Loxahatchee Groves Councilman Jim Rockett, ironically wearing a proudly American-themed shirt, led an astounding assault on freedom of speech, democracy, the people of Loxahatchee Groves and one Thais Gonzalez, who has dared to exercise her legal right to form a committee to question the wisdom of a college being built in the Groves.
At last week’s council meeting, Rockett claimed he was elected by the people. In fact only 843 (25 percent of the electorate) ever voted for the council at all in 2007, dwindling to a disinterested 414 (13 percent) in 2011. No one voted for Rockett, or the mayor, come to that, in 2010 as no one could be bothered to stand against them. They were propelled to the podium by inertia! Rockett then declared Ms. Gonzalez the next best thing to an insurgent before asking the (town-funded) lawyer to come up with some legalese to ensure the people could never again question the council under the ordinance Ms. Gonzalez has invoked. A political maneuver reminiscent of an Iranian Ayatollah.
Horrifyingly, the mayor echoed Rockett’s un-American totalitarianism, his face reddening and adventitious anger in his voice. Councilman Ron Jarriel, normally an avuncular fellow with mostly good to say, also rounded full square on Ms. Gonzalez, threatening code enforcement as retaliation and making a dreadful remark dangerously close to xenophobic as to her rights as a non-registered voter. Councilman Ryan Liang, pointless as usual, agreed with the majority.
Only Councilman Tom Goltzené demonstrated anything close to true statesmanship by maintaining an uncharacteristic silence, although he was spotted at one point with his head in his hands.
In a pathetic parody of the puppet leader Ahmadinejad, Mark Kutney, the town manager, normally the mumbling purveyor of perfunctory trivia, chuckled with undisguised glee as he displayed a letter from one of Ms. Gonzalez’s committee members who had withdrawn from her committee that very day, for unspecified, but no doubt highly suspicious reasons.
If it hadn’t been such a shabby production, and so poorly performed, the pantomime would have been a great, if sinister, comedy. It was more like watching politics in Libya than Loxahatchee!
But we must set aside this circus. It’s a sideshow.
It’s not about the college. (I should say this: I don’t have any strong feelings about the college either way.) It may be the best thing that ever happened to this town as the council rabidly insists, or it may be the end of the world as we know it, as Ms. Gonzalez believes. No one knows and won’t until it happens. Speculation is inane.
It’s about democracy. I do have strong feelings about oppression and attempts to crush freedom of speech. When politicians react so strongly to not getting their own way, they often have something to hide, usually something to fear and always something to lose. We can only imagine what.
Ms. Gonzalez has a legal right to do what she’s doing. Any true American politician would recognize that. In the words of Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” No chance of the mayor and council finding themselves in mortal danger over this one!
Sure, Ms. Gonzalez’ resistance is late coming. As Rockett and the mayor whined, there were public meetings and workshops before the college was given the green light. That’s true, but here’s the thing: 2,000 years ago, Plato warned us, “If you ignore politics you will be governed by people less intelligent than yourself.” On this performance, Loxahatchee Groves is the 21st-century embodiment of his wisdom. Council meetings are boring. Few are interested. Of the 3,200 residents around, the same 20 people attend. The proceedings are as dull as Loxahatchee canal ditchwater. Folks fall asleep. The council does what it wants.
And there you have it. It’s your fault, you, the apathetic electorate, you, who don’t vote, don’t care and don’t come to council meetings to keep our council honest — the disinterested and therefore unasked residents. The council, for whatever reasons suit them, can approve whatever. At the risk of over-mining philosophy, as Edmund Burke said, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for men of good character to do nothing.”
Thais Gonzalez is clearly of good character. She’s doing something. She’ll succeed in getting her committee up to strength again. Maybe she’ll get her referendum. Maybe she’ll get the college stopped. And maybe she won’t. Regardless, the council should let the people speak.
Come on, Mr. Mayor and councilmen, man up! Stop the cowardly intimidation and the playground-style bullying. Take responsibility. Accept you should have done more to advise your townsfolk about the college in the first place. You are wrong and you know it. Support Ms. Gonzalez’s rights, if not her sentiment. This is your chance to prove Plato wrong!