This week, a majority of the Palm Beach County Commission effectively censured one of its own for nothing more than holding unpopular points of view. Without giving specific reasons, Commissioner Paulette Burdick was passed over for her turn at the gavel — and the largely ceremonial title of “mayor” — in favor of Commissioner Shelley Vana.
It was, of course, not the first time the voting majority has snubbed a commissioner they didn’t like. Commissioner Jess Santamaria, who left office this week after eight years of service, got a similar snub two years ago when his colleagues decided to use one of the few levers at their disposal to show their displeasure with his political point of view.
While completely unfair, what happened two years ago was not unexpected. Mr. Santamaria had made no secret of his dislike for the type of political games that run rampant at the county governmental center and used every opportunity afforded him to reiterate his desire to clean up the mess.
But what happened this week to Ms. Burdick was far different. While Mr. Santamaria carefully sculpted his iconoclastic image, Ms. Burdick is a fairly run-of-the-mill politician by Palm Beach County standards. Her previous 16 years of service on the Palm Beach County School Board showed that she has the ability to run a meeting. In fact, the only place where she tends to stick out is on the issue of development. Like Mr. Santamaria, she is not a fan of developer overreach. However, she has always been fairly polite about it and ready to compromise.
As it turns out, just stepping out of line on that issue was enough. The county’s pro-development governing majority has deemed that dissent on such a critical issue is enough to get you passed over for your turn at the helm — even if that “helm” is a manufactured title designed to give an impression of far more significance than it is worth.
We won’t question here how it is that Ms. Burdick seemed to know in advance that this was going to happen; nor how five commissioners seem to know how to fall in line. However, it is a shame that our elected leaders can’t tolerate even the whiff of dissent without taking any means possible to stamp it out.