a lesser known tale with a too familiar moral.
There once was a beautiful city on a hill. The air was scented with jasmine and tangerines and its people came up with many ways to gather together in celebration. They were a creative people and loved making things, and soon the streets were lined with shops of their handiwork. It was not a prosperous land but the people loved and took care of each other. They built a towering well at the top of the hill to guide people there and as a sign of their city pride. People would gather at the tower for weddings and birthday parties and to share their dreams and their tangerines.
As time went on and the city got older, it began to show its age and repairs were needed. At first the people ignored the problem because they still didn't have much money and they figured it could be solved later. They continued to ignore it until the beautiful city they'd once been so proud of was rundown and the towering well was rusty and dingy. People still gathered at the well to talk, but not for weddings or parties because they were ashamed of how badly it looked.
One day the city counselors held a meeting to discuss the condition and decided to raise taxes. The people, though not wealthy, did not object because they loved their city and wanted to see it restored to its former glory. So the taxes were collected and the city counselors worked hard to decide how to best spend the taxes. In one meeting, as one counselor made his case for spending the money to repair the park playground and another argued for using it to fill holes in the road, a third spoke up, "Let's do both! We can just collect more taxes!" So they voted for another tax. This time the people grumbled and some moved away from the city, but both counselors had money for their projects so they were happy.
The city counselors began meeting every week, and every week they voted to collect more and new taxes. "Why didn't we think of this before? It's so easy!" they exclaimed. When they ran out of the usual taxes, they got creative, "Let's tax them for their parties! Let's tax them when they open a new shop! Let's tax them for fixing their house!" The people were no longer grumbling. They were angry and told the counselors so, but the counselors didn't listen. All they could think about were the taxes and how much more they could collect. They wanted the pile of treasure to be bigger every day and so stopped doing projects to clean the city because the projects made the treasure pile smaller.
The people couldn't afford the taxes so they closed their stops and stopped having parties at the towering well. Some people had secret parties to avoid the taxes and some stopped gathering altogether. The once bustling streets were still dingy and overgrown with weeds. But they were also empty.
There was a storeroom in city hall where all the taxes were stored and the city counselors began to hold their meetings in it so they could enjoy the sight and smell of all their treasure. One day, when no suggestions had been offered for new taxes, a counselor suddenly had an idea. "Let's sell the land by the towering well! No one gathers there anymore. We can use the money from the sale to repair the towering well!" All the counselors thought it was a good idea and put up the land for sale.
There was a young man who still went to towering well every day to eat his tangerine and dream. He would dream about how he would clean the city if he had the chance and bring the towering well back to its glory. When he heard the land was for sale he gathered all he had and presented it to the city counselors to pay for the land by the towering well. The counselors were in such a hurry to get the money that they didn't read their bill of sale. Days later, the young man realized the city counselors had not just sold him the land, they'd also accidentally sold him the towering well.
The young man, who loved his city deeply and didn't want the people to be without a source of water, went to the city counselors and offered it back in exchange for all the treasure in city hall. The counselors had to accept his deal, and soon after, all had left the city in shame. The young man used some of the money to repair the city and gave the rest back to the people. The parties and shops returned, now on clean, gleaming streets, and the city on the hill was freed from greed.
Greed is a hungry beast who only gets hungrier the more it eats.
Truth versus fiction: The City of Brooksville did accidentally sell the water tower. The young man they sold it to graciously gave it back once he realized their mistake. Two of the five City Council members have been voting against all the new taxes.