In government – or any endeavor where a small group of people have control over the lives and livelihoods of others – perception is reality, because accountability is paramount.
We have a right to expect that those in high office will serve responsibly and act in the public interest.
But who ensures compliance with our expectations – and the rules?
There are certain professions that we naturally hold to higher standards of ethical conduct.
For instance, we expect law enforcement officers to follow the rules, set a solid personal example and possess the judgment, strength of character, and moral courage to do the right thing, for the right reason.
These traditions of personal and professional conduct are so ingrained in our society that if even one member of the police service steps out-of-line, the entire vocation is held to account.
That’s a high bar – and it should be.
So why is it that politicians are consistently ranked lower than petrified whale turds on the gauge of public confidence?
Why do we simply accept that our local mayor – or United States senator – are supernaturally predisposed to feathering their own nest?
Because, on balance, the evidence supports the theory.
The American people are terribly cynical about their political system; and our open distrust of elected leaders, and formerly trusted institutions, shows no signs of easing.
The fact is, we’ve been burned too many times.
In my view, a key reason for this pessimism is the staggering attempts by politicians at all levels to weaken oversight and neuter the independent watchdogs their constituents rely on to keep everyone reasonably honest.
Earlier this week, during a terribly mismanaged 24-hour period, the House Republican Conference, meeting secretively behind closed doors, voted to eviscerate the Office of Congressional Ethics.
It’s like the mafia voting to dissolve the FBI because their constant snooping is bad for business.
Then, following the righteous outcry from, well, everyone – including President-elect Trump – the GOP suddenly scurried back into the smoke-filled room where they reversed course and dropped the ill-fated measure.
Like it never even happened.
But the damage was already complete.
Despite all the encouraging rhetoric and “drain the swamp” promises during the election cycle, it appears nothing has changed at all.
Clearly, the new Republican majority squandered their one opportunity to make a good first impression by kicking off with a self-serving move to crush their own independent oversight board.
How mindbogglingly stupid.
Unfortunately, the House GOP’s misstep in exposing their collective disdain for notoriously lax federal ethics rules is child’s play compared to the cesspool of political corruption here in the Sunshine State.
Even casual observers of local and state politics have come to the realization that Florida has finally become an open kleptocracy – a place where the rich get richer through open access to public funds – and you and I, the long-suffering taxpayer, pay the bills and suck hind tit (if we’re fed at all).
The examples are endless.
For months, we watched in abject horror as John Miklos – the Chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s Governing Board, and president of Bio Tech Consultants, (a company who lobbies for private interests before that very same regulatory agency) – played both sides of the fence to his own lucrative advantage.
From the open quid pro quo corruption that was the City of DeBary’s underhanded attempt to surreptitiously acquire the environmentally sensitive Gemini Springs Annex for commercial development – to his controversial involvement in a plan by Major League Baseball player and manager Davey Johnson to develop a dubious “wetlands mitigation bank” near New Smyrna Beach – Long John Miklos was skulking in the fetid back alley of every suspicious land-grab or environmental exploitation in the region.
Add to that Governor Rick Scott’s conspicuous acquiescence – and you get the queasy feeling that this just can’t be right.
Because it isn’t.
But this is Florida. The rules are different here.
Despite their own independent investigator’s findings that Mr. Miklos blatantly violated state ethics laws in his conflicting role as both public officer and private consultant, the Florida Commission on Ethics inexplicably ignored all reason – and the law – when they issued a colossally absurd decision clearing Miklos of all charges.
In Florida, it is perfectly acceptable to accept payment for securing permits and acquiring conservation lands for private development from the very same regulatory agency you oversee.
And, by all appearances, those with the authority – and responsibility – to criminally investigate continue to sit on their collective ass like another weary spectator.
Whenever someone asks why the material on Barker’s View tends toward the dark underbelly of regional politics, I laugh maniacally and point them to overwhelming evidence of dysfunction and utter corruption that we have come to accept as the status quo.
So, if you need constant validation about how wonderful things are here on the “Fun Coast,” you won’t find it here. Go watch a Danica Patrick visitor’s bureau video and “forget everything you thought you knew.”
For the rest of you intrepid watchdogs, choke down an antiemetic and stay tuned.
Knowledge is power.
I will continue to use this forum to champion those who seek the truth, identify systemic corruption, expose conflicts of interest and misconduct, and support government whistleblowers at the local, state and federal level.
In my view, grassroots efforts – the much-maligned citizen initiatives and committed individuals who ask the tough questions – serve as our best hope for reforming our broken system and transitioning public service back to the ethically conscious pursuit it should be.