Thus starts the first paragraph of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. That the United States, the longest continuously functioning democracy, is now celebrating it’s 243rd anniversary is a testimony to the brilliance of our founding documents wherein free speech and individual liberty are revered.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing today a growing intolerance for differences of opinion on social media platforms, major media outlets, and even on university campuses across the country. Freedom of speech, yes, but only if you agree with me.
Recently Village Council member Ignacio J. Segurola raised questions during the budget workshop about the role of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation (KBCF) and the public funds it receives for a number of important community activities and functions.
The questions raised are important because they have to do with the responsibility of all elected officials to protect the public welfare. Questions about process are not accusations of impropriety. They are questions about transparency in government. Our Village government is funded by the taxpayers and therefore answerable to “We the People.”
The controversy about his remarks has unfortunately devolved into a demonization of the individuals involved, not the issue of transparency. It should not be about council member Segurola, nor about KBCF’s executive director, Melissa White.
Melissa has been a dedicated advocate for our Village doing what she believes is in the best interests of the community and has energetically worked on our behalf. That is not in question. The only thing we should be discussing is whether or not our Village government has in place proper procedures for every relationship government has with private entities. Best practices dictates that public funds should be awarded through a “Grant” process with strict application guidelines and reporting requirements. While the Chamber of Commerce, for example, does an excellent job of documenting what they do and how they spend funds on a quarterly basis, a grant process would be even better because it would level the playing field for all community organizations. Perhaps it’s time to improve our process.
I would indeed be shocked if the KBCF did not have answers to all the questions raised by Segurola given the involvement of a number of founding members of our Village, people for whom we should be forever grateful for having had the foresight and the courage to take on formidable interest groups to create this independent oasis.
Does that mean that all Village policies are perfect? Of course not. The brilliance of our founders was that the institutions they created provide for the inevitable adjustments and changes that become necessary from time to time under new circumstances. what we are experiencing now is one of those moments when dialogue can lead to new understanding and better government.
No one should ever be demonized for asking tough questions, especially elected officials simply carrying out their fiduciary duty. This is especially important because it comes on the heels of the charges leveled against our former mayor, Mayra Lindsay. She was fully exonerated, but only after a lengthy and costly legal process. Criminalizing political differences has become a big problem at the national level, and it is indeed sad to see this tendency raise its ugly head in our own community.
Personal attacks have a chilling affect on people’s desire to volunteer for public service. It will discourage honest and qualified people from running for office, people we desperately need to guard the public trust given that they are all volunteers and receive no compensation. Ignacio J. Segurola is just such a person. We don’t want to end up with cronyism, favoritism, and councilmembers who are compliant to the powerful and influential, not to “We the People.”
It is time for all of us to take a deep breath and stop talking over each other, and start talking with each other about how we can form a more perfect union.