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In Praise of Unusual Suspects

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In Praise of Unusual Suspects

Ed Swift is absolutely right.
The Key West City commissioners should make more than their current, paltry salaries.

Not only that, he's right in his reasoning. The City Commission should not just be for those who are already wealthy, retired or employed by public agencies or others who happen to be understanding about the demands of public office.

The commission should be for everybody willing to commit and offer up a huge amount of time and aggravation (it's actually beyond us why anyone does it). Thank God someone does. And diversifying the candidate pool, we are likely to have more choice and the possibility of better representation.

Which is not to say the commissioners should make a full time professional salary. Their jobs are not, in fact, supposed to be full time and they are not supposed to involve themselves in running the city. Their job is to set policy and direct the city manager, not tell individual employees what to do.

But serving on the commission does require a lot of time on research of complex issues (every commissioner should be familiar with the city code) and they take a lot of calls from members of the public.

Swift is proposing the commissioners receive $25,000 (they now get $8,500) and the mayor receive $40,000 (the job now pays $12,000).

Even with a raise, it's not enough to live on in our expensive little city. But it might be enough to bring more people into the political arena, and that's a good reason.

Selling this idea to the public is another matter. Referendum questions without well-reasoned campaigns behind them often fail - when in doubt, vote no, right? Maybe this could be the campaign where Last Stand and the Chamber of Commerce join hands at last.

As long as I'm agreeing with people I normally disagree with, here's another example: U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen deserves a high-five from the enviro world for her stance against oil drilling off the Florida coast.

Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican whose Congressional district includes the Florida Keys, was the only Republican in the Florida delegation who voted against the measure, which will allow drilling 125 from the Panhandle, 235 miles from the Tampa area. Not only did she buck her own party, but she did it in a case where she could have had ample cover to go the other way: the drilling measure that was finally approved in the waning days of the last Congress was a compromise worked out by Florida's two senators, including Democrat Bill Nelson.

Yet Ros-Lehtinen took a stand against the drilling. The only reason for her to do so was the concern of people in the Florida Keys, where an oil drilling mishap - even one far upstream, in the Gulf of Mexico - is our biggest nightmare.

Mark Ferrulo, director of the nonprofit Environment Florida, called the bill "an early Christmas present to Big Oil" and "exactly the precedent that the pro-drilling lobby has been pursuing for decades."

Ros-Lehtinen was on the losing side on this important vote, but it wouldn't have cost her to vote with the majority and her party. It appears she stood up for green principle on this one and she should get credit for that.

As long as I'm handing out laurels to Republicans, here's a set for our new governor, Charlie Crist. He got off to a good start by creating a new open government department, to make sure public records laws are followed. We know from state and local experience that public officials can get a bit lax about letting the public know what they're up to. It's a good reminder from the top, and it's a good sign that this was one of his first official acts.

Even more refreshing, he has made it a point to require state agencies to keep their communications in language ordinary humans can understand.

This may sound like a simple request, but I'll bet the bureaucrats have a hard time complying. It's in their interest to keep their business in their own jargons, like a code. That way, you and I - you know, the people who pay taxes and thus employ them - have a hard time understanding what they're actually doing, and why. (For the ultimate word on this subject, see "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell.)

Crist's request will need a lot of follow up and who knows whether he's really got the stomach for that. But at least his public recognition of the harmful nature of jargon and bureaucratese acknowledges that it's real, and that it is not, in fact, serving the public good. Go for it, Charlie.

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